Red Fox Coffee Merchants Origin & Shipment Update: Q2 2021

Hello friends, coming to you in the second quarter of 2021. We’ve put together a report on the current state of coffee affairs in the areas of the world in which we work. Buying coffee, while never easy or uncomplicated, has become more complex than ever, and we want you to feel included, supported, and looped in as we navigate that process together. With the supply and shipping disruptions we’ve seen over the last year and which we know will echo into the future, every link in every supply chain needs to be managed more carefully than ever. We want to help keep your finger on that pulse and hopefully make your job a little easier. This report contains some details as well as some broad strokes—if anything here piques your interest or leads to more questions, we’re always here to talk, so get in touch

Logistics & Port Updates 

We continue to feel the impacts of the widespread disruptions in trade and cargo shipping brought on by the pandemic and magnified recently by the container ship the Ever Given blocking traffic through the Suez Canal. For Red Fox, the global shortage of shipping containers has made it challenging to find bookings for the fastest, most direct ocean cargo routes that we prioritize. We’ve seen higher shipping costs, more rolled and cancelled bookings across the board on all shipping lines, and big bottlenecks at US ports, particularly on the west coast, that result in delays in getting our coffees unloaded, through customs, and stocked into warehouses. Ports, warehouses, and trucking companies are facing staffing shortages due to Covid-19, causing further logistical challenges and delays. 

We push to get our Ethiopia shipments afloat as early as possible every year, and are especially glad to report that, with the majority of our containers already on the water or arriving on the east coast, Suez Canal-specific delays have only affected a couple of our later shipments from Ethiopia, some of which we have chosen to hold in Addis until bookings can be confirmed, rather than have them sit at port in Djibouti. We know that long shipping times and warehouse delays are frustrating for everyone and we will continue to bring you as much information as possible regarding ETAs, arrival times, and coffee availability as these challenging conditions continue. 

Supply, Demand, & The C Market 

After a near 2 year high of around $1.40/lb towards the end of February, the C market seems to have settled in the mid-$1.20s/lb at the time of writing (approximate 3 month moving average). As Red Fox does not trade or hedge using the C market, there was little direct effect on our US operations. However, as the C market price continued to rise during Mexico sourcing discussions, we kept that $1.40 price in mind while determining what competitive quality premiums look like right now.  While global shipping lines work to renew vessel schedules across the world’s ports, warehouse stocks of green coffee across the global north continue to dwindle per various market reports. This has led to grumblings around increased C Market volatility though we’ve yet to see any major movement to date.   

Mexico 

About 75%-80% of the harvest is currently processed and collected in the central warehouses for bulking and dry milling. The Pluma/Sierra Sur and Mixteca regions are closer to 90%, while some regions in Northern Oaxaca will continue their final round of picking/processing through the first half of April. Chiapas and Veracruz are almost 100% finished with harvest. Our lab in Oaxaca has seen the heaviest 2 week period in our Mexico sourcing history at the end of March and samples continue to arrive from producers and family clusters from new and established relationships. We’re busy cupping offers as well as early preships, bulking coffees, monitoring the dry mill, and making sure coffees are ready to make their way onto the water. April is the primary month for milling across all three states in Mexico where Red Fox sources. Our first container is milled and expected to go afloat this week and four other containers will be milled this week and next.  First arrivals will be primarily community lots from the Pluma/Sierra Sur region of Oaxaca.

There is more competition for container availability this year due to the global container shortage but the big advantage Mexico has for shipping to other North American ports is the frequency of vessels arriving and sailing (most steamship lines call to port of Veracruz every 3 days). We also plan to continue to use the port of Manzanillo on the Pacific Coast for West Coast shipments where transit time is 5 days on the water port to port. We still expect these coffees to arrive in May through June. 

Covid-19 case counts continue to be a problem across Mexico and while a vaccination program has recently begun by the government, the rollout is slow and disorganized. More wealthy Mexicans with travel visas are going to the US to get vaccinations. The government recently released data showing more accurate cases and death counts than was previously being released and were 30% higher than previously reported. Another surge in cases is expected  after the Semana Santa (Easter) holiday where many people travelled and family gatherings are very common. Most businesses are fully open, and while mask wearing is very widespread in public and on the streets, it’s less common in family social gatherings. 

Smaller, more vulnerable communities continue to publicize information and precautionary measures, but many of these precautions unfortunately aren’t up to date and don’t prevent spread effectively. Where the latest science overwhelmingly points to aerosols in gatherings in poorly ventilated areas without masks as the primary method of spread, the smaller towns still focus on hand sanitizer and spraying down the outside of clothes and cars with bleach as the way to prevent more cases entering. We hope to see better information and  realtime science reach these communities quicker in the future.   

Available Lots: Peñas Negras makes its return to the offerings of community lots out of the Pluma/Sierra Sur region, near Juquila not far from the Pacific coast, just straight up the mountain. This community is one of the first to start and finish harvest in Oaxaca and this year’s lot is very balanced and sweetness driven, showing notes of Honeycrisp apple, chocolate syrup, and fresh butter. This and other Pluma community lots in the first shipment arrive to Continental, NJ the first week of May and 2nd week of May to Annex, CA. We’ll also have coffees available by the end of May in Dupuy, Houston and Seaforth, Vancouver this year.  

Ethiopia

Harvest has officially concluded for the season, Addis warehouses are full of parchment and peak shipping period is now underway. Vertical Integration, which allows for producers to establish a price agreement with an exporter prior to the harvest season, continues to play an emerging role in the specialty sector with more direct business concluded than year’s prior. The ECX continues to receive and trade less coffee.  

The Suez Canal incident and rising fuel costs for trucks making the Addis to Djibouti run have caused massive delays for vessels leaving port.  

Covid-19 cases are increasing at extreme levels according to our network on the ground in Addis, though accurate reporting remains difficult to find. Ethiopia received 2+ million doses of AstraZeneca in March per the WHO’s initiative.  

Available Lots: We were fortunate enough to move our first dozen containers, split between Agaro & Guji, prior to the Suez debacle. Fresh crop has arrived to Port of NJ as of 3/30. We expect availability in Continental Terminals NJ in the coming week or so of both Guji and Agaro coffees. ETA’s for coffees coming into both The Annex CA and Dupuy Houston range from to mid-to-late April.  

Kenya 

Kenya is now also in peak shipping season as the main crop has now concluded. 320,000+ bags have been purchased through the auction system and direct purchases since January 1. The fly crop (Kenya’s second, smaller crop) begins later this month and will conclude late May/early June.  

Shipments are delayed per the Suez debacle with lines still unable to communicate new schedules. Some fear a backlog into or even through May. Food grade containers are also at a premium.  

