Like everything bought and sold, coffee can be a vehicle for profit or a tool for changing the world. Sometimes, it is both. 2020 was, unequivocally, a difficult year for the coffee industry, globally speaking, as it was for many of us working in that industry. One response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is to help others make it through the storm. Our report this month shines a spotlight on those kinds of coffee roasters, folks who have either been community-minded since their companies’ inceptions, or those just getting on the philanthropic wave.
We take a look at roasters who are contributing some portion of proceeds from the sale of their coffees to causes that are meaningful to them — from non-profits that feed local communities to scholarship funds for women of Haitian descent to investing in a musician’s efforts to amplify his own support of a children’s hospital where his son was treated.
We cupped 37 samples for this report, all worthy projects in terms of the various ways in which they are contributing to the greater good. Ten rose to the top at the cupping table, with scores ranging from 91-94. Here are their stories.
This Month’s Top-Scorer
The top-scoring coffee this month comes from Green Stone Coffee in Taipei, Taiwan, whose classic Kenya Nyeri (94) supports the work of The Growth Association, a non-profit founded by Chen Zaihui in 2011 to nurture the growth of children in nearby Hualien. Owner and roaster Kelly Wang’s company will donate 20% of net profits from the sale of this coffee to The Growth Association. The coffee is a fine, classic Kenya: juicy, sweet-tart, with bright acidity, rich florals and dark-berry fruit.
Two coffees came in at 93. Street Bean’s Ethiopia Suke Quto is a balanced, juicy washed-process Ethiopia cup with citrus and stone fruit notes up top and spice-toned florals underneath. This non-profit roaster’s mission, since its founding in 2009, is to provide supportive employment training for the young people of Seattle. David Clark, Roasting and Wholesale Operations Manager, says, “Sales of this coffee support Street Bean’s apprenticeship program to provide opportunities for street-involved young people to discover and employ their gifts by serving coffee in our community. While our model has temporarily changed because of COVID, during normal times, our apprenticeship program looks like this: Over the course of four months, our apprentices go through a three-tier program that focuses on specific aspects of working in the coffee industry and the job field at-large.”
Additionally, Clark offered high praise of Tesfaye Bekele, the producer of this Suke Quto. “Bekele is responsible for putting Guji specialty coffee on the map. When the Guji Zone was dominated by cattle farmers, he sought new ways to make coffee popular in Guji. From 1997 to 1999, the Guji region was devastated by wildfires. Working in the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection agency for Ethiopia, it was Bekele’s responsibility to rebuild and conserve the region. One plan was to circulate coffee tree seedlings to local farmers.” While that initiative floundered, Bekele and started his farm and washing station, Suke Quto, to show everyone that coffee was worth the time and effort. Guji is now, of course, one of the most highly regarded growing regions in the world.
Helping Feed Redlands, California, Through Coffee
Wild Goose Coffee Roasters, in Redlands, California, earned a 93 for its Kenya Kirinyaga Peaberry, a vibrant, sweetly savory, floral-toned cup. About this coffee, founder Nathan Westwick says, “It is important to us that the coffee farmers we work with get paid well for all of their hard work, which is why we choose importers who practice high ethical standards, paying at or above fair-trade premiums for our coffee.”
As for the cause this coffee supports, Westwick adds, “for every pound of coffee sold, 10 pounds of food are provided to our local Feeding America Riverside | San Bernardino (FARSB) food bank. Our local economy has been incredibly hard-hit by COVID-19, and the food bank has been working tirelessly to make sure families are provided for during this challenging season. I started Wild Goose to help create Better Communities Through Better Coffee; to date, customers drinking Wild Goose Coffee have provided over 2.7 million pounds of food to families in need, all up and down the state of California.”
Healing and Gender Equity in Eastern Congo
Wonderstate Coffee in Viroqua, Wisconsin submitted a lovely Congo Muungano (93), a chocolaty, sweetly nutty cup with full, syrupy acidity. The Muungano cooperative, which is comprised of 1/3 women farmers, most of whom were widowed by war, is well known for both its high-quality coffee and its contributions to gender equity initiatives. In addition to purchasing the green coffee to support this community, Wonderstate is also donating $1 per pound sold to the non-profit On the Ground, a group devoted to promoting gender equity in the Congo.
