March 20, 2020

Closing The Knowledge Gap Between Specialty Café & Farm


Your café offers customers coffee that you’ve carefully selected from various origins. Whether you roast it yourself or source it from a roaster, you’ve chosen each offering with care, from a roaster or importer that you trust has sourced it ethically and sustainably. 

Despite this, a knowledge gap still exists between the farms and producers responsible for providing your coffee, and your café – where their coffee is brewed and sold. It’s no longer enough for cafés to know a coffee’s origin, who produced it, and how it was produced. 

To cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship with your coffee’s producers, you’ll need to take steps to close the knowledge gap between both parties. I spoke to a few professionals in the coffee supply chain about how this can be achieved.

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Elizaveta Maximova visits Café Ruiz coffee farm in Boquete, Panama. Credit: Café Sin Mentiras Roastery

What Is The Knowledge Gap & Who Is Impacted?

The coffee supply chain can be long and complex, with the product passing through many hands as it moves from a producer’s farm to a café’s cup. As we’re in the third wave of coffee consumption, it’s important that coffee is differentiated not just according to its quality, but according to its attributes, variety, origin, and harvesting and processing method.

Often, information on a coffee’s origin, production costs, and quality assurance doesn’t get communicated past the buyers and roasters purchasing it. In turn, cafés dealing with these same intermediaries often can’t communicate valuable insights to producers, such as how producers can improve their production or expand their offerings to meet evolving demand. This has created a knowledge gap between cafés and producers that must be bridged. 

Paulo Guffens owns Bird Of Passage Coffee, a specialty café in Porto, Portugal. He says that producers don’t always know exactly what specialty cafés offer customers and are sometimes disconnected from what their coffee looks like as an end product. By getting to know more about the processing methods used on farms and what kind of conditions producers face, cafés and roasters could pinpoint ways that producers could improve their coffee’s quality in a more immediate and responsive way.

Unripe coffee cherries on the tree at Café Ruiz, Boquete, Panama. Credit: Café Sin Mentiras Roastery

Elizaveta Maximova has been involved in specialty coffee since 2011, with experience roasting coffee in Panama, and producing it in Costa Rica. She also founded her own roastery, and now works at Café Sin Mentiras in Lisbon, Portugal. She says that the gap that exists between café and farm is significant, as at the two extremes are the most vulnerable members of the coffee supply chain – baristas and producers. Elizaveta also says that these groups earn the least money but do most of the hard work – and therefore are most impacted by the knowledge gap that exists.

Paulo acknowledges that having baristas and producers directly interact with each other could benefit both groups, as there’s a gap between how coffee is currently produced and processed, and what specialty cafés require in terms of coffee processing and production. He says that sharing knowledge can help both producers and cafés create shared goals, and develop products that can penetrate new markets.

However, he also acknowledges that cost is a factor that keeps many cafés from involving their baristas and staff members in more direct interactions with producers, such as through arranging trips to origin. He says, “If you work with coffee, you know that coffee doesn’t have the biggest margin. You need to be in a good position financially to be able to visit the farm.” It’s apparent a more feasible way to address the knowledge gap must be found. Here are some ways those in the industry are trying to address this.

Unloading green beans from Nicaragua at Kafferäven Roastery in Sweden. Credit: Swerl Coffee Club

Bringing The Farm Closer to Cafés

There are many ways roasters and cafés can help close the gap between those preparing the coffee, those growing it, and those drinking it. I spoke to Per Nordby about how this can be accomplished. Per is Founder of direct trade roastery and green bean importer Kafferäven in Göteborg, Sweden. He travels to origin multiple times a year to maintain relationships with farms. 

Per recommends finding creative ways to involve baristas, café owners, and consumers, in the process of directly importing green beans. For example, every time that a container of green coffee arrives at Kafferäven for roasting, he invites people to help him carry the coffee bags from the container to the roastery. He then roasts and brews it, before explaining the story behind the coffee in detail. 

This is also an ideal way to introduce customers to more exotic coffees that they might not have been exposed to before. These types of coffee usually come with a story, have a transparent and sustainable background, and come in limited quantities – making them an exclusive product that customers will want to buy while available. They should also fetch higher prices for producers, too. 

Cupping coffee at Koppi Roasters in Sweden. Credit: Swerl Coffee Club

Another way this can be accomplished is through roasters or cafés releasing public transparency reports, where roasters can disclose their FOB or farmgate prices. It can also include how many years they’ve been working with the producers and their average purchase volume. This can go a long way towards educating coffee professionals on how coffee is priced, and who is getting paid what for it. It can also prompt customers to ask more questions about the origins and pricing of their coffee.

How much of this information is passed on to the public can be at the discretion of the café and its staff members. Anne Lunell co-owns Koppi Roasters in Helsingborg, Sweden and says, “I think our task is to provide information to the customers that ask us for it. Hopefully, customers trust that we do our job well, and they feel confident and secure about working with us without accessing all the information. It comes down to building credibility.”

Finally, educating baristas and other staff members must be considered. While trips to origin might not be financially feasible for many cafés, an investment in formal training is worthwhile. Not only will staff members be better able to understand the impact that varieties, elevation, processing methods, roast profiles, and more have on a coffee – they’ll also be able to increase customer satisfaction, improve their performance consistency, and remain motivated on the job for longer. 

Drop Coffee Roasters coffee bags. Credit: Swerl Coffee Club

For coffee producers to keep growing coffee that meets the evolving demands of the market, they need to be better informed of what happens at the other end of the supply chain, when their coffee reaches those who will be drinking it.

If roasters and cafés take the first step in bridging the knowledge gap that’s present between producers and consumers, it can help lay the foundation for a more mutually beneficial relationship to be formed – one where consumers understand the challenges facing producers, and producers understand how to optimise their production to meet the market’s needs.

Enjoyed this? Then Read What Cupping Can Tell Producers About Their Coffee

Written by Beatriz Ferreira of Swerl Coffee Club. Feature photo caption: Naturally processed coffee cherries at Café Ruiz, Boquete, Panama. Feature photo credit: Café Sin Mentiras Roastery.

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