Coffee Review Gives High Score to Fondo Paez (roasted by Kickapoo)

Most anyone involved in the fair trade coffee movement can tell you that dectractors of fair trade often argue that the quality of fair trade coffees aren’t on par with micro-lots (small amounts of coffee purchased from one farmer) or ‘Cup of Excellence’ coffees. This is illogical for several reasons. First, the fair trade system provides guidelines for trading relationships between buyers in the Global North and disenfranchised farmers/artisans in the Global South. It does not dictate how farmers should grow coffee. Most small family coffee farmers have been farming for generations and they know more than most industry professionals give them credit for. In fact, it’s been our experience that small family farmers, whose livelihoods are dependent upon the fruits of their land, are the most in tune with the needs of the soil, the results of climatic change on their region, and the overall health of their coffee trees and family gardens. This is true for small family farmers here in the States as well as Jesus Rodrigo Yatacue, a farmer and socio of Fondo Paez coffee co-op from the Cauca region of Colombia. Second, instituting a floor price for coffee and other products does not result in mediocre quality. This argument – often posed by opponents of fair trade – is equivalent to saying that the institution of a minimum wage in the States is directly related to the quality of labor of a person. It’s not a fair assessment, nor a correct one.

January 2008 Visit with Fondo Paez farmers in El Maco -Jody & Chris Treter, Chris O’ Brien, Melanee Meegan

On to the point of this blog entry . . . it’s always exciting when one of our partner farming co-ops receive due credit. This past month, Ken David’s popular Coffee Review offered up a round of cuppings of Colombia single origins. Coffee from our partners at Fondo Paez was at the VERY TOP OF THE LIST with a 95 score (beating out several well-known micro-lots)! Kickapoo Roasters – a new member of the Cooperative Coffees importing co-op – did the roasting artistry. Kickapoo was founded by TJ & Denise Semanchin and Caleb Nichols. TJ Semanchin was once roaster extraordinaire at Peace Coffee, another company that recently made waves in the world of quality coffee when their head roaster – Keith – headed up the winning roasting team at last year’s Roasters Guild annual gathering.

Congratulations to Kickapoo and Fondo Paez!

Here’s the Coffee Review Report:

Viroqua, Wisconsin
Reviewed: February 2008

Overall Rating: 95 points

Aroma: 8
Acidity: 8
Body: 7
Flavor: 9
Aftertaste: 8
Roast (Agtron): Medium (51/62)

Kickapoo Roasters
Origin: Fondo Paez Cooperative, Valle de Cauca Department, western Colombia.Notes: This coffee is certified organically grown. Although the words “Fair Trade” appear as well on the label of the attractive 12-ounce valve-topped can, the trade-marked seal of TransFair USA, the sole American certifier for the Fair-trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), does not. Fondo Paez is a cooperative of 550 farmers from the indigenous Paez people of central Colombia. Kickapoo Coffee is a Wisconsin micro-roaster devoted to organic and fair-trade principles and coffees. Visit www.kickapoocoffee.com or call 608-637-2022 for more information.Blind Assessment: Sweet-toned, delicately complex aroma: flowers, hints of honey, cedar and tart cherry, perhaps chocolate. In the cup very gently acidy, light in body but buoyant and silky in mouthfeel, and giddily floral- and honey-toned with complicating hints of chocolate, tart coffee fruit and Riesling-like white wine. Fades rather quickly in the finish but exquisitely clean with memories of chocolate and flowers. An exceptionally pure and balanced coffee.Who should drink it: A refined and refreshing coffee with great natural sweetness and balance. Avoid adding anything to it.
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4 Responses to Coffee Review Gives High Score to Fondo Paez (roasted by Kickapoo)

  1. Julie says:

    I think it might be fairer to say it’s less likely that FT coffee will be on par with COEs or microlots just because FT membership is only open to cooperatives. When you have multiple farms contributing coffee to the co-op there are suddenly dozens of variables coming into play — management and care of different farms, microclimates, etc. It has to be difficult if not impossible to manage for a particular cup profile in that scenario.

    That being said, I don’t think the average consumer can tell the difference (or truly cares, at that level) and the worst FT coffee has to be head-and-shoulders above the finest grocery store coffee produced by a multi-national, so the argument is indeed silly.

    Kickapoo is a roaster I’ve just recently discovered but haven’t tried yet. They’ve moved up the list!

  2. Hi Julie,
    Thanks for commenting. I look forward to reading more from your site, Coffee and Conservation. I’m sure Kickapoo will be pleased to sell you some of their great beans 🙂

    You are correct – the Fair Trade certified model only certifies farmer-owned cooperatives at this point. Within the FT movement, an ongoing debate rages about whether or not individually owned plantations should be allowed to participate. If so, how will we know for certain that day laborers are treated fairly and high environmental standards are upheld in day-to-day operations (it would be easy for beguiling plantation owners to put on a dog-and-pony show the day inspector arrives)?

    A vital component to fair trade is that it allows small farmers ownership in the process of exportation/importation via cooperative organization. As day laborers on larger plantations, these same farmers would have no ownership, no access to buyers to voice concerns and no access to credit to begin other micro-enterprise initiatives. The fair trade system allows for small farmers to band together, in most cases for a purpose much greater than simply exporting their coffee for a fair price.

    With regard to your comment about blending of multiple farmer’s harvests, again you are correct. Microlots and COEs allow a buyer to purchase a small quantity of coffee directly from one farmer in one microclimate. But in reality, the quality of a cup can vary greatly even within one hectare in one microclimate (the heirloom tomatoes we get from our local CSA are a good example – some are extraordinaly sweet and juicy while others are lacking).

    The post-acopio selecting and processing in Colombia, whether it be through the National Coffee Federation or private exporters like Virmax and Colombia’s Best, is some of the most impressive we’ve seen and is equally important to the final cup profile of a coffee. It’s not unusual for coffees to be cupped five times before they ever leave Colombia. This meticulous grading and sorting of coffee allows buyers – fair trade or not – to get the cup profile they seek.

  3. Great blog and quite eye-opening. I’m definitely dissatisfied with the current debate over fair-trade, between fair trade enthusiasts and the many third-wave direct farming companies out there. I understand the arguments about quality – the fair-trade standards are likely to mean that the worst fair trade is better than the worst non-fair-trade coffee, but the fair trade logo doesn’t guarantee much on the top end of the spectrum. And, in many cases, companies that do a lot of direct trade with farmers (Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Counter Culture, Novo and the like who purchase micro-lots) and place a premium on coffee quality do often exceed fair trade standards when it comes to paying farmers and provide lots of support in terms of equipment, techniques, etc. for improving quality. I’m just not sure why these companies don’t embrace the fair-trade logo as well since in most cases they exceed those standards.

    I saw the Kickapoo piece a while back and am eager to try it.

  4. Hello there . . . I love your name “manseekingcoffee”. Makes me want to change mine to “womanseekinggood&justcoffee”.
    I think you bring up a great point here. If, in the end, the goal of 100% fair traders and direct traders is to raise the standard of living for farmers, improve quality and create a trading structure where producers/buyers get equal decision-making, then why don’t we work together instead of expending so much energy discrediting one another?
    I think we’re ready for the next evolution of fair trade. It’s important that a third party does the certifying, the farmer pays a minimal (if any) price to participate and long-term relationships are created between roasters and farmers. My beef with some of these self-issued models of “just” trading is that there are no third parties overseeing the companies. So, how do we know companies are doing what they say, particulary in difficult times?
    Enjoy Kickapoo’s coffee! We’re definitely enjoying the Fondo Paez we’ve been roasting up over here at Higher Grounds Trading.

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