There was tremendous momentum as we went into 2020, fresh off our company’s 25th anniversary. There were plans already in place to bring in multiple containers (each holding about 250 bags of green coffee, each bag weighing in around 150 lbs) from a number of our long-time producer-partners in Ethiopia, Colombia, Brazil, and El Salvador. Approved, absolutely delicious single origin samples were lined up and ready to be contracted from our importing partners. New coffee blends and special releases were being discussed and timetables were being set for releases from Guatemala, Peru, Ethiopia, and more.
But March 2020 arrived, and with it, the upending of our world’s infrastructure as we all confronted COVID-19. All of the many places our coffee was set to go were suddenly closing or shifting to remote work or limited by the lack of dine-in. The latter hit our own cafes hard as well, forcing them to close; even now, we’ve only reopened half a dozen locations. Many of our longest wholesale partners and customers had to do the same. The way that people interact with coffee suddenly changed. The seismic shift in retail dining is still ongoing, and will change how the specialty coffee industry, and the general food service industry as a whole, operates for years to come.
We are hardly the only company dealing with this. But if there’s one thing that 26 years of sourcing and roasting has taught us, it’s that you have to stay nimble and humble. But more importantly, you have to keep valuing and maintaining your relationships. And you have to keep sourcing and roasting the best coffee you can find.
Read more about how we source and roast coffee: Kaldi's Coffee Sourcing
The effects of the pandemic are being felt worldwide. Farmers in producing countries are finding their workforces shrinking either from government decree or people getting sick and isolating themselves, and finding fewer places to sell their coffee as demand shrinks. This is a bit of a double-whammy as these farmers were already cash-strapped from depressed prices in the C-Market (the market price used as a pricing floor of sorts for commodity coffee). Check out this great article in Daily Coffee News about how two farmers in Honduras are managing.
This is a bit of a double-whammy as these farmers were already cash-strapped from depressed prices in the C-Market.
Our relationships with our importing and farming partners are of the utmost importance to us, and become ever more vital in times of hardship. While there are currently fewer wholesale businesses and offices buying and selling coffee, we are doing everything we can to help support those who have been there for us for so long. Things like:
- Buying a container from our friend Emilio in El Salvador and his Manzano lots. Read more about our relationship with Emilio here.
- Committing to over 100 bags of our familiar Colombia Monserrate Community lot in the fall of 2020, and paying 15 cents more per pound to help with the sustainability of their business
- Bringing in two more containers of Colombia San Fermin, a high quality Colombian coffee that we have been using in our blends for many years (and we launched a great single origin from them in 2018. Read more about that delicious coffee here)
- Agreeing to continue to buy our classic FTO Peru Rutas del Inca. Their work gets better and better every year.
- Buying another container from Gold Mountain’s coffee from Nicaragua. Check out our IGTV video with Ben Weiner here.
One of the beautiful, hand-painted bags from the Jinotega Community
With our single origin offerings, we are finding that our stocks are lasting us longer than we anticipated. They are still holding up great, and the vast majority of our single origin coffees come in recyclable plastic bags which helps to preserve freshness for far longer than burlap alone. We continue to cup our coffees at least once a week to ensure their tastes match our quality expectations, and we are still launching great new offerings, albeit a little less often. We were lucky enough to be able to launch the freshest harvest from the Imbachi Family, and a new Ethiopia Nano Genji that we have been drooling over for months. And we have much more on deck.
While we’re doing everything we can, we know that transparency, openness, and not making any false promises is incredibly important, all the more so in times like these. We maintain constant contact with our importing and producing partners, giving them our best guesses for our needs so that the farmers can best prepare for what’s yet to come. Some sort of predictability is vital to their needs, and although that’s hard to come by in 2020, we are doing the best we can to provide it.
We maintain constant contact with our importing and producing partners, giving them our best guesses for our needs so that the farmers can best prepare for what’s yet to come.
In light of all that, a core practice of our company culture is gratitude, no matter the time. So, we want to end by making some statements of thanks. Our loyal customers have shown up in a big way by buying our coffee online and setting up recurring subscriptions. This has been huge for supporting our team and providing work. Next, we are very grateful for our importing partners (Atlas, Royal NY, Caravela, Sustainable Harvest, Gold Mountain, just to name a few) who have been reaching out to us to learn about our needs and have been very understanding and nimble. Last but not least, we are eternally grateful to our producing partners for their continued hard work and for the quality of their product that never ceases to amaze. We are doing everything we can to support those that support us, and we will get through this together.