Every coffee has its own story to tell. And because coffee sourcing practices are so varied, those stories are as unique as their coffees. In our ongoing series, From the Source, our roasters go deeper to share their personal accounts and tell those stories.
Establishing a relationship
I met this guy named Erlin Nolasco (pictured above), he’s the son of the guy who owns Finca Emmanuel. He has cousins that help out, too, and he’s a third generation farmer. He’s young. I met him before I even bought his coffee, and he was really into farming and trying to figure out ways to better the farm.
He was constantly sending me pictures - here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we need - and this was before I even bought coffee from him, he just wanted to talk to somebody about what he should be doing to better the farm. An opportunity came up for me to buy his coffee, and I was like, of course. This kid is young, he’s very motivated, and that’s kind of hard to find. A lot of the younger kids in coffee farming families are moving to the cities, so it was good to see somebody young who really wanted to not only to maintain the farm, but grow and improve it.
A big purchase
This year, a coffee company that had been buying Erlin’s coffee for three years was not able to purchase it. He was in dire straits, like “I don’t know what I’m gonna do, all we do is produce coffee, this is our main cash crop.” I was bummed out and I talked to a friend of mine who told me, “You know what, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help someone you care about.”
So I decided to buy the whole 20-bag lot, which is the biggest lot Máquina has ever purchased at once (one bag of coffee from Honduras is around 151 pounds of unroasted coffee). We got an importer and an exporter - Beneficio San Vicente run by Ben Paz, who has been a friend of mine for years - who helped me figure out how to get the coffee to the country.
Erlin offered to lower the price to help us buy it all, and I said "Nope, don’t do that." During COVID, people’s contracts were dropping like flies; this didn’t just happen to him, it’s happening to many producers. Even as a tiny company, I know Máquina can bear this risk more than he can. If he doesn’t sell this coffee, it’s a domino effect. It just sits there and gets old, and then he can’t get the money to invest in the new crop. Even if it takes me a little longer to sell it, he’s gotten his money, so he can set his stuff for the next year.
Apparently he has a little less volume this coming year, but I’m gonna purchase all the bags again. And he has maybe 30 pounds of Gesha variety coffee, and he’s going to air freight it to us. So, Máquina has first dibs on that Gesha, and we’ll have first dibs when they have more in the coming years.
Helping build and rebuild
One of the things Erlin needed on his was a backpack sprayer for fumigation. He does all organic fumigation on his farm and in the past he needed to ride a donkey several miles to a friends house to borrow that sprayer. And these devices are not expensive. I said, “Tell me what you need and I’ll do some research” and it was like $400.
And I thought, “There’s gotta be a way for me and customers to be able to fund something like that, a reinvestment in the farm.” So I decided to donate a dollar from every bag I sold back to Erlin’s family.
And then Hurricane Eta hit, so it’s like a double whammy — it’s COVID and the storm. I decided to double the donation: a dollar to the family and a dollar to a Hurricane Eta Go Fund Me. It feels good to help somebody else, and I wanna share that feeling with customers. Every little bit helps, and when we pool together, we can do a lot of good stuff to help people.
About two months ago, Erlin sends me a picture. They had constructed a little café, or a little outdoor area where people can drink coffee in their town. In a time where people felt so isolated, now they have a space where they can come — in masks — and have coffee together. And I didn’t ask him to tell me anything. He said, “It matters. Because you took us on, we were able to get the things we need for next year’s harvest, plus there’s no way we would have been able to finish this café this year if not for Máquina taking on this contract.” That really drives me: being able to help somebody help themselves.
The impact of a bag of coffee
Sometimes you get a bag from Trade and you’re like “Cool red bag, cool roaster, cool coffee,” but you don’t really think about the impact that purchase really has for somebody. Because for Finca Emmanuel, this is it. They don’t do anything else, just coffee.
I want to do this for Máquina, for every coffee. With Erlin this was easy because I’ve known him for a long time, and I know his background and family. He’s very transparent with pricing, cost of production, and I’ve known him for four years. So it’s going to take some time to do this with every partner, but the goal is to be able to do something like this for every coffee we purchase.
This is a soft pilot for Máquina trying to do just a little bit more to motivate people to stay on the farm. I think you have to be paying fair prices first of all, and buying every year, but I feel like we can do more. And this is our calling as a company — to do more because we can.
Shop Now: Máquina Honduras Finca Emmanuel ($22)
— Gabriel Boscana, as told to Maciej Kasperowicz, condensed for length and clarity