On Recognizing Greatness

On Recognizing Greatness
April 2, 2019 Summit Coffee
In Blog, Uncategorized
  1. Editor’s Note: The following is an entry from Evan Pollitt, Summit’s Director of Coffee. He and Dora Callahan, our Director of Retail Operations, came home from a week in El Salvador with its best coffee (literally), a small hangover and having changed lives forever. Here’s Dora’s story, and now here’s Evan’s below.

Photo credit: Victor Pagán / Cafe Imports

Traveling to coffee origins is always meaningful. While I have been on several trips similar to this, I can’t say that I have brought as much back with me as I did this time. I recently got back from Chalatenango, El Salvador. This is a coffee producing region, consisting entirely of steep mountainsides, pine trees (wtf?), and incredible people.

When we were deciding to roast Summit Coffee, it is important to us that we don’t just receive coffee but that we work with people to find coffee. We are fortunate that we have been able to make relationships with many of our key producers. Part of why we wanted to be more involved was to share better stories.

Part of the story of every coffee is the cost of production. In recent times the commodity markets fall well short of providing fair compensation for coffee growers. You can’t tell me that the pride and selfless dedication that goes into maintaining this line of work is only worth a dollar to you. Because price is so intertwined with sourcing, “transparency” is burning up the charts. It’s important to know what a roaster is paying for their coffee. Crucially though, we should know who is getting paid.

My trip to El Salvador was organized around an auction. An auction where the price on the board is the price the producer gets. Dora and I left the auction with the highest scoring coffee I have ever tasted. A 92 point, washed pacamara grown on Finca La Esperanza by Doña Maria Julia. We paid a lot of money for this coffee. This moment could change her life. That’s not why we paid so much. We paid because she worked day in and day out almost exclusively alone and produced a world class coffee on a small farm. It isn’t charity, it’s recognition and well earned.

As a woman living and working alone her road is a difficult one. Literally a 6km walk to a driveable road to get a ride. There are years where her children have to help her cover wages for pickers, where she buys everything on credit. Think about that, one of the highest graded coffees produced in El Salvador, and beyond may not have been produced this year.

Coffee can be expensive. It is labor intensive, land and input intensive, hard work. Sometimes price is a mark of quality, sometimes it’s marketing, sometimes demand. In this case, it’s a fair price to a woman who has been carrying a weight on her shoulders and is trying to help other woman farmers lighten their loads, and produced an exceptional coffee.

We paid a lot of money for this coffee. It was a decision that was full of excitement and emotion. It was not a decision made lightly. I hope that when this coffee arrives you will see the value in it that I do. That you will understand why it costs so much (hint: it tastes amazing). This isn’t just a business decision, it’s a decision to make a change with our purchasing decisions. Our customers are a crucial part of this. I hope that when we talk about the price of this coffee you include the pride, hard work, humanity, and lives in the calculation.

The pictures here include roasters and professionals from around the world who feel the same way. Some of these people have spent years trying to put the region of Chalatenango on the coffee producing map. Well, here it is.

Comments (3)

  1. Howard Prince 6 months ago

    I am a collector (not of coffee). What I’ve learned is that you can never go wrong when you buy the best,. Some things you buy regardless of price. Knowing who your competition is always helps.

    Congratulations on making a smart decision and helping a hard working woman. It’s a very good story all the way around.



  2. Janice Lewis 6 months ago

    I cannot wait to try this coffee!!

  3. Michael Griggs 6 months ago

    Evan, the business realities of your recent buying trip to El Salvador are quite stark. The people behind the coffee have to endure such hardship just to make a living. This is something customers need to understand when it comes to pricing the coffee we drink. It is important that we not get too far removed the the coffee farms that source Summit Coffee.

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