Interview by Jennifer Pruess, Equal Exchange
Wrapping up Portland’s Early History, Diving Into Roasting, and Pondering the Future with Todd Caspersen
With Todd (Todd Caspersen, Director of Purchasing and Production), we reach the final stretch in our blog series concerning Equal Exchange’s early Portland history. We had a truly engaging conversation covering activism, inclusion, proposals, Portland’s coffee culture, and building a roaster. And not just any roaster, a 1986 Roaster Probat from Germany.
Todd: Have we met before?
JP: I think so, but it was briefly. I’ve been back to West Bridgewater, at company retreats, and up at SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) in Seattle. So, I think at one of those events, we have met.
Todd: How long have you worked at Equal Exchange?
JP: Over five years.
JP: Yeah! I started off in the warehouse here in Portland and then I transitioned into doing a combination of warehouse and customer service, then DSD (Direct Store Delivery) . DSD is what I’m currently doing. I also do demos and help with special events like hosting folks here in our office.
Todd: You’re the DSD for New Seasons?
JP: Yep! One of them. There’s three people on my team doing DSD to New Seasons Market, local co-ops, and stores.
Todd: That’s funny. I use to do the DSD there. Many, many years ago.
JP: Right after this interview I’ll be doing a full day of DSD at New Seasons. Anyways, that’s who I am. And for some context as to why I wanted to sit down and talk with you, since being here for the last five years and getting to know the many nodes of our company, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at Equal Exchange Portland and dig into our Oregon history. I think moving out West was a big deal for Equal Exchange at that time, similar to the decision of owning roasting.
There were risks involved with these decisions yet it was also an exciting time for the company. Luckily, there’s still plenty of people for me to connect with in this journey of revisiting our story. As I was talking to Tom (Thomas Hanlon-Wilde, Executive Director of La Siembra) and Wells (Wells Neal, Director, Equal Exchange West) your name popped up quite a few times. They recommend that I get your perspective on things and I agreed! Then from that initial conversation about Oregon, came the other story about how you helped to bring coffee roasting in-house with Beth Ann (Beth Ann Caspersen, Quality Control Manager).
So, here’s a typical first question: How did you get started at Equal Exchange? And what initially interested you about working out in Oregon?
When I was in college, I was a member of the Mifflin Street Food Co-op, which is in Madison, Wisconsin. I remember reading the Equal Exchange coffee bag and thinking huh, I bet somebody has the job that has to go buy coffee. I thought that that was pretty cool, I’m going to get a job like that. It didn’t even really occur to me to try and get a job at Equal Exchange. I just thought okay, I’m going to learn Spanish, I’m going to travel around and get a degree in Agriculture. Then I’m going to get a job doing something like these people must do. So, I did that, and then I went into the Peace Corps. I’ve known about Equal Exchange for a long time.
Then, I was living in California and my mom sent me an ad from a newsletter for the Resource Center for the Americas which was in Minneapolis and Equal Exchange was hiring for what they called an Organizer to work in Minnesota. I thought: great, I’ll go back to Minnesota. I’m originally from Minnesota, I’ll go back and I’ll live in Minneapolis. I applied for the job and I interviewed and whatnot. They said: “Great, we’re going to hire you, but we’re not going to hire you to live in Minnesota, you can come live in Massachusetts.” At that point I was sort of couch surfing in San Francisco so I said okay.
I went to Canton to work as a sales representative. I didn’t want to be a sales person, but my friends were like you need a job so just take the job and something else will happen after that. So, I moved from California to Massachusetts to work in the Canton office. I started in October of 98’ and by March of 99’ I was in Oregon. Right after I started there they had started the Oregon office, I think the summer after coming back from Nicaragua in 98’.
They were like: “Hey, we need more people. Do you want to go to Oregon?” That sounded like a great idea to me. I didn’t have any particular attachment to Massachusetts or New England. So, I moved to Oregon. That’s sort of my spiel about how I got started.
Move out to Oregon and do what exactly?
Do sales, do whatever basically. Go make Equal Exchange successful in the West. It was a great time, me and Tom. Tom rented an office in Gresham, which was a horrible place, but whatever. I could take the train into town and we just started selling coffee.
Describe a typical workday for you at that time.
We always had service calls. There was an existing customer base, so we would do all of the customer service for existing customers. Then we would do cold calls essentially to anybody and everybody that we could.
Right when I got out there, Wild Oats had been sold. We knew they were going to open a new grocery store chain and New Seasons was starting. We got Markets of Choice, it wasn’t called Markets of Choice, but we picked that up and we started doing DSD to the co-ops in Oregon. In the beginning, it was a bunch of sitting in the office, doing a bunch of calling people and taking orders, then processing those orders to get them shipped out from the east.
Eventually, to better serve the Portland area we were like let’s get inventory. At that point, I rented a house on Hassalo Street (Portland, OR) that had a big garage. I had a pickup truck and I would go to the UPS terminal on the north side of Portland. I would pick up pallets of coffee in my truck and take them to my garage. I would keep all of the inventory in my garage and drive around and distribute the coffee from my garage!
Really? Working like seven days a week then?
Six days a week. So, it was a lot of office stuff to begin with and then it was delivering stuff. Then we hired Roxanne (Roxanne Magnuson of Life Source Natural Foods) and the team got a little bit bigger. We hired Beth Ann (Beth Ann Caspersen, current Quality Control manager for Equal Exchange) but it was traveling to accounts, delivering coffee, cold calling people, and that was pretty much it. It’s not that much different from what folks do now it’s just bigger.
You just mentioned a few accounts you worked with back then. Do you remember what key accounts were back then?
We had Food Front Co-op (Food Front Cooperative Grocery), there were some grocery stores that weren’t New Seasons, and there were smaller grocery stores we’d deliver to.
We’d also go up to Seattle. Bulldog News was the first food service account that we actually landed. I was super excited when we got that. I don’t know if you know, but food service accounts are very difficult accounts to get, so that was a good one and we use to be at a restaurant called Higgins. They were slow food folks and we sold them coffee for a while. We had Marcos Café in Portland that we serviced, I think that’s still one of our customers.
Yes, Marcos Café is still one of our customers.
I also had the whole Southeast: California, Idaho, the whole nut out there. Tom and I were trying to open up stuff there for a long time. Those were busy days just dealing with the accounts that we had. Then when we added new things like New Seasons Market and Nakata (Town and Country). They were both building stores and growing fast…yeah, that’s a long time ago.
Sounds like things were really busy even to the point of needing more people than you had at the time. With that being said, what were some of the bigger challenges for Equal Exchange working in Oregon? Were people not really familiar with the company yet or the Fair Trade movement?
I mean it was just trying to grow a business, managing a business, adding people, trying to figure out what is good business and what’s bad business. Those years were years of high growth for Equal Exchange. You’d go around and tell people about Fair Trade coffee and they’d have no idea what you’re talking about. I mean, it was really the beginning of specialty coffee.
Those were sort of years of really aggressive growth. I think in 2001 we hit ten million dollars and so we were growing by millions of dollars every year. It was really just managing growth, customers, and volume. Getting stuff shipped out to us, where to put it, and what to do with it. Do we get a bigger space? Why are we living in Gresham?! Those kinds of things.
In the end, I decided that if we didn’t roast coffee then we couldn’t compete. If we don’t roast, this is going to be bad for us. There was no way that Equal Exchange was just going to let us build a roaster in Portland by ourselves. Everything was back in Canton (Canton, Massachusetts). I set out to convince everyone that we should do that and I had to move back to the East. Plus, I wanted to be closer to the green coffee and buying. They didn’t hire me to go come back and roast coffee. They hired me to go back and work in the purchasing side of things.