Nairobi is currently in lockdown as cases are now on the rise. Our trade partners are only in their offices on a rotating, need-to-be basis. The first round of 1,000,000+ AstraZeneca vaccines arrived in Kenya early March. The government expects 3,500,000+ vaccines to be distributed across the 2021 calendar year.  

Available Lots: Our first shipment arrived to Port of NJ late February and has now been sold out.  Our 2nd shipment destined to CA maintains a mid-April ETD from Mombassa.  

Guatemala

We are hearing reports of another month of harvest in Huehuetenango. Early offers have been outstanding and we’ll see more volume this year from producers from the Santa Barbara municipality. Look for Guatemalan coffees clearing on both coasts in mid to late May.

While travel has opened up between departments, public transportation remains extremely limited. This has exacerbated the shortage of migrant pickers and harvesting continues to be a struggle in most regions.

In vaccine news, Guatemala became the third country in Latin America to start vaccinating its population through the COVAX initiative, which uses the AstraZeneca vaccine. Guatemala expects to receive a total 6.6 million doses this year to reach its goal of immunizing 20% of the population.

Available Lots: We’re currently finalizing selections for an initial container to go afloat later this month/early May.

Peru 

Even though in January 2021 the national economy showed a drop of 0.98%, Peru’s agricultural sector remained afloat and growing. For its part, the Junta Nacional de Café (National Coffee Board) hopes that this year will be strong for coffee production. They expect production to rise 18% compared to last season, and the Cajamarca, Cusco, Amazonas, and Pasco regions will benefit from it.

In mid-January, the Peruvian government declared the arrival of the second wave of Covid-19. The government established different risk levels for the country’s regions and implemented restrictions for each level. One measure ensured that people taking domestic flights from extreme risk regions must present a negative Covid test from within 72 hours before the flight, as well as foreigners entering the country. 

Added to the general political instability of 2020 was a national scandal called “vacunagate”, where it was discovered that influential figures including the former president and the health minister had secretly received free vaccines from Sinopharm months before negotiations were finalized and doses were available to the population. The news aggravated the feeling of disappointment with political leaders. Currently, a limited number of vaccines are available and the vaccination process has begun. The Peruvian government presented a National Vaccination Plan that has three phases that extend until the second half of the year. The country is also preparing to face presidential elections during April.

Available Lots: A broad range of all regions and qualities available on all three coasts (Continental NJ, Annex CA, DuPuy Houston). A rep from our team would be happy to walk you through our offerings from Peru and make recommendations.

Colombia 

Heavy rains have stunted both flowering for Colombia’s second semester harvest and maturation for the imminent mitaca fly crop across Southern Colombia. Ports from Cartagena to Buenaventura are dealing with congestion due to limited availability with primary shipping lines. Port Strikes in Brazil and Covid-19 are the main culprits. Container availability is not currently an issue.  

Geovanny Liscano reports that Asorcafe is business as usual with producers focused on maintenance in the current between-crops season.  First picking at altitude in Inzá should begin by the second half of June. 

Covid-19 cases are back on the rise. The government has put in place new travel restrictions for those traveling internally within Colombia. The first vaccines arrived in Colombia mid-February with the government maintaining their plan for 20,000,000 doses to be distributed in the 2021 calendar year.  

Available Lots: Red Fox’s North American stock is dwindling as we prepare for inbound Mexican coffee late spring. Expect fresh crop coffee from the mitaca to begin shipping late summer/early fall.  

Rwanda 

Cherry picking in Rwanda is underway, with peak harvest towards the end of March. Reports of weather and rainfall have been promising, and we are expecting good quality and volume this season. We should see offer samples in our lab in late May/early June.

Rwanda has imposed some of Africa’s toughest anti-coronavirus measures since the pandemic began, including one of the first full lockdowns on the continent in March 2020. More recently, Kigali went back into lockdown for 2 weeks in January 2021, after an increase in the number of Covid cases. Case numbers have since fallen and restrictions have been eased in the capital, though concern about new variants remains high.

Rwanda received its first Covid-19 vaccines in February of this year and has been rolling out a wider vaccination campaign in March, with doses of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines supplied through the WHO’s COVAX initiative. The government’s goal is to vaccinate 30% of its population of 12 million people this year and 60% by the end of 2022.

Available Lots: Lot selection late May/early June with a container to both East and West Coasts likely to go afloat before the end of June.

Ecuador

Ecuador’s rainfall eclipsed the summer season and there continues to be excess rainfall. It seems that summer weather is finally approaching, which could bring the harvest a bit early. The October-November flowering was abundant, but there was minimal fruit. Producers have let us know that they are optimistic about what is to come this harvest season.

Ecuador received its first Covid-19 vaccines in January 2021, but has been rolling them out slower than anticipated. The country has contracts with Covax, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca. There have been a high number of cases and deaths in the country with a majority near the large coastal city of Guayaquil. The country’s goal is to have phase 1, vaccinating 2 million people completed by the end of April 2021 and begin phase 2. For reference, there are over 17.3 million people total in the country. 

Available Lots: With only a few lingering lots left uncommitted, get in touch with your rep if you have interest in sampling any lots still on the offerlist. Sidra, Typica and Bourbon Tekisic variety separations still available.

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

 

Kedir Jebril Imamu & His Fabled Gogogu Forest Coffees

Central Guji is one of the coffee world’s veritable treasure chests. As the Ethiopian coffee trade has made itself over several times in the past 12 years, so has Red Fox. The advent of ECX prior to the 2009/10 harvest brought me personally to Uraga having to say goodbye to the strong relationships built over several years with privately held washing stations in Gedeb, Yirgacheffe and Bensa in Sidamo. Working through Guji’s Cooperative Union I found myself making trip after trip to Layo Tiraga in Central Uraga’s forests and eventually Yabitu Koba in the Ugo Begne forests building a pipeline for top lots to the US. The beautiful coffees in Yirgacheffe and Sidamo became an afterthought as I pushed to put this region on specialty coffee’s radar. As the Union found themselves in brutal political and financial struggles in the early years of Red Fox we branched out to working with small, independent washing station owners in the specific forests in and around Harso Larcho Torka, Bire, Gogogu, Ugo Begne, and Bere.

Enter Kedir Jebril Imamu. On the surface Kedir appears to be just another independent washing station owner from Dilla in the Gedeo Zone. His two brothers, Feku and Abdi, have coffees widely praised by the industry that Red Fox used to source and deliver in the immediate post-Union years. There is more notoriety on both of his brother’s names in the North American coffee market because they’ve been so widely traded and marketed by us and several importers post-Red Fox. But it’s the youngest brother that might just emerge as the new wave industry leader in Haro Welabu, the newly zoned Guji Woreda immediately east of Hambela Wamena and west of Uraga.  

