Light from Green Mountain, and what it said about coffee trading (Cont. Things Learned after Let's Talk Coffee)

Although each experience was great, the people that composed them are what made them so; therefore my focus will shift to some of the relationships built over the course of those three days visiting Cafe Granja la Esperanza; and the industry pertinent concepts drawn out of those interactions.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is a coffee roaster out of Waterbury, Vermont; and it would be merely instinctual to call them a big coffee roaster, considering I do not know the exact volume of coffee they roast per day, week, or year, nor how they compare to other American roasters. However,  from an outside observation, one could note that they package their coffee in K-cups, and have a street named after their line of work, on which their company is addressed; (or so it seems from their website); therefore, I imagine it is relatively safe and inoffensive to call them a large coffee roaster.

Before leaving to Colombia, I sat down with Emilio, to discuss some of the conversations that I would most likely be having with various roasters that purchase or use coffee from Cuatro M. One of them would be, for the first time this year, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

To a small/medium size operation like ourselves, the export of coffee that will end up in the roasters of a company like Green Mountain is one we take pride in, and one we'll consider an achievement, considering the young age of Cuatro M, and the respected size and reputation of Green Mountain. However, their size and reputation is likely the very thing that will allow a company like ours to blend into the system and sit beneath the radar of what they would likely hear reported as big news in their day to day.

To illustrate my point, the green coffee buyer, forecaster, and marketer of GMCR that I would meet on the trip following Let's Talk Coffee, likely had no idea that our companies were already connected by the coffee supply chain. This is perhaps by nature of their size, but I imagine it to be a typical reality within a company composed of multiple departments, brands, and coffee suppliers.

On our end, no offense taken, and on the contrary, I soon found the folks from Green Mountain to be some of the most engaged when it came to relations with their growers. Of three staff members present from Green Mountain, Stacey spoke fluent Spanish, Kevin was often the most eager to ride along with workers at the plantations in order to perfect his own, and all three of them actively engaged in conversation with the people of Cafe Granja la Esperanza, whom they, (GMCR), in that moment, were anticipating a purchase of coffee from (an incredible batch of Colombian, Finca Cerro Azul - Gesha, I might add). 

Beyond that however, they were equally engaged with me, representing a coffee producer from an entirely different country, whom they weren't aware they would be using coffee from, down to personal details of our lives and operation; staying up later, and waking up earlier, for opportunities to talk, and walk, mid sunrise, down to the local marketplace and peruse the stands of vendors and taste the local sweet bread. 

And the fact that their sincerity remained consistent when dealing with producers that they purchased coffee from, as well as myself, illustrated that is was not an act, nor some obligation that they only needed to fulfill, but rather something they felt fulfilled by, and very much enjoyed. I soon learned, that, beneath a name like Green Mountain, volume, and 800 thousand plus - Facebook likes, are individual people who care tremendously for the quality of their work and for the farmers they purchase coffee from. 

This unique experience highlighted my week; and stuck with me; later giving insight into the potential for all roasters and coffee traders, regardless of where they fall within the industry, to make a difference, for both producer & the industry at large; because to feel that kind of sincerity from someone on the other end of the industry, is not a feeling that most folks in other commodity markets have the opportunity to experience. 

(And so, I'll close with some insight gained by a presenter at Let's Talk Coffee, and tie it back to Green Mountain): At the end of the day, Coffee is a commodity, and it's true uniqueness from all other commodities, is not so much in how it is prepared and served, but rather in how it is traded. Regardless of its cup score or brew method, the end result of coffee is consumption, like all other commodities. The uniqueness therefore, is in premiums paid on top of market price, in relationships with farmers, and in the desire to communicate how that coffee was grown, traded, and treated before being consumed; something rarely seen in other commodity markets.

And therefore, one has the potential to do a great amount of good, and stimulate change within both coffee and all commodity industries, again, certainly in roasting to perfection and preparing a fantastic espresso (things that are good, respected, and appreciated), however, to a larger degree, in trading with the best, most fair and transparent practices; because that is what distinguishes coffee from all other markets, and it is in this capacity that one ultimately touches and impacts the supply side of the industry; thus making the relationship dynamic of coffee, so important, and game changing. 

In that light, I saw the coffee market play out into something good for both the producer, roaster, and the industry, and if I could communicate anything through this post, I only hope Green Mountain continues to look to the minds of folks like Kevin, Stacey, and Allison, to bring more light into their future, as they did mine.