That was definitely one of my questions. Considering what a vibrant coffee culture we have in the Pacific Northwest with small batch roasting being a strong theme here, I’ve always wondered about what drove that decision to roast out East as opposed to the West.
It makes sense that roasting should happen where the green beans are landing. Especially with the operational undertaking of owning roasting and the space needed to do something like that on the scale that Equal Exchange exists on.
Well, the board, the management, everything was in Canton and no one knew how to roast coffee. It wasn’t a for sure go, but, basically, I was like if we don’t roast than this isn’t going to work. That was sort of my own personal agenda. I got hired to buy green coffee first and then once I was doing that I was working with Mark Souza (Procurement for Equal Exchange) and Rosario Castellon (former Producer Relations Coordinator for Equal Exchange as well as an activist during the 1970’s Nicaraguan Revolution), asking what are we buying and where are we buying it? It was also a lot of systems work.
You asked about challenges and I think those are some of the same challenges we have today: systems. How do we work systems? How can we improve systems? How come different people do things differently? Why do you fill out the green paper and what happens to the green paper? We spent a lot of time doing systems development stuff and while I was doing that, we were having someone else roast our coffee. Everything was going well, but it was clear to me that you needed to be involved with the coffee. There seemed to be a lot of money on the table that we could take by roasting it ourselves and it would just be way better and cooler to do it.
We put a proposal forward and that ended up turning into the Build, Buy, Roast Proposal. We were renting. We were like: “Can we rent and roast coffee?” We can’t roast coffee here in Canton and we were growing like crazy. What should we do? That led to buying the place in West Bridgewater (MA).
Aha! So that’s how you got that conversation started about bringing coffee roasting in-house and making the decision to do so?
Can workers of Equal Exchange still look at that original proposal? The Build, Buy, Roast Proposal?
I was looking for it on one of my computers. I have a couple old computers opened up, but I couldn’t find it on the computers that I have. I’m sure that Rink has it because he has a huge file cabinet and actually, the first proposal was called The Means of Production Proposal. Most of the argument was not economic it was more of including production workers in our coop. It was more of a worker owner coop democracy Marxist argument which turned into let’s go buy this because we’re going to make money, but that was the basis of the original argument.
Wow, interesting stuff! I love hearing about this. So, back to Oregon. What was the scene like then? The coffee scene and the Fair Trade movement in Oregon while you were working there?
When I first started it was really nascent. It was not like it is now right? You had your sort of food coops, grocery stores. There wasn’t Whole Foods, there wasn’t fancy grocery stores, there wasn’t cafes on every corner. It was more of what you would think of as traditional diners type coffee. There was a couple nice cafes, but nothing at all like it is now.
In that time, Duane Sorenson, the ex-owner of Stumptown (Stumptown Coffee) had just started Stumptown and was roasting in this little place. It was kind of a café but more like a little roastery and he was having a lot of success. You were just beginning to see the beginnings of people roasting with a lot of smaller roasters. The traditional industry was disaggregating and you were having a lot of smaller roasters start to pop up. Starbucks was beginning to acquire some of the bigger roasters and specialty coffee was becoming way more popular.
One of the big things that started happening was all of the drive-thrus (coffee stands) that’s still kind of unique to Oregon, the number of coffee drive-thrus. We had an account on the coast that was owned by these two women, Tom would remember what their names were, but that was all the rage. Coffee People was all over the place, that’s an old brand that I think got bought out, but I remember those little drive-thrus were really the hot ticket. I was looking around and I was like if you don’t roast your own coffee you’re going to have a really hard time competing or even just being real in the coffee scene. Watching Stumptown just really convinced me that we had to do this.
Portland has changed a lot for sure.
A lot a lot.
Switching over to the internal sentiment regarding bringing coffee roasting in-house, what was the general sentiment within Equal Exchange about being out in Oregon and branching out like that?
I don’t know, you’d have to ask them! I think people were excited about it. It was exciting to have another office in another place. We were growing all over the country really. I think it may have been a little bit weird to have us be out there and be worker owners. There was no Zoom meeting, you’re on the phone shouting through the phone, you’re sending faxes back and forth. In some ways, we were way more isolated and more of an idea. Like the whole West Coast office was like yeah, we got something out there, but you didn’t have the same level of communication or integration. We were just kind of out there doing our thing. We would check in with Rink or whoever it was we had to talk to and that was pretty much it. We weren’t really that involved with other people, it just wasn’t like that.
Were worker owner meetings happening regularly?
Yeah, there were meetings and you could go to board meetings, you could call in, it was just a very different experience you know?
I’m trying to remember how many people actually worked at Equal Exchange at that point. I think it was probably more like when I started, maybe 20 people in the whole thing. So, yeah, we had worker owner meetings, we elected board members. There was a lot less structure to everything. There was no real worker owner coordinator…now we’ve got committees and blah-blah-blah and processes, and all kinds of bureaucracy.
Are there any highlights for you with your work out in Oregon?
The Battle for Seattle! Which was a huge anti Free Trade WTO (World Trade Organization) protest. Do you know about that?
Yes, I was there too.
You were there too?
Yeah, the Battle for Seattle, man. I still have a teargas canister from that in our cupping lab! We also have one of the (protest) signs. We were giving out coffee in a church basement and we were a part of the whole riot. That was part of our messaging was that whole movement. We also brought coffee to the tree sitters in Eagle Creek. I climbed up to one of those tree sitting places, we were donating coffee to them at that time!
Those two things for sure and when we landed New Seasons Markets, Markets of Choice, and Vitamin Cottages. We were growing, it was a really exciting time of growth out there. It was fun! It was sort of Wild Westish in that way and because we were not here (Massachusetts) we were sort of free to do whatever we wanted. There wasn’t a whole lot of structure or supervision as long as we got accounts and took care of people. I remember the first August I was there, I made 350 cold calls!
Whoa! That is a lot of phone calls!
You’ve already mentioned this, but it sounds like you were the one to really get the conversation started around in-house roasting. So, how exactly did this conversation get rolling?
I moved back (Massachusetts), got involved in the green coffee purchasing side of things and just did that for a while, but I was pretty consistently thinking we have to roast coffee, we have to roast coffee, sort of beating that drum, talking to people saying: “We should do this, let’s do this.”
I remember the first day I got to Equal Exchange and I showed up and I asked: “Where is the roaster?” The answer was we didn’t have one. I couldn’t believe it! What? What do you mean you don’t have a roaster? It just seemed unreal to me and so when I came back I spent a couple of years just sort of talking it up and then eventually I wrote a proposal on it, on an electronic typewriter!
I can still see the thing typed out and called: The Means of Production. It was the proposal that we submitted to both the board and the worker owners. Eventually everyone talked about it and said it sounded like a good idea, but then it had to morph. We had to do more work and then it turned into Build, Buy, Roast which was a worker owner vote as well as a board vote.
It was a process. I think it took a little bit longer than a year before it was approved.
Who was working on the proposal with you?
We had a consultant named Willem Boot who runs Boot Coffee Consulting (of Boot Coffee Campus). He’s super well known now. He helped us speck out if you do x or y this is what’ll it’ll cost. He helped us come up with some economic scenarios and Rink was pretty involved in that proposal process as well.