Kedir grew up working odd jobs around Dilla, mainly construction. He eventually saved enough money to open his own coffee transportation company moving coffee from the bejewelled coffee forests surrounding Dilla—specifically Central and Northern Guji—down the mountain to major trade centers. 11 years ago, Kedir built his very own washing station, Gogogu Bekaka, in the Gogogu kebele of (formerly) Uraga, Guji. Since then Kedir has gradually increased his bandwidth with the neighboring coffee farmers growing his volume at Bekaka to roughly 2 container loads annual. 2 years ago, Kedir built his second washing station, also in the forests of Gogogu: Gogogu Wate. Production is lower annually here as Kedir continues to develop confidence from his neighboring farmers. We expect up to 200 bags available only this season.

Kedir’s the youngest of the Jebril brothers and he might just be the savviest. Kedir incorporated his own export company in 2020. That’s a big deal. Kedir will be exporting his own coffee direct to Red Fox this season. He delivered his coffee directly to ECX in Dilla for the first 7 years of Gogogu Bekaka’s existence. He worked with a private export company for the past 4 years through the country’s Vertical Integration system allowing privately held businesses to traceably purchase coffees again. Kedir wasn’t happy with this arrangement though—he knew his coffee was more valuable than the prices he was receiving for it. We bought his Gogogou coffees 2 seasons ago and plan to never let them go. This is the quintessential relationship archetype that Red Fox seeks out in Ethiopia; a small, locally held washing station with exclusive export to us in the US. Oh, and the coffee is amazing.  

GOGOGU HARVEST ‘20/‘21

The Central Guji season started in early November this year and will finish up in mid-January. Most washing stations will begin to prepare Grade 1 quality a couple of weeks into the season as the harvest picks up and ripening begins to become more dense. They’ll continue preparing Grade 1 quality through the season stopping in the final week or so as the very last fruit comes off the trees in their areas. The early and late season coffees will become Grade 2 quality. Kedir has stricter protocols. He processed the first month+ of cherry as Grade 2 and only selected the fruit from the densest ripening period of the season, Dec 10 – Jan 5, as Grade 1 this year.  His offerings from Bekaka and Wate are the purest essence of what the surrounding forests can be and are.  

Kedir’s fermentation process is extensive—he leaves freshly peeled seeds underwater for 60 hours compared to the average washing station’s 48. Coffees are then washed vigorously in elongated channels while also being selected for quality. The less dense Grade 2 quality beans are sifted off the top of the channel and taken to their own drying stations. The denser Grade 1 coffees eventually make it to a soaking tank where they’ll sit overnight removing any excess mucilage from the seed before they’re sent to the drying beds. Kedir keeps his parchment coffee covered in mesh for the first 5-6 days in order to avoid cracking and direct exposure to sunlight which can damage the integrity of the beans. After this first drying period the coffee is then opened to sunlight and left to dry for another 5-6 days before being conditioned in the storage warehouse for upwards of a month.  

Kedir paid 25-29 birr/kg for coffee cherry in the 2020/21 season. It’s important to note that the standard local price for cherry prior to last year was in the 14-20 birr/kg range for many years.  Increased competition through the Vertical Integration concept has very much increased financial viability for coffee producers across Centra/Northern Guji from Uraga to Haro Welabu to Hambela Wamena. 

THE GOODS

Even though these coffees are only a bumpy 20 minute drive from each other, the flavor profiles are uniquely distinct.  

Gogogu Bekaka: Tropical yellow fruits are the headliner here—sweet but bright, sparkly mango and ultra-ripe papaya reign supreme with lingering rosewater Turkish delight in the background.  The finish shows a more caramelized character along the lines of bruleed meringue or marshmallow. This cup profile has haunted me with memories of Yabitu Koba/Ugo Begne Forest coffees of years past for the past week. These lots will demonstrate a truly dynamic range across the flavor spectrum. So structured. Perfectly complete.  

Gogogu Wate: The Wate lots also conjured memories of coffees of yesteryear and right off the bat with their scallion-like aromatics. Scallion? Yes. Oddly enough, it’s the one single flavor attribute I seek out most in Central Guji coffees.  It’s an indication of 2 things: 1) that the coffee is mighty fresh,  2) so fresh that as the lot conditions over the course of a month or so that exact scallion character morphs into the most stunning honeysuckle/orange blossom fragrance. It sounds odd but it’s the secret sauce. Moving forward the cup profile itself in a word is electric. Key Lime.  Radiant, fresh, crisp Key Lime. Persian Lime. Kaffir Lime. Lemon Lime. All the limes. This is an effervescently refreshing coffee.  

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

 

Puno, Better Than Ever

Puno coffee—if you’ve had it, you know it’s unforgettable. Puno is one of the most exclusive and renowned growing regions in all of Latin America, and while we buy all the volume we can from our producing partners there, there just isn’t that much. The coffees are some of the best we taste all year not just in Peru, but in the whole world. Puno coffees have a dedicated following and are typically gone before they arrive, so we may not talk about them very often. But Puno, located in the South of Peru where Red Fox started, is a huge part of our story.

Members of what is now Red Fox had been working in neighboring Southern Peru region Cusco since 2006, but were pushed out in 2007 by a large, corrupt cooperative union that ruled the Cusco region and all the groups within with an iron fist, preventing us from buying coffee at higher prices and maintaining traceability. When we were pushed out of Cusco, we connected with trade partners in Puno and started working there in 2008, meeting producers and tasting their coffees, which were (and are) truly exceptional.

After tasting the incredibly floral offerings that come from Putina Punco at the 2008 National Cafe Y Cacao board competition, which governs coffee trade in Peru and held an annual COE-style competition and auction 10 years before the inaugural COE Peru, we met with Tibed Yujra, who was at the time the head of quality control for a large cooperative union based in Puno. During that visit, we cupped through a veritable ton of coffee with the cooperative: the ten best, they sent back to auction, and the rest, we bought. We’ve been buying Puno coffees since then.

Over time, we struggled with the cooperative union in that area, and they dealt with high turnover. Tibed left and did consulting and QC work elsewhere, and we met back up with him in Cusco after that region reopened to us, coming to work for us shortly thereafter. We discovered that the cooperative union we worked with in Puno wasn’t paying the full prices back to producers that we had promised and paid to the organization. After a few years navigating the situation in Puno as best we could and trying to get money back to the producers, Tibed left Red Fox and started his own company in Puno, helping us connect with producers and make sure they get paid the prices we promise them as well as helping them maximize the coffee’s potential. This year, we’re more excited than ever about Puno.

