The Coffee Chain

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People tell me I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Today was a day filled with dreams and reality coexisting with the beautiful landscape of Rwanda’s hills in the background mixed with joyful singing and dancing like I never thought I would do. We took the group up Ruli Mountain to visit our washing station, to see our coffee plantation and to meet with the employees of Land of a Thousand Hills from the Rwandan side. Traveling up the mountain was a little harder with more people and a mini bus instead of a 4 wheel drive SUV but our driver Vicent was amazing. It didn’t take long onto the dirt roads up to Ruli for us to feel like celebrities on a parade. “Muzungu” (white person) was shouted from the road sides as we waved to our “fans.” We stopped to stretch our legs at “Sarah Bridge” again and after taking photo’s and getting my feet wet walking in the water Manu found a farmer who is working with Kula Project. His name is Christopher and has four children. Along with being a farmer that we buy coffee from he is also one of our buyers, meaning he goes to other farms and purchases the cherries from farmers then brings them to our washing station.

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After reaching the washing station Manu quickly showed us the plantation that we currently have young trees planted. Next year they should produce the first crop and after about 5 years will be producing at full capacity. If taken care of properly they can last over 30 years! Having this plantation is great news for people we support and employee like Aime our current fermentation specialist who will be in charge of farming it. He is soon to be married and this plantation means a good life for his family. As we walked to the washing station we were greeted with great joy by local teenagers and traditional Rwandan singers/dancers. They had some amazing moves and soon grabbed us in a circle and had us tapping our toes and stomping our feet trying to keep up. I was definitely loving the moment but my legs were burning when I was done. Manu explained that they continue to teach traditional dances to ensure that their culture is not lost in the influence of Western Culture. Just as with remembering to fight against genocide ideology is taught so is the fight against losing who they are. As Manu told us a quote they remember often is that if you don’t know where you come from you can’t make sense of where you’re going.

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We then went through the coffee steps once it reaches the washing station. We even got a short demonstration with a few kilograms of cherries that were deplulped and pushed down to the fermentation tanks. We didn’t have 10-12 hours to wait as the coffee fermented so we stopped the demonstration there and just talked about what would happen next. It still amazed me the amount of time and methodical effort goes into the coffee as it is at the washing station for about 3 to 4 weeks. Manu explained that during the processing time we have over 100 employees at the station along with 30 buyers for cherries. The farmers will harvest the coffee until about 6pm when they then have 8 hours to get the cherries to the wash station to begin processing. This is part of the reason it is a 24 hour job because once the first batch arrives everything must be monitored. Including security guards at night to prevent theft.

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Manu walked us to their storage room and we saw some parchment ready to be shipped to Kigali and milled before it is exported to our roasting facility in Roswell. Mostly consisting of A1 the high quality bean. After the shipment has been milled a sample of each will be cupped. If the scores are similar enough between A1 and A2 that they can be mixed then after sorting they will be before exportation. A3 will never mixed with them and neither would A4, the lower quality coffee. Before leaving for Mbilima to spend some time with farmers I was able to give out the letters written to farmers by some of the Roswell Customers. I know they probably will need it translated but I was very excited to be able to give some appreciation from consumers of Rwandan coffee to the ones that are responsible for their enjoyment.

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On the ride to Mbilima I had no idea the event about to take place. We quickly met Laurant an amazing farmer whom I’ve seen pictures of so many times (who is quite smaller than I expected in person). Along with other farmers and we walked down to Laurant’s plantation to sit together and share in some Fanta’s for us and banana beer for the farmers. This seemed like the perfect opportunity so Mike and I were be able to take a single picture of the real coffee chain. As a barista I talk about the coffee chain a lot. Who’s hands have touched the coffee? In most instances with washing stations like ours and over 100 employees you can never name them all. However the people in charge of the coffee, being the all stars, can be represented. In this case we had a champion farmer, the Rwanda production/quality/exportation director, the washing station manager, the roaster and myself representing the barista.

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We learned about what life is like for the farmer and how grateful they are for our company. Since we pay more than fair trade prices the other washing stations they sell to had to bring up their prices in order to compete with us and receiving the highest quality. They told us that they wanted to send a gift to America to thank the consumers of their coffee for purchasing it. I’m not a crier. My wife will tell you that she’s kind of upset about the fact that she’s never seen me cry.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASitting under coffee trees, talking about coffee, with the people responsible for my passion broke me down. It was one of the more beautiful moments of my life. Being able to feel a connection to these people that different languages couldn’t stop. I’m not a green coffee buyer, I’m a manager at our coffee shop and yet our company has such a strong connection to our farmers I was able to be there today. As I was sitting under a few branches another farmer sitting next to me started to pull at a few tiny branches sprouting out of a larger branch. I followed along and he stopped me before taking out something I wasn’t supposed to. Using hand gestures he taught me about the importance of pruning your trees properly in order for the branch to explode with cherries.

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I was being taught how to farm coffee by some of the most amazing people in the world. I was able to meet, hug, and share cold drinks on a hot afternoon with the people that are my reason for being here. This moment of realization as the tears formed and came out had me in awe of their generosity to share with us who they are. They wanted to send a gift to America just after I got done handing out thank you letter from the people they wanted to thank. Their spirit, joy, generosity, and love for me broke me down as I realized the magnitude of what I was doing and where I was doing it. I tell people that Drink Coffee Do Good is much more than just a slogan and today I experienced the realness of that truth more than ever.

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