I’m just sort of mystified with just the overall undertaking of a project and proposal like this. Especially considering that at that point, no one in the company really had much experience with roasting yet?
Well, we had Beth Ann. Beth Ann started working at Equal Exchange before I did and during that period Jonathan (Jonathan Rosenthal, co-founder of Equal Exchange) decided that she should learn how to cup coffee. She went off to apprentice with George Howell, who was a really well-known coffee guy back in the day who had these cafes called The Coffee Connection. That ended up getting sold to Starbucks.
Anyways, she apprenticed with him to cup and so she worked in his lab for free. She would roast his coffee, prepare the cuppings, clean it up, but she was an employee of Equal Exchange. It was kind of a weird arrangement actually, but we had a sample roaster. We did sample roasting and we had a little tiny lab with a couple of things. We were roasting coffee on a tiny scale. We still have the roaster that we started roasting samples on.
It’s not rocket science. It’s hard and there’s a lot to it. There’s a lot of science and a lot of alchemy to it, but people have been doing it for a super long time. I was convinced that we could do it, that I could do it and I convinced everyone else that it was a good idea. It was a big move, but it was fun and it was exciting and people wanted to do it.
Just like now. People want to roast coffee in the West. I mean, most of the people I talk to say that we should have a roaster here (in the West and owned/operated by Equal Exchange) because there is a physicality to it that is different than just moving boxes, when you’re engaged with the product. Even being a DSD Rep, you’re actually touching the product. If you’re just a sales person and you never touch a box or open a bag, you just sell it it’s just a theoretical thing, but when you’re actually involved in the chain it just has a different feeling to it.
Agreed. I recently took a trip to source and it had a similar impact on me. I felt like I could engage with the community at large concerning the supply chain, the farmers and producers that we partner with and in general, have a closer relationship with the products that we sell.
That being said, as a DSD & Demo Rep, I see that we still face steep competition because we are not a Portland centric roaster. Similar to how you were feeling when you were in Oregon observing that if we didn’t roast, we were going to have a hard time keeping our place in the marketplace. We can still be treated differently even when we are in stores every week merchandising product and building long-term relationships with our accounts piece by piece that the market we are advocating for depends on.
I think the thing about projects like roasting is that it’s big, it’s scary, and it’s exciting. So, once everyone is on board there’s this feeling when everyone is pulling in the same direction. It’s motivating, it’s galvanizing, it’s cool. We’re going to do this! It’s exciting to have a clear direction.
Like you said, there’s something about owning that part of the process. Logistically, it didn’t make sense for Equal Exchange to start the roaster in the West as it was so far removed from our products and production out East at the time.
Well, there was just no way that people were going to vote for me and Tom (to start roasting out West). There was just no way. It was too important of a move to just hand over to two kids three thousand miles away. They weren’t just going to write a check for however much the first roaster (was going to cost). I mean, I think the first project in the beginning was about a million dollars of stuff, maybe a little bit less. That just wasn’t going to be a thing (out West). I knew that to make it happen it had to be back here (West Bridgewater).
Right. Beth Ann mentioned that our roasters came from Germany? Tell me more about the process of acquiring the roasters and getting them running.
Once it (Build, Buy, Roast proposal) got approved, we had to go buy a building. There was a whole process around buying a building and a whole process around moving the workplace which is actually detailed in our bylaws about how far can you move, where can you move to. You can only move within a certain radius without a vote of who wants to move there. There was a whole internal process about where we were moving first.
Once we had the place, we hired some consultants who were mostly ex-Starbucks executives to sort of help us set things up, do the engineering work, get us permitted, stamped, improved, and help us decide which roaster to buy. We worked with Probat (Probat Burns Commercial Coffee Processing Equipment Manufacturer) and ended up with a traditional drum roaster. We thought that if we are going to buy a roaster, let’s not buy a cheap thing. I’m kind of like if we’re going to go buy a car, let’s buy a Mercedes not a Hyundai. We went out and bought the best roaster we thought we could buy and that turned out to be a 1986 Roaster Probat that was from Germany.
Probat brought it over, we got an old packaging machine from the York Pennsylvania Starbucks plant. So, our first packaging machine was a used packaging machine from York. And that was it. It seems like a big thing, but it really wasn’t. At that point you could walk into a coffee roasting company, say Stumptown for example, I think they had a small Probat and there they are roasting coffee. It’s not that complicated. And so we had a biggish machine and then a packaging machine which was actually more complicated than the roaster to some degree because it was sort of finicky.
The consultants came and we had a bunch of people bring the machine into the building. They set it up, plug it in, run all the gas, run the electricity, put everything together and then they left. I remember the first day Probat came. We went out for a week with the crew to California and roasted coffee at different coffee roasting places, had coffee roasting classes for a week, then we came back. Then everyone left. There we were with our machine and I remember we were all like: “Oh my god, what do we do now?”
We decided to roast a French roast. We turned it on and roasted a French roast, packed it up, and sold it! I can remember that day, turning the thing on. There were no consultants, there was no engineers, and we were like: “Let’s do it.” It was scary. Everyone thought we were going to throw it out or wreck it. I was like: “No, no, no, we’re going to sell this coffee.”
That’s a cool story to hear about the roaster landing and that our first coffee ever roasted was a French roast!
Sometimes when the worker owners bring proposals forward these days, it can be hard to tell what the general consensus is. Maybe because we are bigger, there’s more people and more insights. It’s nice to hear about a time when a proposal was brought forward that really brought together the worker owners and then went full steam ahead.
Well, we haven’t really done anything like that since. We have proposals about this and that, but not on spending a couple million dollars to go buy a building and machines. The kinds of proposals (now) are a different animal. Once people were in favor of the Build, Buy, Roast proposal it was exciting, it was a unifying activity. Plus there was a lot less of us right?
Right, around twenty or so worker owners?
We actually didn’t get the roaster running until 2005. So, I don’t know how many people worked at Equal Exchange at that time. It was more than 20, maybe 50 people. You’d have to ask someone else.
Well, it really was just a monumental moment in the history of Equal Exchange.
Those were the times. In those years where we had our first million-dollar month. I can remember when we had our first million-dollar month. I can’t remember what year it was, but I remember it was a big deal. That was exciting. Rob (Equal Exchange’s co-director) brought champagne and we toasted (the occasion). So, it was just an exciting time, those years from 1999 to 2009 were basically crazy mad growth, 25-30% a year.
Before NAV, we had Dynamics. In Dynamics, when I came back, there was a million of everything! So, the inventory, they just put a million of everything because we didn’t really use it, we’d do inventory by hand, you didn’t use it as an inventory system. It was just crazy, it was a whole different world back then.
As we move forward as a company from being Fair Trade Pioneers to Fair Trade Maintainers, so to speak, the movement has been established yet its intended standards have been watered down over recent years. With that being said, what current challenges do you think Equal Exchange faces as a company?
Well, I think the market is a big deal. The amount of money that is in the hands of our competitors is outrageous. Like the amount of cash that is flowing into coffee and especially the specialty coffee sector is just…you can’t even count the zeros, but staying independent and staying at the size we are or even getting bigger is really complicated. Most companies would have sold out by now and been a part of a much bigger conglomerate that buys shelf space and does all of that (Equal Exchange has a Never Sell Out clause built into the business model).