Puno, and specifically the subregion of the Sandia Valley where the producers we work with live, is home to some of the original Bourbon the UN brought there in the 80s in order to combat the growing coca trade. Because the UN isn’t a coffee organization, they brought Bourbon instead of the hybrids that became so ubiquitous throughout Latin America, a decision that was key to the coffee landscape as it currently exists. Most of the farmers there are smallholders, growing on an average 2.5 hectares of land.

The reason there’s so little coffee coming out of Puno each year is that despite the UN’s efforts, the coca trade has since reclaimed most of the Sandia Valley. The farmers we work with are some of the last coffee growers in the area. While some farmers are coerced into growing coca, others are understandably attracted to the faster, multiple growing seasons and higher prices coca promises. We’re excited to see Tibed organizing to make sure fair coffee profits get back to the farmers remaining in Puno and we see many good things on the horizon for this unique subregion this year and into the future.

In addition to Putina Punco, we buy coffee from Massiapo, Quiquira, and Yanahuaya, all within a relatively close vicinity within the Sandia Valley. Sandia Valley flavors are extremely dynamic, more so than any other region in Peru. The Caturra coffees in the area have a prolific combination of sweetness and acidity, with dark fruit character like both red and black currants and a crisp, apple character with both weight, sweetness, and a refreshing malic acidity like both apple and pear. When you roast them, they’re complete and balanced as well as nuanced and dynamic. That’s what the Caturra is like, but when you hit pockets of Bourbon you find coffees that come with flavors you associate strongly with East Africa: floral, complex, and intensely sweet, like honeysuckle and hard candy. They may not have the level of complexity to the acidity as Ethiopian coffees, but the dynamic of sweetness is unmatched.

 

Interested in sourcing coffee with us? Reach out at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.comTo learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

First Chance To Try Finca Santa Cruz

 

Of all our new relationships in Chiapas this year, Finca Santa Cruz is one of the most exciting. Run by the innovative Pepe Arguello, the farm is already achieving widespread notoriety in just its third year running. Last year, Pepe won COE Mexico. He was willing to sell in the auction market but wanted to build something deeper, especially with the rest of his product (just as excellent, but at a more accessible quality tier), mostly made up of Bourbon, Typica, Yellow Caturra, and some Geisha. Pepe’s lots’ flavor profiles include ripe purple fruit like black currant, raisin, date, and plum, a saturated amber honey sweetness, and a complex acidity, both tartaric and malic, layered throughout. 

Pepe’s father was a well-known producer in Chiapas, and when Pepe purchased Finca Santa Cruz, he decided to build the business around specialty. With land at 1700 masl on the Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, his farming practices reflect his desire for a more precise, agronomically advanced, and conservation-focused approach: he harvests cherry according to Brix (measuring the sugar content of the fruit), ferments according to pH (the actual acidity of the fermentation), and generally seeks experimentation, growth, and collaboration. The area is biodiverse, filled with native Inga trees that also provide shade, allowing the coffee to grow in harmony with the surrounding reserve rather than in conflict with it. Pepe’s goal is to slowly increase production as well as quality and gain wider international recognition. 

While Pepe is still a small-scale farmer at 60 hectares, we’re excited to have a slightly larger lot to offer from him than what we’re usually able to get at the producer ID level (for instance, all the farmers we work with in Oaxaca are extreme smallholders averaging just 1-2 hectares). We’re able to provide a deeper commitment than what Pepe would find at the auction level and find good homes for the whole range of coffee he produces.  

Community-wise, the local workforce is integral to Finca Santa Cruz’s success in meeting demand. After the community helps harvest cherry, Pepe first floats the cherry in water, then ferments for 20-72 hours in concrete tanks depending on outside factors like weather and ambient temperature, using pH as his guide. He then dries washed parchment on raised beds with mesh covering for 17-25 days. He uses a hydrometer to measure the level of moisture in the coffee during drying. We’re excited to work together to help him customize processing for different clients and continue to invest in and improve quality. 

His practices also help inform and grow education in the surrounding farmer population. He carries on the legacy of his father and his community while advancing with the technologies of the present, producing a truly stellar product. 

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

Ernesto Perez & Coatepec Community Do Things Differently

 

One thing we love about growing our work in Mexico is how different the subregions are, whole origins unto themselves. We’re excited to bring some new offerings from Veracruz, an origin unique in several ways. First, a major distinction from much of Latin America: instead of buying and selling parchment, Veracruz producers buy and sell cherry, processing centrally at mills. Ernesto Perez’s Finca Fatima is both a farm and a mill, and all three of the Veracruz lots we bought this year were processed there, including of course Ernesto’s own.

 

Producing in tiny subregion Coatepec, Ernesto’s coffee, and that of his community, is special. Coatepec has some of the highest latitude coffee on the globe: just like high elevations yield slow cherry maturation due to cooler weather, Coatepec pushes the northern edge of the tropics, where cooler, slightly wetter weather and long, cool nights during the harvest slow down cherry ripening, creating an incredible density of flavor. Combined with varieties like Typica, Garnica, Marsellesa, and Caturra and meticulous processing, these coffees have notes of Meyer lemon, apricot, lush red berry, cherry, and lemongrass. 

 

A younger farmer taking over the family farm and mill, Ernesto wants to help move his community production into high quality specialty, tweak processing, focus on microlots, and help those around him make a little more money on their work. Ernesto’s coffee placed super high in 2018 and 2019 COE and was used by the 2019 Mexico barista champion. This year, he decided to expand his own wet mill into APG Coffee, a micro wet mill that other smaller farmers in Coatepec could use. APG also offers agronomic consulting for other farmers to help rebuild soils, increase quality, and overall help the community of Coatepec do their best work and make as much money as possible. This year, Ernesto’s coffee brings malic tartness of green apple, sweet spice, and rich honey. 

 

The other producers we’re featuring from Coatepec are Enrique Toss and Jose Cienfuegos. Enrique’s coffees have a super saturated dry fruit sweetness like raisin and date as well as substantial sugar browning like chocolate, candied pecan, and heavy caramel. Jose’s bring bright, juicy complexity like raspberry jam, dried strawberry, lime zest, and amber honey.

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

Red Fox Origin & Shipping Update: April 2020

Hi friends,

We want to give you an update on how our supply chains are looking and make sure you feel safe and looped in as things develop. We’re seeing a lot of speculation and fear out there, but our supply chains are unique and we want you to feel confident about buying coffee from Red Fox. Below is a rundown of our current shipment, harvest, and spot positions. If you have any questions or want to have a conversation about forecasting or managing your position over this volatile period, we are here to help. 

