Local coffeemaker French Truck Coffee chooses to purchase specialty grade coffee beans to help support small farmers that believe in growing a quality product. To source the best tasting beans from these responsible (and often very remote) farmers, they take seasonal trips straight to the origin 4-5 times a year. Sometimes these trips involves trekking through the rainforest and camping along the way. Here is a collection of photos from French Truck Brand Manager Wayne Jones with information about the trip written by Co-Owner Bobby Winston.
We call these trips “Origin Trips” because in terms of coffee sourcing we are going “to origin” or where coffee is grown. The purpose is to buy fresh crop coffee. Coffee is harvested seasonally, so every year the crop can change in terms of yield and taste. By traveling to origin we can get a first look at how the current harvest is going and make a buying commitment.
Our three goals for sourcing coffee, are Quality, People, and Consistency. We are looking for quality coffee, and we are also looking relationships with farmers, and can we help that farmer producer quality coffee consistently.
Coffee is an agricultural product and is traded on the stock market. That price and product is treated as a commodity. So, the general field we are working in, is considered ‘Specialty” meaning we are paying a premium for a higher quality product. The “commodity price is far too low for a farmer to earn a living. In many cases farmers aren’t receiving enough money for their harvest, and turn to a different crop that will yield more money.
If we can pay a premium price, maybe double or triple what the local market is offering, than we can have an impact on a farm level. By paying more, the farmer can provide for his family and also re invest in the farm, and provide better living conditions for the year round workers on the farm. So for us, it's important to be a consistent buyer for the farmers, to give them the financial security of knowing French Truck will be there to buy their coffee.
Two members of the French Truck team went on this trip to Africa. Myself, and our Brand Manager, Wayne Jones. We (Founder Geoffrey Meeker and I) try and take at least one member of our team on every trip, so our staff can get to experience coffee grown at origin. There a many links on the coffee chain, and for members of our staff it can be a valuable experience to see first hand a crop that they have worked so closely with in our cafe’s.
In total for the trip we took about 14 flights, and one too many bumpy van rides on unpaved roads. On one day trip, our van couldn’t make the steep climb, so some of us walked and some of us were shuttled up using a motorcycle. It took about 2 full days to get Nairobi from the states. Nairobi sits at pretty high elevation, around 5,000 ft and most of the farms are a couple hours away.
Ethiopia is a different story, we had to take 1 ½ hr flight to the western countryside, to a small airport....no baggage claim here, just unload the bags right off the plane. Then the farms were several hours by van on bumpy roads. In years past, we have to travel by horseback to some of the farms because heavy rains essentially washed out the road.
Some of the roads in the country are unpaved, and jam packed with just about everything you could imagine, from cars, buses, vans, pedestrians and a TON of live stock, cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, horses, monkeys….we routinely had to stop the van to let a pack of cows or goats clear the road!
Our guide, Muata, is Ethiopian and has worked in the coffee industry for over 15 years and he knows EVERYONE. So without him, we would be really lost, and he facilitates everything from the language barrier to the coffee! We visited several farms, and some were farther away than others. Some farms were maybe 20-30 miles off the main paved road, and one occasion we had to walk a few miles to get to it, because the climb was so steep.
We only camped one night in Kenya, it was beautiful! With lush tea fields in the background, and monkeys bouncing around the tree canopy. The coffee economy in places of origin like Kenya and Ethiopia is very interesting. So in many places, like Jimma, Ethiopia modest little hotels have popped to accommodate traveling coffee buyers.
The Tchoup Industries Flap Pack has just been my favorite backpack I have ever owned. Its super durable and consistent. It has gotten wet, and dried up super quickly. I have definitely opened a few beers with it on some the long van rides! But the Flap Pack has just been a great design I can fit a lot of stuff in there, and nothing has ever fallen out, it's really lightweight, So i have taken it everywhere, from Central and South America to camping in Africa. It's just become my little buddy kinda, always there.
Text by Bobby Winston
Photos by Wayne Jones