I think that the environment in which we are talking is really crowded with ideas and there’s a lot of competing ideas. To some degree our success is that we’ve been so successful that everyone talks about farmers and how close they are to farmers. You’ve sort of lost your north star to some degree because so many people are saying they’re doing what we’re doing whether they are or not, that’s another question. You’re not the only guy in the room anymore going: “Hey, I have organic coffee or what do you think about organic?”
This is a part of the whole artisan food, local…like all of that happened during this time and now it’s everywhere. You go to Panera Bread which is owned by the same people that own half of the coffee companies in the world and you get “artisan” this, “local” that. It just didn’t exist like that. Now, in that environment, I don’t think we’ve found that new something that makes us that different. We are different, but it’s crowded. The space is crowded and there’s a lot of money. It’s really hard to compete and it’s really hard to keep your place.
We haven’t really grown, particularly coffee sales, in quite some time. We’ve kind of been spinning the same hamster wheel. So, how are you going to go from six-million dollars and now we’re at, depending on how you count, call it 60-million. How are you going to get to a 100? Where is the magic bullet? I don’t think we know yet.
It’s a crowded space and there’s so many ideas in it now. Before, it was not like that. People weren’t talking about where their coffee was coming from, they weren’t talking about the environment, they weren’t talking about local roasters. Now it’s so hard, it’s just a cacophony of sounds. People are very hyper focused on this sort of weird fetishisms about coffee and consumption. I think it’s hard to be in that environment and not have a true north star.
If you ask: “What are we doing?” And you ask ten different people (worker owners of Equal Exchange), you’re going to get a lot of different answers. Before, I think it was much clearer. I think everyone had a more shared vision of what was happening and I feel like we’ve lost that a little bit.
Well said. There’s a lot of truth and challenges to dig into the material you just presented. On that note, we will wrap up the conversation here for now. Is there’s anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity to meet with you. Thanks again for sitting down and chatting with me about the early days of Oregon and the birth of roasting at Equal Exchange.
Use our wholesale case product guide to see case quantities and pricing. If you’re wondering how much your group could earn by marking up the products just a small amount, we’ve done the math for you.
Some groups want to keep prices as low as possible for their shoppers. They divide the cost of the wholesale case by the number of items in it, and then round up to the nearest dollar. Others mark the products up a little bit more, closer to what you might see in a retail store. Either way, small-scale farmers benefit!
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If you only marked the products up from wholesale case price by rounding up to the nearest dollar, you would make $103 but you can choose to mark them up to whatever price point you think they’ll sell at, depending on if your goals are to raise money for your organization. Examples of reasonable prices are: $8 for 12oz bags of coffee, $10 for 1lb bags of coffee, $4 for chocolate bars, $5 for tea, $15 for olive oil and $7 for cocoa. Using these prices you would profit $258 for your cause! That could pay for your fair trade, organic coffee hour, if you aren’t already serving Equal Exchange coffee regularly.
If you only marked up the products from wholesale case price by rounding up to the nearest dollar, you would make $175. If you use a slightly larger mark up ($8 for 12oz bags of coffee, $10 for 1lb bags of coffee, $4 for chocolate bars, $5 for tea, $15 for olive oil and $7 for cocoa) your group would profit $390.
If you marked up the products from wholesale case price by rounding up to the nearest dollar, you would make $204. Using a slightly larger mark up ($8 for 12oz bags of coffee, $10 for 1lb bags of coffee, $4 for chocolate bars, $5 for tea, $15 for olive oil and $7 for cocoa) your group would profit $508.40. What could you do with an extra $500?
Ready to order? Purchase on our webstore or call our friendly customer service team at 774-776-7366 (9-5 eastern time Monday through Friday) to order. You get the wholesale prices as long as you select the case pack quantity as your unit of measure. We recommend leaving at least 10 business days between the time you order and when you can expect delivery of your Equal Exchange goodies!
*Please note: It’s impossible to know exactly how much people will buy from your sale, therefore these are only suggestions. Because they are consumable products, we can not offer them on consignment. We strongly encourage you to to purchase only what you are confident you can sell through during your event.
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The FarmRaiser platform works differently from our classic fundraising catalog program, so it’s important to choose which will best meet your needs and that you participate in only one at a time.
With you in the driver’s seat, the product selection and pricing you set for your FarmRaiser campaign will be different from our fundraising catalog. Therefore, we request that you run it on its own — not at the same time you’re running a catalog fundraiser. We don’t want anything to get mixed up!
We are excited to offer you another way to raise money with fairly traded organic products. To get started on FarmRaiser, just fill out this form. Lauren, Mariana or another Cultivator from the FarmRaiser team will help you set up your profile and fundraising campaign. If you have questions, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 571.279.8873.
Equal Exchange’s Customer Service team is always here to help answer questions about our products, our farmer partners and, of course, your order’s shipping details. You can reach us at email@example.com and 774.776.7366. If you’re not sure which program is the best fit for your group, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help with details.
Thank you for partnering with Equal Exchange and supporting small-scale farmer co-ops.
Sandy and the FarmRaiser team!
Maftoul, or Palestinian couscous, makes a great vegan or vegetarian filling as it cooks quickly, absorbs additional dressings or sauces, and tastes great with any addition of herbs, vegetables, fruits nuts, or legumes. While I use the traditional Palestinian hand rolled maftoul using wheat, you can substitute any grain for this dish, like bulgur wheat or even quinoa for a gluten free option. You can also use spinach instead of swiss chard, or golden raisins instead of cranberries.
Recipe & photo courtesy of Blanche, feastinthemiddleeast.com.
You can plan a short presentation using a combination of talking points and videos. Having some coffee or chocolate on hand for folks to taste will help them see how delicious the products are, in addition to the good they’re doing in the world! If a presentation sounds too formal, just have a conversation with someone who is a decision-maker in your group or send them some of the info below in an email while explaining why fair trade is important to you.
Brush up on your fair trade knowledge
Know the Equal Exchange basics
Show the positive impact on farmers
Learn from others
These resources answer common questions and show why Equal Exchange coffee is special.
Big name chocolate companies were recently called out in the Washington Post for unethical sourcing and child slave labor in the chocolate industry. Be sure you’re not supporting injustices you don’t believe in.
If you still have questions, contact our Massachusetts-based customer service team at 774-776-7366, 9-5 Monday-Friday for personalized assistance.
Recipe & photo courtesy of Blanche, feastinthemiddleeast.com.
The modern grocery basket is a true symbol of human innovation. Its contents span continents, offering a taste of all things weird and wonderful, at a convenient arm’s reach for the avid shopper. For many, it symbolizes feats of industry and an ostensible abundance of choice. Yet for the conscientious consumer, filling this grocery basket can be an agonizing task – as we sift through terms like natural, organic, and sustainable and try to decide which product really means it, we each develop our own rules for being “good” shoppers. We place our faith in labels like fair trade and USDA organic, and strive to buy food that is local, whether that takes the form of commitment to food grown in one’s state or within a radius of 100 miles.
Growing up on a family farm, I was lucky enough to have local food available to me every summer. Readers may be picturing a Kingsolverian Eden, or perhaps a blog photo of an influencer sitting serenely amidst sunflowers. The reality is, of course, far less glamorous: days could be spent getting intimately acquainted with corn borer worms, searching amidst dozens of boxes for one rotten tomato that you can smell but can’t find, or explaining to the inquiring customer that everything really is grown right here, pointing outside to the cornstalks and pantomiming the passage of time with the explanation of when peaches will be ready. Life at food mile 0 was not perfect, but it was the embodiment of local.
