The moral background of buying coffee

The way we source coffee has, historically, relied on extraction and exploitation. So we buy coffee with some trepidation.

Much of what is grown outside of the Ethiopia/Sudan region was initially planted by colonial regimes or imperial powers, then exported in a global trade scheme set up to give western consumers cheap commodities at the expense of developing countries. This deeply unfair system isn’t really altered by paying some farmers high prices for nice coffees, though this can do wonders help specific people and places.

To buy coffee, then, comes with a whole set of questions about the best way to repair a massive imbalance of power — and how long it might take. We’re working on all sorts of ways to redress this, from individual relationships to structural activism, and one of our favourite coffees of the moment offers a glimpse of positive repair.

The Inga community of Aponte grows our honey processed offering. They are descendants of ancient, pre-hispanic Incas. During the period of colonial conquest in Colombia, they remained isolated high in the mountains, a natural refuge. The community did not resume significant contact with the rest of Colombia until the second half of the nineteenth century. By the 1990s, this contact was mostly criminal, and the Ingas’ refuge became a place of cruelty. Under the influence of guerrilla groups, drug traffickers and paramilitaries, the tribe was forcibly drawn into poppy and heroin production. The once-peaceful mountains teemed with illegal plantations and violence, in which the Ingas were trapped until as recently as fifteen years ago.

In the last decade the mountains have returned to a safer zone for the Inga tribe, with illegal crops eradicated as coffee takes their place. The Caturra variety has been planted widely in this territory, on smallholder properties in the Resguardo Inga Aponte, at an average of 2150 meters above sea level. This elevation, combined with the Galeras Volcano constantly shedding nutrient-rich ash, makes for an exceptionally complex and sweet coffee.

Our roaster, Micah, has worked with the Ingas directly himself in a previous job. We sourced this year’s coffee through our friends at Ally Coffee, who have helped the community sell larger quantities of their crop at a premium. At the moment, we’re loving the character of papaya, mango, and tropical juices and drink it nearly every day.

Ultimately, though, we’d like to see the real power in the trade relationship tilt more toward the Ingas and less toward ourselves. Stay tuned.