Pluma de Oaxaca: An Origin Reborn

The deeper we get into the world of Mexican coffee, the more excited we get, and those of you who have tasted the coffees or met some of our producing partners know why. Right now, we’re looking at Pluma, a subregion of Oaxaca that brings with it an incredible history along with incredible coffees. Boasting the singular Pluma Hidalgo variety, an offshoot of Typica, at elevations as high as 2200 masl, Pluma coffees bring with them a wide range of flavors: distinct dried fruit notes like raisin and prune, saturated sweetness like brown sugar, richness like drinking chocolate, complex malic acidity like green apples, and even florals like amber honey and peach blossom. Even though many of these coffees are still on the water, they’re going fast—if you’re interested in picking some up, get in touch now.

Over the last few decades, Pluma’s coffee production has evolved dramatically, shifting from the hands of large estates into the hands of local smallholder farmers. Nowadays, Pluma is almost exclusively the province of smallholders with farms averaging just 1-2 hectares, but going back 80 to 100 years, the coffee production landscape looked completely different. Huge, lower-middle elevation coffee plantations ruled the territory, buying the higher-grown smallholder coffees and blending them into their own bulk, undifferentiated despite their superior quality. In the late 80s and early 90s, Pluma gained a widespread reputation for producing quality coffee. However, a combination of factors including low market pricing and coffee leaf rust (known as Roya), saw estate holders abandoning their farms and moving on to more lucrative ventures.

Once the estates were decimated, local smallholder farmers continued farming—mostly out of necessity, though their operations were no more fiscally sound than the estates had been. Pluma’s smallholders struggled to make enough to thrive and reinvest in their farms, and many have lived on the brink of giving up and following in the footsteps of the estate holders before them. Without access to a differentiated market where customers are willing to pay viable prices, there hasn’t always been a real value proposition for Pluma’s producers to keep growing coffee.

Over the last couple years, we’ve seen this start to shift. Being able to introduce these coffees to a group of buyers willing and ready to purchase them at a viable price has started to build trust in this region and reinvigorate local farmers, who are beginning to understand that their coffee is worth more than they’ve always been told. They are ready to be able to dictate their own futures and gain access to new pathways to finance and reinvest in their own success.

We could not be more excited about the future of Pluma. This year, we’ve more than doubled the amount of coffee we’re bringing in from Oaxaca, and still, almost all of it was sold out before it even made it to the States. If you’re interested in putting these coffees on your menu, get in touch now, because they’re going fast.

Paying for Coffee—It’s Complicated: Part 5

Part 5: Asking the Right Questions

Now that we’ve unpacked context on what goes into pricing coffee, from terms and language to production and operating costs to purchasing models and value added, it’s time to talk about how to ask the right questions. As a roaster, it’s important to find out if your coffee purchase represents an investment in a resilient supply chain, so how do you take that conversation deeper than asking about prices?

One good starting point is to ask importers how they go about setting prices for producers, in general and in specific. How do those prices compare to the C market, Fair Trade, and Fair Trade Organic prices? Do they use the C market as a starting point, or decide on baseline rates that are consistent season to season outside the C market? Do baseline prices (prices before producers receive additional quality premiums for exceptional coffees) ever go down from year to year due to the C market, or are they consistent?

Another question to ask is whether an importer’s baseline rates allows producers and producing groups to meet their costs and reinvest in their farms and infrastructure. No matter what they pay for quality premiums, if the baseline rate doesn’t allow producers to survive and thrive, it’s not sufficient.

While asking these questions of your importer, it’s equally important to check in with yourself, your business, and your customers. How much are you willing to pay for a healthy, resilient supply chain where everyone meets their costs? Can you still meet your costs if everyone gets paid fairly? Will your customers pay what they need to in order to make it happen? If not, why not? What can change their minds?

It’s crucial that people learn more about the supply chains they work within. The more questions you ask your importers, the better. To ask us a question, email us at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com, or contact us on twitter or instagram.

To learn more about the complexities of coffee pricing, take a look at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

By: RJ Joseph

If You Haven’t Tasted Kolla Bolcha Yet, It’s Time

Kolla Bolcha is the newest jewel to be unearthed in Agaro, and if you haven’t tasted it yet, it’s time.

We’ve been after this cooperative since we learned of its inception three years ago, one year prior to ground being broken on the washing station construction itself. Why? Location, location, location. A short walk over the hill from Biftu Gudina in the southern end of Gera, Kolla Bolcha’s altitudes soar into the forests, and those of you who’ve tasted Biftu enough times are aware of the quality potential. We believe that Kolla Bolcha will become as sought after as Nano Challa, Nano Genji, Biftu Gudina, and the very small handful of washing stations that headline Agaro.

With a ripe red fruit character (think cherry and currant), a heavy cola sweetness, and a lustrous, honeyed mouthfeel, Kolla Bolcha brings the heat on any brew method, at any roast level. Building on the wider history of Agaro, where an investment by USAID’s Technoserve project helped bring brand-new processing equipment to this previously underserved and undifferentiated region, Kolla Bolcha’s immaculate processing leads to an incredible showcase of the coffee’s natural potential for a ridiculously long time off harvest. The secret? After Penagos processing equipment mechanically removes most of the fruit and mucilage from the seeds, they soak overnight in fiberglass tanks, allowing any remaining sugars to be fully removed from their surface so that the coffees are perfectly clean by the time they hit the drying beds for the eight-plus days they’ll need to dry.

Since its inception, Kolla Bolcha has been a Red Fox staple, a perfect representative of everything Agaro has to offer. It’ll go fast, so get in touch now to pick some up. To learn more about Red Fox and Agaro, read about it in our journal.