I now work at Equal Exchange, importing produce from over 2,000 miles away, a distance that might shock the steadfast local eater. I have had to rethink the meaning and importance of what makes food “good,” and confront the myths that have surrounded the locavore movement as it has become more popular. There are few laws that regulate “local”: the 2008 Farm Bill sets the limit to local at 400 miles from a product’s destination, while the Food Safety Modernization act sets a stricter limit of 275 miles. The original locavore movement is still stricter; its founders originally set local to 100 miles. With no official label, non-local products may still tempt shoppers with pastoral scenery and artistic hints that their products are from nearby.
Bananas are not local. They do not come from within 275 miles of my family’s farm. In fact, they come from about ten times that distance. However, this does not mean that they do not align with locavore values. To navigate the mysteries of the modern food system, we may better promote the vision and values of the locavore movement by confronting the theories that have upheld it.
Eating locally, ideally, keeps money flowing through a community, in turn ensuring that those in the community continue to benefit from it. However, not all companies that are geographically close to a shopper are small farms, nor are they guaranteed to continue to cycle profit through a community. Some grocery stores or food companies may be owned by a holding company, and obligated to remit money back to their parent company. Others may have reached such a massive scale that they are focused on national and international growth, sacrificing sustainable practices along the way.
Shopping to meet this tenet of the locavore ethos is never simple, but taking a follow-the-money approach enables shoppers to support products that share their values. And this is where bananas come in. Buying EE bananas from a local food co-op not only keeps money cycling through your community, but also ensures that communities of farmers in Ecuador and Peru are receiving a fair price for their products, which then keeps money flowing through their communities, as well. In a way, eating fair trade bananas gives you a local eater two-for-one, and you support both your community and the cooperative community of farmers that grew the fruit. It may not have been grown physically close to your co-op, but it creates an interconnected network of solidarity between communities.
According to Mike Berners-Lee, a professor at the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University, bananas are truly commendable for their small carbon footprint, weighing in at 80 grams CO2e (160g/lb) per fruit when you factor in its travel time and the agricultural processes behind it. This number may be even lower in 2020, as many maritime organizations have committed to lowering fuel emissions, committing to fuels and vessels that are safer for the environment.
Compare this 80 grams per banana with 3.3 kilograms CO2e for a pound of strawberries (imported by plane or greenhouse-grown out of season will have the same sized footprint). Local meat would be still higher, at about 19 kilograms CO2e per pound.
Luckily for banana lovers, many fruits and vegetables have particularly low footprints because they are eaten raw, dodging the steep toll that a quick fricassee may have on the net emissions of the fruit. Sustainability pundits estimate that for cooked products, transport weighs in at 6-7% of total emissions, while cooking is closer to 11%, and production is an astonishing 81% (W. Wakeland et al 2012: 225). It is in production that bananas, particularly sustainably-grown bananas, gain their edge. They are already in a natural greenhouse, taking advantage of the heat and humidity of their local environment, unlike a local year-round greenhouse which creates emissions by trying to simulate bananas’ natural environment.
Being a sustainable locavore requires, like many things, that you ask questions of your food. The following questions may not always lead you to purchase a local product, but they will enable you to think critically about the items in your grocery basket and choose items that are socially and environmentally valuable.
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Berners-Lee, M. 2011. How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything. Vancouver: Greystone Books.
National Agricultural Library. Mailboxes, Mom and Pop Stands, and Markets: Local Foods Then and Now. US Department of Agriculture. Web. https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/ipd/localfoods/exhibits/show/food-locality/local-distance
Pollan, M. 2001. Naturally. The New York Times. https://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/naturally/
Wakeland, W., S. Chollette, and K. Venkat. 2012. Food Transportation Issues and Reducing the Carbon Footprint. In J.I. Boye and Y. Arcand (eds.), Green Technologies in Food Production and Processing, 211 Food Engineering Series. New York: Springer Science + Business Media, LLC.
Interview by Jennifer Pruess, Equal Exchange
Welcome to the third installment of our mini-blog series: Equal Exchange Goes Out West to Stay. We now reach a branch in the story where the early days of Equal Exchange in Portland meets with our move to bring coffee roasting in-house. We will begin our exploration into this leg by sharing a conversation I had with Beth Ann, our Coffee Quality Control Manager, back in late November, 2018.
They both mentioned events leading up to bringing coffee roasting in-house. I thought it was time to bring these stories to light in celebration of our accomplishments while simultaneously peering into our future to see what the next chapter may bring.
My first question is how did you get started working with Equal Exchange? How did you hear about Equal Exchange and what was your first role with the company?
I went to Wheaton College in Massachusetts. They started serving Equal Exchange on our campus. This is in 1993 and I was an Anthropology major. They had an essay contest that was basically saying if you win the essay contest you have an opportunity to go and meet small-farmers in El Salvador.
Equal Exchange had the essay contest?
They had it with Wheaton College together, it was basically sponsored by both of them, but the idea was that the trip was sponsored by Equal Exchange. They wanted to take staff and students down to visit farmer coops. I won the essay contest with another woman. So, I went with one of the founders, Jonathan Rosenthal (one of the original founders of Equal Exchange) to El Salvador in 1994. We went for a ten day trip and it blew my mind completely.
It was my first time in a third-world country and it was my first time to Central America. So, I came back sort of transformed. A few years later, I went to do my Anthropology thesis and spoke with folks at Equal Exchange about possibly using Equal Exchange as part of my case study. Which was about specialty coffee and the difference between paying a fair price vs paying a commodity price. Then giving sort of aid money or additional money to farmer groups or to different projects after the fact. So, it was a comparison between those two things and I used Equal Exchange and Starbucks which was a monster compared to Equal Exchange at that time. This was 1995 to 1996.
I got an internship with Equal Exchange during the winter of that year and then they had a sales position open up in Massachusetts. I was the lucky recipient which was awesome, but I was an Anthropology major. I wasn’t quite sure if this was a good fit for me. The company was, selling…not sure what that was. I took the job and did sales for the mid-Atlantic for two years while I was based in the Canton office. I shared an office with Tom (Thomas Hanlon-Wilde, Co-Executive Director of La Siembra, a sister co-op of Equal Exchange based in Canada and the makers of Camino Chocolate). I knew Tom and some other folks like Jessie Myszka (Director of Support Operations). Jessie was hired at the same time as me. We are of the same class- as we like to joke!
Then about two years later, my mom passed away unexpectedly. I decided to leave Equal Exchange to deal with the house and life and I moved back to Connecticut. This is where the story gets a little bit hard to explain. I’m not sure if it’s blog worthy, but it’s kind of funny crossover material.
Anyways, I left for a while and then I ended up in Oregon because I met Todd (Todd Caspersen Director of Purchasing & Production at Equal Exchange) in passing. We fell in love, he moved to Oregon, and I followed him like a crazy 25 year-old! I didn’t work for Equal Exchange when I moved to Oregon. I moved to Oregon first because there were no sales positions which people felt bad about!
I went and worked for a green trading house, an importer called OPTCO (Organic Products Trading Company). They don’t exist very much anymore, I think they were bought. It was a husband and wife team that imported organic coffee. They were also very mission based and really lovely people. I worked for them for about 8 months, but I decided that I didn’t really enjoy the green side of trading coffee. I was really brought up into this world of small farmers, fair trade, and worker coops. I wanted to be back with roasted coffee and customers.