To preface, we don’t want to give you a superficial update: we want to share everything we know and make sure that you feel empowered to make decisions and communicate openly with us as we will continue to do with you. Once again, we are always, always here—please get in touch, even if you just want to check in.

Supply, Demand, & The ‘C’ Market 

Red Fox has always been able to operate outside of the scope of the C market, which is an antiquated measure of a coffee’s real value. Anything short of a massive rally would allow us to maintain continuity in our approach. 

That said, we need to be prepared for every possible outcome. We’ve seen a steady climb in the ‘C’ over the past month+ settling in just over $1.20 as trading against May comes to a close next week. The current global economic climate doesn’t necessarily lend itself to confidence on either side of the coin. The slowdown could grind demand to a halt and bring the market back down below $1. Any potential port closures, or container shortages which are a larger concern at the moment, could cause the market to rally and potentially to levels we haven’t seen in over a decade due to an eventual lack of supply.  

The indication we’ve received from our partners in Peru, Colombia and Rwanda is positive so far; the origins with their harvests on deck. They will be able to pick and process coffee business-as-usual as of now. Will Brasil be able to do the same? Will the medium to large producers in Colombia? Labor is very much an issue for the imminent harvests. We’ll keep you all apprised of the situation in the months to come.

Mexico

Update from origin: 

The Mexican government considers coffee to be a priority product, so dry mills are allowed to continue operations during the shutdown. Both of the dry mills we work with are taking all of the necessary precautions to stay safe. One of the mills we work with is operating with fewer workers. Shipping lines are accepting bookings and we expect to have the first containers afloat by the end of April and available in the US the second or third week of May. 

However, we are now getting word that several indigenous communities outside of the Oaxaca City capital, particularly in the Mixteca region, are proactively closing roads in order to prevent the spread of the virus and requiring anyone to apply for a special permission ahead of time to be on the road. This will affect a small percentage of coffee that is still stored in producers’ houses and hasn’t been brought down to the central warehouses and dry mills. We hope to see that opened up by the end of the month to be able to mill and ship the 50-75 bags we had planned to purchase from these communities that weren’t delivered yet.

Available lots:

We have a couple lots from the 2019 harvest in inventory for anyone that is looking for either a conventional or fully certified blend component. These lots are holding up well and priced to move.

Ethiopia 

Update from origin: 

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been cautious with his mandates. As 80+% of the population relies on agriculture, and daily wages from it, a complete shutdown remains an impossibility. Roads to the countryside are closed to all other than trucks related directly to business. Government offices and public transport are closed officially. Large gatherings are forbidden.  Addis Ababa itself is essentially locked down.  

ECX remains open as of last week and has implemented a rotating system of buyers to maintain safe distances between people. This, coupled with the new minimum price floors instituted a couple of months ago, is causing purchases delays and the general movement of coffee between warehouses.  

Dry mills are operating at a slow clip. Shipments to Djibouti are also moving at a slower clip due to the port’s pace. 

Our dry mill and export partners are maintaining the safest, cleanest environments they at the moment, hence the slow down within.  

Available lots:

We have multiple containers of top Agaro coffees at both The Annex CA and Continental Terminals NJ SPOT now. Our final Guji, Yirgacheffe, and Sidamo shipments are somewhere between just afloat, Djibouti, and the PSS approval stage. Expect arrivals from early May through June.

Kenya

Update from origin: 

A nationwide mandated curfew is in effect from 7pm to 5am daily. The Kenyan government has effectively stopped all movement in and out of Nairobi with the exception of cargo. Coffee is still moving to Port of Mombasa which maintains a normal schedule with shipping lines. Food grade containers continue to be scarce but still obtainable.  

Available lots: 

Our Kenyan shipments have gone afloat as of two weeks ago and are due into port early May.  Our unallocated offerings will be limited. For all those that committed to forward contracts, we have you covered and samples will be available in the next couple weeks. These lots are stunning and we’re thankful to all those who committed and made it possible for us to make a return to Kenya. Anyone who is interested, get in touch ASAP.

Guatemala

Update from origin: 

Guatemala continues to be in lockdown with no civilian travel allowed between departments and curfew extended to April 20th. There are heavy fines for anyone caught without a mask. All international and domestic flights are suspended until April 30th. 

What this means is that there is a real migrant labor shortage. Certain regions like Huehuetenango, which was at peak harvest when COVID hit, are seeing as much as 20-30+% of the crop rotting on the trees for lack of pickers. Mills are running at much smaller capacity due to labor shortages as well. Though coffee is deemed an essential product and therefore allowed transit, individual communities are putting up roadblocks and not allowing any traffic through. This has slowed everything down.

Back in Guatemala City, the dry mills are operating at near normal capacity. Although there have been some minor lags with having enough shipping containers available, the coffees are mostly moving quickly once they’re milled. 

All that said, despite some pretty big obstacles this harvest, we expect to see Guatemala arriving in late May.

Available lots:

If you haven’t already, now’s the time to forward book.   

Colombia

Update from origin: 

The Colombian government has extended their strict stay-at-home mandate through April 27th as of the end of March. Coffee production, milling and exporting have been deemed essential business and exempted from the order.  

Our milling and export partners are working at a reduced 50% capacity due to curfews forcing them to go home earlier in the evening than normal.  

Transportation complications are reaching critical mass as availability decreases despite increased rates. Conditions are deteriorating for drivers as there are no longer stops to eat and to rest.  

Ports are generally open for business as usual though some have limited hours for loading and unloading to morning time.

A lack of pickers will have significant impact on the medium to large farms.  

Click here to read specific updates from groups we work with. 

Available lots:

We have a diverse array of Colombia spot coffee in Continental, the Annex, and DuPuy Houston from some of our longest-standing relationships in Inza and Narino. Lots range from Producer IDs perfect for single origin menu spots to nuanced yet approachable blend-ready lots that go through the same rigorous QC process. They’re at their peak now and will hold their own for months to come—they’re a great option no matter where you’re located or what menu spots you need to fill. 

Peru

Update from origin: 

The Peruvian government declared a National Emergency beginning March 15th, 2020 with measures including a nationwide quarantine and the closure of regional and international borders. These measures are currently scheduled to continue through April 26th, though the ports and shipping lines are not affected and have been operating continuously. Initially, the only agricultural activities permitted were those related to the provision of food, but, as of April 3rd,  the government exempted all agricultural activities—including the the harvest, transport, collection and processing of coffee—from quarantine restrictions, so long as each individual obtains a certificate from their local/community authorities accrediting that they in fact work in agriculture. 

