We were fortunate to have Torchy’s partners Mike Rypka and Jay Wald travel with us to Brazil this harvest to meet some of our growing partners.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with Torchy’s from their early days, and it has been exciting to grow with them over the years.
Their growth has been great for us as a company, but I wanted to write a short blog about the impact a company like Torchy’s can have when its coffee is sourced directly from the growers and there is not only traceability, but a relationship that is maintained throughout the supply chain.
Hopefully you have had the chance to try Casa Brasil’s Torchy’s Blend. Here is a little bit about the coffee:
- The coffee scores at or above an SCAA 83, a score that is significantly higher than coffee offered by Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Peet’s, and many others.
- We source directly from growers, import the coffee ourselves, and then roast the coffee fresh to order in Austin, Texas.
- We pay a price that is detached from the commodity market (more on this below) and offer full transparency to our growing partners.
I wanted to focus on two ways that Torchy’s and Casa Brasil are directly impacting lives through our partnership.
How Coffee is Traditionally Sourced.
First, let’s look at how coffee is traditionally sourced. Almost all coffee worldwide is purchased at a price that is based on the commodity market price. Coffee of higher quality may receive a premium over that price, while coffee of inferior quality may be discounted. While commodity markets serve a valuable function, there are several problems with this model.
One of the main problems is that the commodity market price is not linked to a grower’s input costs. Add to this the volatility of the market, and a grower cannot be certain of the value of their product at the time of sale.
Let’s Make a Sandwich
Imagine that you are a sandwich maker and you make and sell sandwiches for a living under the following conditions. (1) The price at which you will sell your sandwich is not linked to your costs. (2) You neither control nor know what that price will be when you sell your sandwich. (3) Your livelihood and the livelihood of your family comes from sandwich sales.
Under these conditions, how will you go about making your sandwiches? Will you go out and source the highest quality ham, the freshest lettuce, and succulent heirloom tomatoes? Probably not. More than likely, your main concern will be to keep your costs as low as possible to minimize your chances of selling at a loss.
This is the situation that predominates for the coffee grower, and while the growth of specialty coffee has provided larger premiums that mitigate this risk, it is still there along with the resulting caution against taking measures to increase quality, both on a seasonal basis and in terms of investing in infrastructure that leads to higher quality.
Now—back to sandwiches—imagine knowing that you will be paid set prices that are completely detached from the commodity market and based on the quality of your sandwich. The paradigm changes. You know that you will be rewarded for quality and will therefore likely make the effort to go out and make a damn good sandwich.
The impact of our direct trade business model really came out on our trip. Through Torchy’s growth and their partnership with Casa Brasil, an increasing number of smallholder growers, trapped for generations in the commodity market cycle, have been able to invest in quality and make the transition from being beholden to commodity markets to artisan growers that largely control their own destinies.
Alessandro Hervaz installed a solar dryer and raised beds on his patio to ensure quality. He is also expanding his production to a plot above 1,300 m, among the highest in Brazil.
Augusto Borges purchased a coffee cherry color sorter that helps to ensure that unripe coffee fruit, which tastes astringent, like unripe bananas, doesn’t make its way into his higher quality coffee. This investment of around $10,000 USD was made possible by the partnership.
Ademilson Noiman expanded his production, planting coffee at higher altitudes that will likely lead to higher quality coffee.
Sérgio Borges installed raised beds on his property, getting the coffee off the ground where it can dry more evenly, with a lower risk of contamination.
Sérgio Borges participated in our selective harvest project, moving from strip picking to hand-picking ripe fruit for select microlots [more on that here]
Knowing Their Work is Appreciated
So much goes into these growers’ coffee. Not only are they literally surrounded by it, it is their life passion. Historically, growers took their coffee to the local coop, and that was it. They never knew where it went, who drank it, or if people appreciated their work.
Knowing where their coffee is going and hearing directly from Mike and Jay how much their hard work is appreciated was an incredible moment. Some of the growers were brought to tears hearing about Torchy’s commitment to finding passionate suppliers who were experts on their respective trades. For growers that have historically been at the bottom of the supply chain, hearing and seeing the mutual respect given to them by Torchy’s was, in the words of Augusto Borges, “a life changing experience.”
Augusto Borges, a young coffee grower who is passionate about quality and sees coffee not as a commodity trade that he inherited and is beholden too, but a path where he can express his passion and creativity, and be rewarded for his innovations. Initiatives like Casa Brasil’s direct trade business model help make coffee production a viable option for younger growers, instead of leaving the farm for the city.
So next time you grab a cup of coffee at Torchy’s, know that those beans were grown by passionate coffee growers that care about your experience, and that each cup adds to the enrichment of lives, from you enjoying the final product to those who supply it. If you would like to send a message to the growers to let them know, please reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and we will be sure to pass on to them.
Thanks again to Mike and Jay for making the trip. Words cannot express enough how much it meant to us and the growers. Thanks guys.