Luckily, a sales position with Equal Exchange opened and I was hired back as a sales rep in March of 2000. I became the rep for Seattle which was really cool! The Northwest was just a very different world compared to the East Coast where I grew up. I was really excited to be there (the West). I represented all of the PCC’s (Seattle area co-ops) and I was on the road a lot. I think the west coast led the way for sales in terms of being on the road much more, not being on a phone. I really believed that we were the trail blazers and I was going to say no pun intended but then the Trail Blazers are from Oregon!
We didn’t have a lot of resources, but there were good opportunities. Sales was much different then. It wasn’t as regimented as it is now. We were sales, we were customer service, and we were demo people. I even helped to do DSD (direct store delivery) at one point. We didn’t have a DSD person, we did DSD. We were trying to figure out how to do that and how to be local.
So, there was the PCC stores and the Nakata Groups. Tom got the Nakata Group, but I helped to usher them in just as I was coming on. Todd got New Seasons with my help as well as Markets of Choice. Those were a few of our big accounts at the time.
One of the smaller accounts at the time, I didn’t really know how to deal with them because they were food service, was Bulldog News in Seattle. They’ve been with us forever and a day! That was one of the accounts that I’d go up and work with them, and do a lot of demos. I was also doing concerts at the zoo, giving out cups of coffee and hauling around machines. It was a fun time but it was a lot different and a lot of work. We were everything, we did everything.
That relays into my next question concerning what a typical day was like back then. Can you remember what the goals were at the time when you were blazing trails?
We had sales goals. Our goals were to grow sales and maintain accounts but really grow by trying to get into more mainstream supermarkets. We’d call them the elephants. Go after the smaller accounts but try to get some of the larger accounts and try to interest people that were more mainstream because the northwest had a different culture around organic. There was (also) a big movement around shade grown. In some ways it was easier to sell organic at the time. To talk about small farmers was a little bit different. I think that is radically different today.
Our office was a one room office in Gresham. I would take the train when I wasn’t going to Seattle or on the road and then you’d be calling people, servicing customers, dealing with maintenance issues with machines if something broke down. We were it! We got to know everything.
To summarize: the west was comprised of a sales team trying to land accounts and grow fair trade?
Yep, exactly. Trying to grow our brand and have people familiar with it.
One of my questions involves remembering some of the challenges. Presently, our challenges revolve around how we tell our story, talk about farmer-partners, current issues with fair trade, and what it means to be local.
Were you facing any issues being considered a national brand or what sort of challenges were typical at that time?
Oh yeah, I think the challenges are very similar today as they were back then. We were three people on the ground and our coffee company was 3,000 miles away.
We were the local presence, we were the humans on the ground. I think that helped tremendously to begin to build those relationships. I credit Tom a lot with relationship building because he was the first one there. Having that consistency is important. That’s one of the reasons we started doing DSD because we could control the product, go into the stores, and be like: “Here we are! We’re bringing the coffee directly from our hands to yours.”
I think at the end of the day, not being a roaster was a larger challenge for Equal Exchange, period. We didn’t manage marketing at the time and there was no marketing team on the west coast. However, there were a lot of things that we would do on our own just very much like what we do today. Each account needs certain needs and we wanted to take care of their individual needs.
There were less coffee companies then there are today. I mean (now) Portland alone has at least fifty roasters just in Portland or the greater Portland area.It seemed really challenging at the time, but the challenges were less back then around locally roasted (coffee).
One of the quotes from interviewing Tom that has stuck with me is this: “When we show up and are present in the stores, we are local.”
We’ve built relationships in Portland over the years. We’ve built partnerships by delivering products and being present on a weekly, often twice a week basis. I feel like that is a relevant part of what helps to define what local is and I like how you describe it as: “From our hands to yours.”
One of the things that I use to try to say is that coffee is not really local. Coffee is roasted. The vast majority of the work that happens in coffee is not in the hands of the roaster and it’s not in the hands of us. I always tell producers: “You do all of this work. My job is to go out there, maintain how delicious it is through our roasting, and sell it.”
We are selling it. Roasting is an important part of that and it is a craft. However, it’s only one step. That was part of my argument when I worked out West. We take such care when we are roasting our coffee, but at the end of the day, most of the work is happening at origin.
Amen! Unfortunately, I think it’s something that gets lost in the fold. I do hope that sourcing of social and environmentally sound products becomes more of a consideration for global products such as coffee and cacao.
Reflecting on your time out west, do you have any highlights that come to mind?
I think it was a really free time. There weren’t any written rules to what we were trying to do. It was really liberating to be out on the road and to be with customers. Specialty coffee was on the rise and we were in a growth period too. It was just so exciting to be able to go out there and tell our story.
Working with Tom and with Todd was fantastic. Having a small team is really exciting and fun. It can sometimes be really hard too. I can remember driving to Seattle with Tom, we would take road trips sometimes. We would spend 6 hours in a car, 3 hours to Seattle and 3 hours back to Portland. During that time you can learn a lot about people and having that connection with your colleagues really helps to build relationships.
I can remember that I was really interested in learning Spanish and I was taking Spanish classes at night. During one of our trips to Seattle we were listening to a song by Mana, a Mexican band and Tom was translating all the words so I could understand what they were saying. To this day, when the song comes on, I always laugh and think about Tom because he literally translated the whole thing!
It was a hard time too because we were disconnected and isolated from the rest of the company. During the worker-owner meetings, it was us calling in on a phone and huddling around hoping there wasn’t any banging from the other offices or that you could hear or that someone was actually paying attention to us.Technologically speaking, it was very hard to be connected unless you were on a phone. I can remember having my first cell phone, and being like wow, we can talk wherever I go! It was both exciting, challenging, and a little more wild westish back then.
I think we’ll go ahead and transition now into the coffee roasting segment of our talk. To begin, how did this project get started? You were out west at this point?
You definitely need to speak to Todd about this! He was such a primary driver for this work. Todd was offered a job to work in purchasing and I was offered a position to come back east to be in sales but also working quality control.
The thing that I didn’t tell you about is that during my first two years at Equal Exchange, I was a trained apprentice. I worked with a well-known professional in the coffee industry in the greater Boston area for two years. This work was supported by Equal Exchange, to learn how to roast coffee, sort coffee, and how to cup coffee. I am very thankful for that opportunity. Those kinds of opportunities these days do not come easily, but this gentleman was looking for someone to roast samples.
The deal was that I’d go there one day a week. I roasted samples and then we’d cup which was an amazing experience because we’d cup coffees from all over the world! He taught me the basics of my vocabulary.
When I left after a couple years at Equal Exchange, I was like how can I do more of that? When I moved out west, I did a little bit of that with a green coffee company that I was telling you about and then I ended up back in sales. I wasn’t really able to use the same skill-set that I had already developed around coffee quality. I wasn’t in contact with the coffee at all except for the finished product.
When I moved back east, part of my job was to work in quality control and to work on what that was. That was another exciting time, that transition back. It wasn’t just that we weren’t roasting our own coffee on the west coast, we weren’t roasting our own coffee at all. There was this incredible boom of craft coffee, beer, everything and we needed to be part of that! For me, the northwest is so special, as far as the craft movement of food and consciousness of where it comes from and how it’s prepared..
It seemed really necessary to be more involved in the quality of our supply chain. It was something I was really passionate about. Todd can obviously speak to his side about how that felt for him going back and becoming the director of purchasing and being able to do that work in a different way. There’s this growth, there’s this movement that the coffee world is changing. What are we going to do about it? Todd really helped to bring these ideas to life and to a new level.
