Origin: Where Coffee Production Begins
The vast majority of the world’s specialty coffee is produced in the equatorial tropics or as we call it, ‘the coffee belt’. The nations whose borders exist inside this area, in between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, have the best climates and overall conditions for growing arabica coffee. In some regions coffee is cooperatively grown by hundreds or even thousands of small, independent farmers; in others family-run plantation estate or “fincas” are dedicated to the production of one or more varieties of specialty grade coffee. The degree to which cup profiles differ is based on a number of additional factors beyond origin location and varietal including terroir, altitude, soil composition, rainfall, humidity, processing method, screening and grading.
Co-ops & Fair-Trade
In many coffee growing regions the local community and environment is best served by uniting the area’s individual farmers in cooperative production. (Recent studies have shown that) up to 70% of the world’s arabica coffee is grown by farmers who own 5 acres or less. In these regions co-ops are formed by groups of local farmers, tribesmen, pickers and mill operators; together they function as support mechanisms to manage and maintain infrastructure for the benefit of all. Cooperatively grown coffees are hand picked, sorted and processed as a singular lot, combining the output of all growers involved. Fair-Trade USA, a non-profit organization, exists to apply market-based approaches to provide farming co-ops with base level wages and resources for the prosperity of their community.
Estate or “single-estate” coffees are grown on a singular plot of land and are in many cases family owned and operated for multiple generations. By definition estates are not co-ops and therefore fair-trade certifications do not apply. That said, single estate operators generally receive the highest levels of compensation because they are able to command greater control and consistency over their varietals versus that of co-ops. Some estate farmers even manage their own processing and milling operations, and often dedicate a small portion of their land to producing a more specialized ‘micro-lot’.
Some coffee farmers maintain a small quantity of a unique varietal or uniquely processed coffee separate from larger shipments. Indeed the rise of the small, quality-oriented coffee roaster has opened up the market for these less than full lots referred to as micro-lots. Farmers may either plant a different varietal of coffee tree or employ a specialized processing method in order to make this particular coffee stand out from others grown in the region. Micro-lots are typically priced higher than competing coffees from the same region due to their unique production, limited availability, additional production time and labor costs.