Haitian Coffee

From an article about Haitian coffee (ht MR):

Atlantic Food Channel contributor Jerry Baldwin, co-founder of Starbucks and the company’s first roaster and buyer, agrees. He now owns Peet’s Coffee and Tea, and he says the relatively low-altitude Haitian coffee doesn’t have the taste his company seeks. Still, he suggests that coffee drinkers who want to help Haiti donate to long-term agriculture projects.

I emailed Peet’s after the earthquake to ask about Haitian coffee. They said the distribution network isn’t there yet and the quality is low. I simple-mindedly suggested Peet’s throw money at the problem, perhaps funded by customer donations. Peet’s representative Ginny replied (Technoserve is an NGO Peet’s works with that has a very small team in Haiti working with farmers):

I don’t think it’s overly optimistic to think that eventually Technoserve or another similar NGO might help Haitian growers start producing really high quality beans, and that Peet’s might be a part of this, just as we have been in East Africa. But our main contribution in this kind of endeavor is expertise, not money. Jerry Baldwin, who bought Peet’s from Alfred Peet many years ago, and our buyers Jim Reynolds, Doug Welsh, and Shirin Moayyad have all lent their coffee expertise to growers all over the world (not just those served by Technoserve). And a Peet’s employee left Peet’s about a year ago to go work for Technoserve full time – his many years at Peet’s as a coffee and tea trainer helped to give him the expertise that Technoserve looks for.

So the issue is not simply money. Producing coffee of the very high quality that Peet’s looks for can take years. When I started with Peet’s 11 years ago, the only East African country producing coffee of the quality Peet’s looks for was Kenya. Now we are buying from Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, and Tanzania. But this certainly didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t just money that made it happen. Issues that have to be addressed include proper care of the land, the soil, and the coffee trees themselves, selective picking of the coffee cherries, proper processing techniques, etc. It’s a long process of education, training, and feedback from experts.

She suggested to me that I take a look at Technoserve (which looks to be legit). Here’s their reply to my email to them about “my” idea to work in Haiti:

While I certainly like your idea and we do work in Haiti, we do not have the capacity or funding at the moment to certify farmers to sell to Peet’s Coffee. We do hope to have the capacity to do this in the future.

Incidentally, the Haiti – Integrated Financing for Value Chains and Enterprises (HIFIVE) team that TechnoServe is a part of does some work involving coffee. We assist small and medium enterprises (SMEs) or associations that could include coffee producers or coffee traders. With only a three-person team, however, we do not have the capacity to work with farmers directly as we do in other countries and other programs. Therefore, I am afraid that our partnership with Peet’s Coffee in other countries could not apply to our work in Haiti.

In the Atlantic article, someone is quoted as saying Haitian coffee is a “cause” coffee not a “quality” coffee. If the long-run recovery of Haiti concerns you, supporting groups like TechnoServe might be the way to go.

5 thoughts on “Haitian Coffee”

  1. heh. For the record, Peet’s and that other place are NOT the best coffee in the states. My favorite coffee is Barefoot in Santa Clara or Ritual in the Mission SF. Peet’s is pretty good, though.

  2. I thought coffee plants need lots of tree cover to grow, and Haiti is notoriously deforested. Wonder what other cash crops will grow there. Sugarcane? Tobacco? Pot? Poppies?

  3. push- I think your instinct is good, but with coffee, quality is the name of the game, like Peet’s said. You get much lower prices by having regular or bad quality coffee.

    But some company must take the bad coffee (it’s nestle with nescafe :) but still. Maybe folger’s is the one to contact? Maybe they could commit to buying x pounds of haitian coffee for the next few years to support Haiti? Or market a Haitian blend so people could choose to support Haiti? Haiti is so small relative to major producers like Brazil that this could have a big impact.

  4. To be honest, I was motivated to email Peet’s because I wanted to see if they’d give me some bs about fair trade… I had a whole post planned in my head about how hippies kill Haitian children… or something.

    I was more or less blown away by their response that they really only cared about quality.

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