We needed to change or we wouldn’t be able to compete in the market, I could see that as a sales person on the West Coast. I see it as a few ways. One is that I liked roasting coffee, I didn’t want someone else to roast our coffee when we knew what to do on some level, not perfectly, but I was willing to try and figure it out. I was trained on small sample roaster, but I knew the basics and could see that we could do it. The other thing, is that as a business, you’re dependent on another company roasting your coffee. Basically, you have a middle person doing that work for you.
After we moved back, this idea sort of came to light because we were kind of bursting at the seams in the Canton warehouse. Where are we moving to next? I was like, well, why don’t we build a roaster? Why would we build a roaster? How do you do that? And so it became the Buy, Build, Roast Proposal. It was a really big deal for us and it took a lot of work. So, that was a proposal that basically said go buy it, figure out where you are going to move to, get a piece of land or an existing building, and build a roaster. Again, a ton of work and many different people were involved in many different aspects of the project.
For some people, that was a really easy sale. It was like, duh, why wouldn’t we do this? It’s like being a chef and not making your own food. But, it is expensive. It’s an investment, and it is a risk. Others were like “Whoa! Why screw up a good thing? We’re growing, everything is fine.”
It was a big process. It wasn’t just Todd saying: “Hey, let’s do this.” It was Todd and Rink working with a lot of other folks on a proposal of what that might look like and how it made more sense to actually move the company along with building a roaster at the same time. That had to go to the board and at the time I was sitting on the Board of Directors. So, I had to wear many hats: my board hat, I had to wear my worker owner hat, and my QC hat (quality control). I was very passionate about it and I’d say it felt like it made financial sense, but at the same time, there were risks involved. I’m like: “Come on, life is too short!”
One of the arguments that Todd made pretty early on was this was an inclusion of production workers in the worker owner model which was something that was also a little bit scary for folks who were wondering how we were going to be able to do that. I’m like: “Well, you figure it out. This is Equal Exchange, this is what we do. We figure it out.”
Luckily we’re open to making mistakes, talking about it, trying other things. Eventually the proposal was passed in 2003 and then the process started. At the time, Denise (Denise Abbott), was working for us as the Director of Finance. She was with a small committee working on places, going around looking at real estate, looking at buildings, and that’s how we ended up here in West Bridgewater.
Part of it was about the worker owners, most of which were located in Canton. We had to figure out a place that would meet everyone’s needs. So, we had to bring this (to the worker owners). We want to do this, the board has approved it, and now the actual location goes to a vote for the worker owners. I would say that that was one of the hardest parts. People wanted to be closer to the office. What are the compromises?
There was a proposal that said we’re not all going to be in the same building, we could never possibly do that! Which I disagreed with, but, hey, life happens. That was 2003, it was a long time ago and we just didn’t have that culture. The culture back then was that we would have lunch together, we would see each other, everyone knew each other and knew their kids or whatever was happening in their lives.
So, it was never a decision for roasting to happen either on the west coast or east coast. You and Todd actually were back in West Bridgewater when this discussion of bringing roasting in-house started to happen.
Yes, it wasn’t about bringing Todd out to the east coast or me to roast. It was all about the need to amp up. We’re growing a lot and we need to amp up these sections of the company. We need to work on quality. In the Fall of 2001, I basically moved into full-time Quality Control. I wanted to dive into quality work, I was trained to do it, I wasn’t sure what to do exactly, but I wanted EE to take a chance on me.
That’s so cool!
Yeah, I knew how to cup, I knew how to sort, I knew how to roast. So, I developed all the standards and all the practices that we started out with.
Incredible. So you were the only one in the organization with that knowledge?
No. Souza (Mark Souza, Procurement Guy) had some cupping knowledge at the time and then that responsibility was passed to me. Todd basically learned how to cup from me and from others over time. By cupping with producers and such, but most of his time cupping has been with me.
It sounds like this was a time of excitement, that everyone was pretty gung-ho about it while feeling a little nervous about taking a big risk like that. This was such a big change for the company!
I think it was a necessary move from a crafted specialty perspective too. I feel like we were doing ok, but I feel like this helped to catapult us to a different level. We were proud. We are making it, we are owning all of it, when it’s delicious, when we make mistakes, when we mess it up. I think that ownership and that really transferring that into quality infiltrated the whole organization over time. Even today, I think.
If you were here 10 years ago, you would see that transformation, but I feel like today it’s just assumed. There are these assumptions of great quality because of who we are and what we do which are important mission statements. It’s a part of our mission, but I think people are really proud of what we do and I hope that’s translated somewhere down the line. We’re really proud of what we do here and our relationships with farmers..
Do you think there’s anything else that’s happened in the history of Equal Exchange that compares to the decision of owning roasting? Anything that’s sort of been a transformation for the company?
Not on the same level and it’s sort of auxiliary to some things, but I really think that the USAID work that we’re doing is pretty frickin’ phenomenal and that we’re engaging in a new USAID grant has had radical impact that really is wildly understated. We don’t talk about it very much, It’s not written about or marketed but the impact has been unbelievable.
In the first round of the grant, we did seven years and I was a part of it for five. It’s not on the same level for me as Buy, Build, Roast it is just different, it’s development work that compliments all that we do everyday. For me, professionally, I have learned so much, it’s been phenomenal.
And I think many of the farmer-partners too. The support, the love, the care, and helping to develop things that are not just a North/South- East/West-, it’s an all inclusive project where we’re directing the funding and things, but like I said, people don’t even know enough about it. That in and of itself is a blog piece.
Yes, I was just about to say that. We do need to talk more about it.
Yes, there’s been tremendous work.
So, we’re getting down to the last few questions here.
Looking at where we’ve come from and where we’re going, what challenges do you think Equal Exchange faces now with where things stand with Fair Trade versus Authentic Fair Trade? How do you think we are we maintaining our values?
I think some of the challenges are, and I’m speaking specifically to coffee, that’s what I do and I think that I can see it from a larger, ten thousand foot- macro level. I feel like there’s just this changing coffee environment. It’s not just about the small companies getting eaten up by the larger companies. It’s a scale question, right? We’re not a giant at EE, but we’re not tiny. So, you’re not the micro-roaster in Portland, but were not Keurig.
I think that’s a really hard place to be because once you get to that place you have to be more mainstream or you gotta figure out what that means and I think we’re seeing those challenges right now in all kinds of places. I would say we have lots of different people all over the country. I think we can be multinodal which is amazing. I think technology has really helped with that. I go back to that example of us huddling around a phone and being like “What did they say? Who’s talking?” You don’t have that now. You and I are talking on a video screen and we’re having
I think we’re stuck in this place where our coffee is not expensive. In my mind, I think we should be charging a lot more, but, my gosh, someone else might tell me I was crazy. We buy really great quality and I think that farmers would argue that we probably should charge more, but I also think that we are in a sales environment where people expect a good price. I’ve always said to farmers: “We pay you a good price and then we want consumers to be able to pay a good price because we want it accessible.”
We’re not trying to be super snobby about the coffee, but at the same time, I do think that it seems kind of cheap to me! I think about that. I love different kinds of craft beer and some of the larger brands. When I go to buy beer, I look at some of the brands and as my accessible brand, when I can get a 12-pack for a reasonable price and my hyper-local craft brand with a 4-pack that is the same price. Sometimes I wish we had a more differentiation between those two things so that we could at least explore it.
I agree with what you, that there is something to be said about the price stigma. Our coffee is priced considerably lower than our competitors and people will just automatically make assumptions about our coffee based on the pricing.
