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Building Relationships with Guatemalan Q Graders and Coffee Growers

May 11, 2016

Crimson Cup coffee buyers cup coffee in GuatemalaCoffee Buyer Dave Eldridge and Coffee Sourcing and Education Manager Brandon Bir recently returned from a sourcing trip to Antigua and Guatemala City.  During the four-day trip, they cupped coffees, toured a coffee production mill, and visited local coffee farms and coffee houses.

“We cupped some outstanding Guatemalan coffees with Q Graders Jorge De Leon and his son, Jorge De Leon Ovalle,” Dave said. Both licensed Q Graders, the Jorges (as they’re known at Crimson Cup) help local coffee farms process and sell their coffee to roasters. At the 2015 World Cup Tasters Championship, Jorge the younger ranked as the number-one Q Grader in Guatemala and number eight worldwide.

“We’ve been fortunate to develop a relationship with the Jorges over the years, and they help us source some of our best Guatemalan coffees,” he added. “On this trip, we were able to cup coffee at the coffee houses the family operates in Antigua and Guatemala City.”

Crimson Cup's Brandon Bir at a coffee production facility in GuatemalaDuring the trip, Jorge Sr. gave them an extensive tour of a coffee production facility in Antigua. “With Don Jorge in charge of quality assurance, this is probably the cleanest, most organized mill we’ve ever seen,” Brandon said.

The Crimson Cup team was impressed with several of the coffees they cupped at the facility. They ordered samples for further evaluation at the Crimson Cup Innovation Lab.

“Before making a buying decision, it’s important that we come back and evaluate the coffee at home in our own conditions, using our own water and roasters,” Dave said. “Buying trips can be exhausting, so we want to take a fresh look and compare notes to make sure the coffee quality is the same here as when we cupped it at origin.”

They were intrigued by one coffee produced by Omar Olayo on his farm in San Miguel Escobar, about a 30-minute drive from Antigua. They toured his farm as well as his mother’s adjacent property, where he does his drying and has created a micro wet mill.

“We really appreciated the quality of his coffee, farm and processes and have ordered samples to test at home,” Dave said.  “He’s very interested in securing lots for roasters like Crimson Cup so he doesn’t have to sell everything to the mill to be blended. We can pay a higher price, which allows him to reinvest in his farm.”

While at the coffee processing facility, Dave and Brandon also committed to purchasing two full containers of the fresh crop of Guatemalan Olopa coffee. “This was a great find in 2015, when we became the first American coffee buyers to visit the small town of Olopa,” Brandon said.

Grown at 4,600 feet, these fully-washed and patio-dried beans are the pride of 20 small farmers near the town of Olopa in the Chiquimula department of eastern Guatemala. These small farmers draw on a rich history of coffee cultivation, which has been the area’s main source of livelihood for more than 80 years. They recently banded together to market their coffee through the Association of Producers of Olopa Coffee (Apolo) co-op and have begun to win local and regional awards.

“After cupping their 2016 crop, we believe the community has made improvements in the last year,” Dave said. “Through our Friend2Farmer direct trade program, we committed to buying at a price that gives the farmers additional funds to invest in improving their farms and community.”

Crimson Cup Founder and President Greg Ubert plans to visit Olopa later this spring. “Friend2Farmer means more to us than direct trade,” he said. “We take several trips a year to make friends, strengthen relationships and help fund local schools and other life-enriching projects.”