In practice most everyone in the coffee sector, including producers, day laborers, those working for cooperatives and associations, local warehouses, and dry mill operators, has been abiding by the quarantine restrictions, even though they are exempt. In some cases this is because of their own interest in preventing the spread of the virus. Another factor is the “rondas campesinas,” local peasant patrol groups that began in the late 1970s in northern Peru to protect rural communities against theft and that continue to operate autonomously in many communities across the country. The rondas (in the areas where they operate), and other rural self defense committees across Peru with similar enforcement rights, are closing local roads and prohibiting non-residents from entering to keep the virus from spreading to their communities—most of which do not have access to medical services. 

What does this mean for the Red Fox Supply Chain?

While the harvest season has begun on lower altitude farms in the north of Peru and the Selva Central, the producers we purchase coffee from are still at least a month away from the harvest. 60% of Red Fox suppliers are in Southern Peru, where the harvest begins in June at the lower altitudes, and goes through October on the highest altitude farms. Even in the North, where the harvest came early this year, the majority of the farms we are sourcing from are located at over 1600 meters above sea level and the harvest is not expected to begin until the second half of May. 

There is some concern in Peru about labor for this harvest season. Many producers rely on migrant workers to help with the harvest, and most people suspect that the regional borders will be closed well past the end of the quarantine period. We do not expect our suppliers to be particularly affected by this. Red Fox does purchase coffee from some producers who hire migrant workers, but the vast majority are smallholders whose farms are family operated. In the South of Peru, the concept of “Ayni” is common. This Andean work system practiced by Quechua and Aymara cultures is founded on the principle of reciprocity, and community members take turns helping each other to harvest and perform other farming activities rather than hiring outside help.

March and April are usually the months when our suppliers renew their Fair Trade and Organic certifications, and all of the certifiers have suspended their audits for recertification. The producer organizations we work with have been in communication with their respective certifiers to reschedule their inspections and/or renew their certifications virtually, and anticipate they will have their certifications in place by the time we begin shipping coffee in September. 

We are in regular communication with all of our core suppliers in Peru, and they share the same concerns and feelings of uncertainty that many of us do. They worry about demand, prices, financing, and contracts. We are reiterating our commitment to work together, to purchase as much coffee as we can this coming season, and to continue to pay the highest prices possible for their coffees. 

While our operations in Peru have not very been affected by this pandemic thus far, our sourcing team and our suppliers will no doubt need to be agile and creative as we navigate this coming season. 

Click here to read specific updates from groups we work with.

Available lots:

We only have a handful of lots left in NJ, but these are some of the nicest Producer ID lots we saw all harvest, many of which are from the Valle Inca group in Calca. We have some stunning lots available left in the Annex and are offering a flat palletized rate country-wide out of that warehouse to support widening your selection process. We have lots available from Cajamarca to Puno and all our major producing partner groups: Coopbam, Santuario, Valle Inca, Aromas del Valle, Pangoa, Cecovasa, Huadquina, and more.  Please get in touch if you would like support in narrowing our selection and making recommendations.

Rwanda

Update from origin: 

The government in Rwanda instituted a nationwide lockdown on March 21st, one of the earliest in East Africa. International borders are closed, except to goods and cargo, and internal travel is not permitted. Only essential shops and markets are allowed to operate. Coffee is considered an essential commodity, and washing stations and dry mills are operational with strict social distancing and sanitation measures in place. The peak of the harvest is approaching and cherry picking continues, albeit at a slower pace. Farmers have delivered less than 15% of their cherry to date meaning May will be the peak of harvest. We hope to see the first samples from Kanzu in early June. 

Available lots:

With only a bag or two uncommitted, reach out to your rep if you have interest. We may be able to work some magic, especially if you’re open to pulling from the Annex.

Ecuador

Update from origin: 

The Ecuadorian government has put in place a strict nationwide quarantine. There is no financial help at this time, except for small loans. Agricultural production has been deemed essential businesses, but cargo loads have limited movement around the country. The borders have been closed, with only the exception being cargo trucks. 

This year’s harvest hasn’t begun yet, although it is expected to begin a little earlier this year. Harvest in the Pichincha area is estimated to start in May and peak in early July, about three weeks earlier than last year. It is difficult to predict the available labor once harvest begins, but with so many left unemployed from the crisis, local leader Arnaud Causse believes there won’t be a shortage of labor. He is reporting that farms are looking good and that projects on the land are continuing as planned. 

Available lots: 

We have just a few lots and a few bags left to offer from this season’s harvest but still have some nice offerings from core producers Hernan Zuniga, Arnaud Causse, and Gilda Carrascal. 

To get in touch, email us at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com. We are always here and happy to help and support you in any way we can. 

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.

New Fruits You Should Try: Nariño and Inzá

If you haven’t bought Colombian coffee from us yet, the time is now. We have delicious, versatile coffees from Nariño and Inzá on both coasts that shine on the cupping table and absolutely stun at production roast levels. Just as important as their quality, Colombia is home to some of our oldest relationships, and these coffees represent the absolute best of what community leaders can do from a local to a global scale, in terms of both impact and quality.

Our relationship with Inzá-based ASORCAFE dates back to 2006, when Geovanny Liscano farmed just one hectare of land with his wife and father. The coffee was superb and the infrastructure was humble, but over time, Geovanny reinvested profits back into the land, bought surrounding plots, and built up processing infrastructure into a thing of beauty for the whole community. ASORCAFE is incredibly well-organized with a laser-focus on ethics; they don’t allow corruption in their ranks, and this value shows in the cup. The coffees they produce are some of the most complete coffees in the country, bringing to the table a succulent sweetness, a juicy, ciderlike mouthfeel, and bright, clean acidity that can be malic, pear-like, and even kiwi-like. They’re perfectly structured and essentially flawless.

In Nariño, we’ve been inspired since 2007 by FUDAM leaders Raquel and Jeremias Lasso. With soaring altitudes and ideal varieties, the quality was always stunning; even more importantly, Raquel is an innovative leader that inspires the best work from her community and gives it in return. More recently, she’s formed a group within FUDAM called Manos de Mujeres, focused on the empowerment of women growers within her community, with projects ensuring they see a fair 50% of farm profits and a goal of opening an organic fertilizer facility. Currently in the process of becoming certified Fair Trade Organic, FUDAM is a perfect example of how community investment can and should represent an investment in quality. Flavor-wise, we see Nariño as the proverbial fruit basket: the best lots run the gamut from ripe, succulent stone fruits on the yellow flesh side (peach, apricot, nectarine) to tart, refreshing white grape and Granny Smith to perfectly sweet citrus of the most coveted varieties (tangerine, satsuma, and even sweet lime).