Wonderstate’s Caleb Nicholes says, “We chose to support this project because gender oppression and violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is among the worst in the world. I visited the DRC in 2015 and was able to hear powerful testimonials from female members of the Muungano cooperative about the importance and efficacy of this kind of support. Worldwide, women provide the majority of the labor to produce coffee, over 80%, yet remain largely undervalued, oppressed and under-compensated. There is a very unique and rare opportunity to support the same community and Muungano Cooperative that produced this coffee, as well.”
Accelerating Haitian Entrepreneurship
Gaïna and David Dávila are no strangers to activism. The Washington D.C. couple, who have roots in Nicaragua and Haiti, founded Dávila Kafe after working in the coffee industry in Southeast Asia in 2016. Gaïna says their mission is to create inclusive and anti-racist spaces that serve the needs of disenfranchised and underrepresented communities.
The Dávila coffee we rated at 92 for this month’s report is a dead ringer for notes of fresh blueberry pie filling. #She_Builds is a blend of a washed Haiti and a natural Ethiopia that we found to be sweet-toned with gentle, fruit-driven acidity and a crisp, velvety mouthfeel. Furthermore, 10% of all proceeds from sales of this coffee go directly to the Moonshot Academy, a leadership and entrepreneurship accelerator program for high-potential small businesses led by women of Haitian descent. The Academy aims to support Haitian women in becoming world-class tech-enabled entrepreneurs.
Out of Charlotte, North Carolina comes Magnolia Coffee’s Josh Daniels Grateful Blend (92), a deep, cocoa-toned blend of coffees from Papua New Guinea and Colombia. The cause behind this coffee is a uniquely personal one, albeit with broad reverberations. Ten percent of proceeds from the sale of this blend go to support the Levine Children’s Hospital, where local musician Josh Daniels’ son was treated for a rare condition. Since the pandemic shutdown, Daniels has been live-streaming his music every day to raise money for the hospital, and to date, he’s brought in more than $50,000. This coffee extends these efforts. Jay Gestwicki, Magnolia’s Director of Coffee, says, “Josh has been a shining light for a lot of people during this pandemic. Coffee is my art and I wanted to use it as a positive, too.”
Assisting Refugees and Preventing Suicide
1951 Coffee Company is a neighbor of Coffee Review here in Berkeley, California. We’ve long admired their mission to promote the well-being of the refugee community in the United States by providing job training and employment to refugees, asylees, and special immigrant visa holders. Every coffee purchased from 1951 goes toward this work. So, we were delighted that the Ethiopia Quantit we purchased from their website and blind-cupped scored a solid 92 with its delicate, spice-toned profile. It’s a classic washed Ethiopia cup, and it’s certainly a good buy in support of one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Sip of Hope is a Chicago-based specialty roaster that contributes 100% of net proceeds to support mental health education. It also roasts a fine Nicaragua Women Producers coffee (92) that is high-toned, sweetly nutty and balanced. As a social enterprise of the mental health nonprofit, Hope For The Day, Sip of Hope contributes to the vital mission of suicide prevention. Its coffee bags all offer the tag line, “It’s ok not to be ok” and are printed with phone numbers for suicide prevention and crisis counseling.
Thanksgiving Coffee, on California’s Mendocino Coast, is well-known in the industry as having been founded on the principle of “Not Just a Cup, but a Just Cup” by Paul and Joan Katzeff in 1985. It now partners with Fair Trade coffee cooperatives and family farms on five continents. The coffee we cupped for this report, Humanitarian Grounds (92), is comprised of coffees from Nicaragua, Guatemala and Ethiopia and is engagingly floral- and cocoa-toned. Contributions in the amount of 20% of sales go to Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid organization that is active in all 50 U.S. states and more than 100 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.
Finally, we have an evocation of Mr. Rogers in Look For The Helpers (91) by Tony’s Coffee in Bellingham, Washington. A full 100% of the profits from the sale of this Ethiopia and Central America blend — a chocolaty daily-drinker — go to the Bellingham Food Bank, which serves the most fundamental need of getting food to those who need it.
Mr. Rogers’ recently revived phrase has come to feel particularly appropriate during the global pandemic, as each day’s bad news arrives parallel to stories of essential workers tending the inhabitants of our bruised and battered planet. And it encourages us, as do all of the efforts recognized here, to not just think about the world, but to change it for the better.