We have a ton of history with these coffees, and we want you to as well. Flavor profiles are diverse, so get in touch and we’ll help you find the perfect coffee for your menu.

Three Forests: The Guji Uraga Story

At some of Ethiopia’s most extreme altitudes lies Guji’s Uraga region, a dense, mountainous forest that spans almost a thousand miles. Within this huge forest lie three smaller forests, and from these three forests—Yabitu Koba, Larcho Torka, and Harsu Haro—come some of the most extraordinary and sought-after coffees on our menu. These coffees are coming in soon, with our first containers having arrived, and they’ll go fast, so if you’re interested, get in touch.

Despite the incredible quality found in Guji Uraga, you wouldn’t have found these coffees on the market ten years ago—at least, not as Guji. Back then, Guji coffees lived under the Sidamo subhead, and the stellar coffees of Guji Uraga were trucked across the border into Yirgacheffe, where they could find a slightly higher price due to better name recognition. In 2010, Aleco tasted these coffees and recognized that they were unique, second to none, and worthy of differentiation. Now, eight years later, the three forests themselves and the distinct coffees within them deserve their own differentiation.

In Southwest Uraga lies the smaller Ugo Begne forest and Yabitu Koba village, where the Hana Asrat washing station produces a truly singular coffee. Managed by lifelong coffee trader Feku Jebril, Yabitu Koba brings with it incredibly ripe red fruits, blazing acidity, and classic Ethiopian florals like bergamot and jasmine. Originally hailing from Dilla, Gedeo’s capital, Feku sold the huge wet mill he used to own in order to move deeper into the forest, managing coffee production at Yabitu Koba with a laser focus on quality.

Heading northeast towards the center of Uraga, sky-high at 2510 masl, lies Larcho Torka forest. Managed by Feku’s brother Abdi Jebril, also a lifelong coffee trader, Larcho Torka coffee brings with it elegant flavors of candied lilac, a balanced lemonade acidity and dense, sugared sweetness. Abdi’s work at Larcho Torka is characterized by the same quality focus as Feku’s.

Towards Northeast Uraga lies the smaller Bire forest, a newer producing area where the coffee trees are young, only four to six years old. High up in the mountains at 2300 masl lies the Harsu Haro washing station, producing a coffee that offers the dense sweetness of raspberry and currants and the ripe, balanced acidity of clementine and yellow peach.

In all three forests, absolutely meticulous processing puts its signature on these coffees: first, they pass through McKinnon depulpers, then move into washing channels where they lose the rest of their mucilage. They move into soaking tanks for another 12 hours overnight, and in the morning, they’re laid on drying beds for eight to ten days.

The next step is key to the incredible shelf-life of Guji Uraga forest coffees: after drying, they move into the warehouse and rest for a week after drying to condition and stabilize. After that, the washing station teams hand-sort through the parchment, selecting only the cleanest coffee. Because of their incredible potential, consistently realized through meticulous processing, Guji Uraga Forest coffees not only come in sparkling, they continue to bloom and get even better over the course of the year. In coffee, there are two ways to do business: produce the most coffee, or produce the best, and Yabitu Koba, Larcho Torka, and Harsu Haro produce the best. These coffees will be here before you know it, so get in touch.

Newsletter: Ethiopia Agaro 2019

Agaro’s Back and it’s Better than Ever

It’s time to get excited about Ethiopia, and right now it’s all about the coffees we have coming in from Agaro—not just because they taste amazing, but also because they’ll be here soon, first of all our Ethiopian offerings.
Agaro coffees have always formed a core of the Red Fox menu, but our relationship with Agaro extends back far before Red Fox was born. Back in 2009 when Aleco first traveled to meet the Yukro, Duromina, and Nano Challa cooperatives, their coffees were flowing into the marketplace undifferentiated and undervalued. Once USAID’s Technoserve project, which focused on improving African coffee farmers’ lives by helping them get better prices for their coffee, established these washing stations, Aleco saw the unique character of these coffees and invested in developing relationships with their producers, which have grown stronger to this day. Two years ago, we were excited to welcome Kolla Bolcha, a newer cooperative neighboring the Biftu Gudina cooperative, into the Agaro family. All of these coops live under the umbrella of the Kata Muduga cooperative union, whose leadership makes all these coffees possible.
This is an especially exciting year for Nano Challa and it’s new sibling mill, Nano Genji. The members of Nano Challa have historically produced one of the most, if not the most, coveted coffees in all of Western Ethiopia. Doing such a great job with production & process has lead to receiving tremendous premiums, swelling membership to a level that pushed their capacity as far as it could go. This year, they opened a new facility a few miles away with brand new Penagos equipment along with dozens of drying beds to accommodate their growing membership.
While these coffees all hail from the same region, the Agaro portfolio offers an incredibly diverse array of flavors. At their most iconic, Nano Challa and Nano Genji bring an intense, lively sweetness like candied ginger and a sparkling, champagne-like finish, whereas Kolla Bolcha is perfectly complete bringing ripe red fruit character (think cherry, currant, etc), a heavy cola sweetness with a lustrous, honeyed mouthfeel. Our Yukro offerings are juicy and refreshingly tart like currants, both red and black, while Duromina offers ripe, sultry melon and apricot sweetness tied together by vibrant Meyer lemon acidity.
These coffees are special, and we want you to try them. We’ve worked together with Asnake and Efrem, Kata Muduga’s leadership, for ten years now, which affords Red Fox first right to lot selection. With mighty effort from our strategic trade partners in Addis, we ship these lots first as well—so, look for the first Ethiopian containers arriving on the east coast March 15 and on the west coast just a few weeks later. Get in touch with your contact over here, or reach out to info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com to book some!

Newsletter: Ethiopia Guji Uraga

We all know the highest grown coffees at altitude are the last to ripen, meaning they’re most often last in the queue at the dry mill, and they’re the last to ship. In the case of Ethiopia, they are also the coffees that need some extra time to compose themselves and shine in the cup. After a handful of years experience with Uraga coffees, my personal favorite area in Southern Ethiopia, I am confident that this is essentially fact.

This season’s Yabitu Koba and Layo Teraga out-turns prove that. It’s been just over a month since they arrived into the Port of New Jersey, and these coffees are beginning to reveal themselves. The journey from the southern interior of Ethiopia to Addis to Djibouti, up the Red Sea and across the Mediterranean, finally traversing the Atlantic is an arduous one. It stresses the coffee. In the case of these higher altitude coffees, I think they become tight and need time in the warehouses to acclimate. Let’s say that they’re now getting comfortable in their new surroundings.

Our Uraga lots typically hit their peak flavor potential fall through winter and we’re tasting the onset of that concept just now. Some of my favorite emails of the year are those I receive from roasters in Jan/Feb, when I’m selecting new crop lots in Addis, telling me that Yabitu is better than it’s been all season.

Don’t miss out on top lots that will carry you safely through winter until new crop arrives next spring.

We’ve made allocations of all three of today’s offerings in both Continental Terminals NJ and The Annex CA.

OFFER
*units are available as 60 kg grain pro lined jute bags.
*all units are now SPOT The Annex CA/Continental Terminals NJ

Yabitu Koba #728 FTO fragrance: spice (clove, allspice), ripe plum — cup profile: fresh blueberry, root beer, pear, cherry tomato, cider-like mouthfeel — 88/89 points.

Yabitu Koba #729 FTO fragrance: stewed peach, wildflower honey — cup profile: crisp and refreshing malic acidity, white pineapple, rhubarb, fresh milk, cacao nibs — 90 points.

Layo Teraga: fragrance: peach, brulee’d sugar — cup profile: white grape juice, meyer lemon, refreshing/piquant acidic character, almost ethereal cleanliness in the finish, hints of macadamia in the aftertaste — 88/89 points.

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Secure Source: Rwanda

Rwanda makes up a smaller portion of the total volume of coffee that we buy at Red Fox, but in many ways it represents best the potential for the work that we do as specialty coffee buyers. First, there is the coffee itself: nearly 100% heirloom Bourbon, grown in the volcanic soil of Rwanda’s abundant hills. Elevation across the country ranges from 1,500 to 2,000+ masl, and rainfall is ideal for coffee cultivation. The cup profiles in Rwanda are unique and varied, with saturated sweetness and full-bodied mouthfeel, as well as complexity, brilliant acidity, and vibrant fruit. And the fully-washed, centralized processing in Rwanda is meticulous, some of the best of any origin we work in.

But the story of coffee in Rwanda was not always so. When the reshaping of Rwanda’s coffee sector began in 2000, only six years after the utter devastation of the genocide, 90% of Rwanda’s coffee crop was classified as low-quality ‘ordinary’ coffee.’ There were hardly any centralized processing stations in the country and almost no washed coffee was produced at all. The history of coffee cultivation in Rwanda, inextricably linked to colonial policies from the 1930s, included enforced planting of coffee, restricted cherry prices, high taxes on exports, and tight control over who could buy and sell coffee within the country. After the genocide, the government lifted restrictions on trade and on farmers, and then began a sustained and focused effort to develop a high-quality, specialty coffee market in Rwanda.

In a collaborative effort, donor-funded NGOs, like PEARL and later SPREAD, formed and trained cooperatives, supported the building of hundreds of new washing stations throughout the country, invested in training and technical assistance for farmers, agronomists, cuppers, and quality control professionals. These long-term investments across the supply chain in Rwanda dramatically increased the supply of quality coffee in the country. Demand for high-quality Rwandan coffee has increased globally, farmers have access to higher prices for the fruits of their labor, and many skilled jobs have been created throughout the supply chain, from accountants and managers at washing stations, to cuppers, agronomists, quality control personnel, and positions in dry milling and export.

There are still challenges, of course. Washing stations are costly to operate and often struggle to remain solvent. Government regulation over cherry prices can be destabilizing year to year for washing station owners, millers, and exporters. But coffee in Rwanda has come a long way, and we are glad to have a small role in that process. Quality continues to improve and the coffees are beautiful, stable, and a welcome addition to seasonal coffee menus everywhere. Our Rwandan coffees arrive to the US in the late summer and early fall.

We’d like to shed some light on what’s happening with each of our projects. You’ll find rough harvest and shipping timelines, price ranges, and flavor profiles for each region below.

Nyamasheke District, Western Province – Kanzu

Aleco first set his heart on coffee from Kanzu at Rwanda’s Golden Cup in 2007. The coffee came in fourth in the competition, but the sweetness and profile blew him away, and he set off to go about buying it. At the time, the washing station’s owner struggled to stay in operation from year to year, and buying coffee from Kanzu in the subsequent years was a rollercoaster. In 2012, the washing station was purchased by C. Dorman and for the past five years they have made investments in infrastructure, trained farmers on agronomic best practices, and improved quality control. It’s a well-run operation and the quality of the coffee is superb. Elevation at the washing station is 1,900 masl, and most of the coffee is grown on the steep hills above, where the high elevation and cool climate slow down the cherry ripening and make for very dense fruit. Lots are separated by week through the harvest season and we cup each separation to select the top lots. Kanzu is our longest-standing relationship in Rwanda.

Peak Harvest Season: April – June
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Rusizi, Western Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: asian pear, blackcurrant, concord grape, honey, date syrup, fresh cream

Nyamasheke District, Western Province – Gatare

The Gatare washing station is just a few ridges beyond Kanzu, also in the Nyamasheke district, which lies between Lake Kivu to the west and the vast Nyungwe Forest National Park to the south and east. It began operating in 2003, when it was one of just a handful of washing stations processing fully-washed, speciality coffee in the country. Elevation at the mill is 1,765 masl and they receive cherry from upwards of 2,000 farmers from the surrounding hills. Red Fox bought coffee from Gatare for the first time last year and the incredible floral characteristics, layers of sweet stone fruit, muscovado sugar, and gingerbread won us over immediately. The washing station has the capacity to process a large volume of coffee and we hope to see our relationship grow here.

Peak Harvest Season: April – June
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Kigali City, Kigali Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: plum, peach, brown sugar, candied ginger, orange peel, fine cacao, honeysuckle

Nyamagabe District, Southern Province – Kibirizi

Our Kibirizi lots hail from the Nyamagabe district in the southwest of Rwanda, which lies between Cyangugu and Butare, east of the Nyungwe Forest. Here the landscape opens up into seemingly endless dome-shaped hills, nearly every square foot terraced and cultivated. Coffee production is only recently becoming as widespread here as in the Western District, but it is growing quickly. This washing station was built in 2016 and last year was its first year in operation. Immaculate and Francine, the washing station’s owners, have also planted over 20,000 coffee trees of their own, some of which are not yet producing fruit. This season, they bought cherry from around 500 farmers in the region and doubled their production over last year. In the cup, the Kibirizi profile is full of intensity with fresh and dried red fruits, bright kiwi and lime acidity, and elegant hibiscus floral notes.

Peak Harvest Season: March – May
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Kigali City, Kigali Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: red fruit – dried cherry, cranberry, cane sugar, crème brulee, hibiscus

Cheers,

Julia