Right and I understand that it’s worked to our advantage. We’ve gotten into a lot of places, but I wonder if it’s holding us back with selling more coffee because of that perception. We know that we’re buying really great quality and, again, it’s this accessibility question for me. We’re not trying to be these other people. We are who we are, we’re trying to give the farmers a chance to get to the market and access to the market, but we are not buying crap, we’re not buying shit. We hold true to our standards and I am proud of that.
We spend a lot of time and energy to source great coffee. So, I feel like that can be lost in translation from a price standpoint. I’m stealing Tom’s quote: “Our customers get our coffee way too cheap. Our coffee is too good.” We care and we’re trying to bring their yumminess to market.
One of the questions you had here though is around the process of getting the roaster started.I don’t know if you want to hit on that?
Yes, let’s hit on that. I definitely want to talk about the process of getting the coffee roasting started. If you have a way to sum that up, I’d love to hear it.
I was just out in the warehouse chatting with Domingos Do Rosario (Production Mechanic), who has been with us since we started roasting. He was one of the roasters, I was a roaster, Todd roasted, we all were out there roasting. When we installed the roaster, Todd actually did the very first roast. It wasn’t like okay, we hired these people and they know what to do. No, this was very much we hired people and then we had to train, figure this out ourselves. I knew how to roast before we even started this project, but in a really small way on what we call sample roasters. I didn’t know about production roasters, afterburners, and all these other things, but I knew what it should taste like. That was key.
I think that there is a lot more behind the story then me or Todd and how it ended up coming to light because there was a whole team of people. Steve Bolton (Operations Manager), he was a production manager. He was out there roasting forever and most people think of him as an inventory guy. He was a phenomenal roaster along with Domingos and Todd. We would just go out and get it done.
There was a real sense of team and it was really important to me early on that the roasting team was in the cupping room. I’m really proud of that because a lot of coffee companies don’t do that. Where the roasting team comes in and cups the coffee with us and we’ve done that since the beginning. They are the cooks, they are the ones in charge of changing all these profiles, but they need to know how to taste it and vice versa.
We as a quality control team needed to understand how the roasters work. Everyone in QC is well trained to be out on the roaster and can help fill shifts and support the team so that there is this feedback loop. I can’t express enough how Todd’s leadership was crucial, but having that sense of team was really, really important and having what I call the hands on experience.
I can remember we got a really big order and it was Labor Day weekend. It was like…shit! I guess we’ll just come in and roast. I can remember Todd and I roasting. Domingos was there, he’s the mechanic now, and he’s always there. He can fix anything! He’s amazing. We roasted the coffee and it was like, this is what we have to do. Who cares if it’s Labor Day weekend? We’re just going to do it because it’s what you have to do to get it done and to make sure it’s done well.
We are in control of two really important pieces in the coffee chain- roasting is one and importing is the other. People didn’t do that and still vastly do not import their own coffee. That’s still what makes us really different, direct trade or not. You can be a direct trader, but you are buying through an importer. The risks of buying coffee, working with farmers and taking on the financial responsibility are different. I do think there are genuine direct trader’s out there and I do think that there are people that just use it as a marketing term. They don’t realize that they are not being genuine because the whole term has morphed into something it was not intended to be.
I think we are really in this position where we’re importers and roasting was the other piece that we had to do. We had to control those two pieces.
Having that hands-on experience, being out on the roaster, was very much a team effort and it was a little scary. What it taught us was that there were the recommendations from the manufacturer of how to maintain everything, but not as much as we needed to do it. We bought a traditional, gas-fired drum roaster called a Probat- that is an awesome piece of equipment, but it’s a traditional piece of equipment. You have got to get in there. You learn so much because you have to.
At the end of the day, that was the biggest surprise for us. Maintenance not only takes a lot of time, it’s so hard. You are dirty, you are covered in grease, and you’re out there with a crowbar scraping the pipes. And guess what? That’s how we still do it because there’s no other way to do it.
It’s hard. The roasting team has very physical work where once a month you’re breaking down the roaster and you’re scraping it with a crowbar. I’ve done it, Mike Mowry (Coffee Quality Coordinator) knows how to roast as well. He’s been down on the roaster, roasting and many times just scraping to get the roaster clean.
We are really lucky today because we have a really strong roasting team. Ian’s doing an amazing job as a production manager and then Sarah Hrisak (Lead Coffee Roaster & Production Supervisor), who’s our lead roaster, she’s just so incredibly dedicated, but there’s still that sense of team and that’s crucial. We know that when something goes wrong, you just got to go get it done.
On that note, we’ll wind this interview down. Thank you, Beth Ann, for meeting with me today. This has been invaluable and you’ve given me a lot to think about. Any last thoughts?
We’re now in control of all these things and it feels so good to know that you are crafting. It’s changed how I think and it’s changed how I talk with farmers. My role has evolved so much over time. I think it really helped to create that evolution, to empower and build the foundation that has eventually grown so that now there’s a whole other team that’s been doing this work. I’m a part of it and now I can do other things too. So, I feel like it’s everything I wanted, I don’t want to say it’s everything I wanted because, gosh, there must be more, but that step alone is what we needed and I personally wanted to roast the coffee.
Iced coffee is a gift on a hot summer day, cool and delicious. And really, there’s no need to buy it at a coffee shop. Making your own means you’re taking a positive step for environmental sustainability — and your wallet. Plus, when you make your own iced coffee, you can customize the brew to suit your tastes.
The quickest way to make iced coffee is to brew it hot and then bring down the temperature with ice. First, prepare a strong cup of regular ol’ joe using your favorite method — a French Press, a pour-over dripper, your office’s single serve pod machine. It’s important to brew the coffee strong because the next step will cause some dilution. Pour the hot coffee into a glass of ice to cool it. The ice will melt – you may need to add more to your iced coffee before you sip.
That’s it! Voila! You’re done.
Get our general brewing tips for a better cup.
Is your iced coffee turning out too watery? Allowing time for it to cool in the fridge means less melted ice – and a less watery cup. For this method, brew a cup of coffee, or a whole pot. Next, let your coffee rest in the refrigerator — or even in the freezer — until its temperature drops. The cooler the coffee gets, the less it will melt the ice.
Once you feel coffee is cool, pour it over ice and get sipping.
Cold brewed iced coffee may seem like just a trend, but we’re pretty sure this delicious method is here to stay. Instead of using heat to extract flavor from the beans, the cold brew process utilizes time. That means you’ll need to plan ahead a bit.
The good news is, you can make this iced coffee at home without any special equipment. Cold brew is ridiculously easy! Just take coarse-ground coffee, add cold or room-temperature water and stir. Then allow the mixture to steep for at least six hours, or overnight. Finally, strain with cheesecloth or a filter. Ta da!
The magic ratio is 1:4 – four cups water for every cup ground coffee. The finished cold brew concentrate will be double-strength, so make sure to add equal parts water before you sip.
Learn to make cold brew from a barista!
• Use good quality coffee! To us, that means organic coffee sourced from small-scale farmers who are paid fairly for their work.
• What specific kind of coffee makes the best iced coffee? Anything you like hot will probably taste good cold. (French Roast fan? Try an iced French Roast. Prefer decaf? Make iced decaf.) That said, our coffee experts enjoy the fruity notes of natural process African coffees like Equal Exchange’s Organic Ethiopian and our special Cold Brew blend.
Read more about natural process coffee.
• Always use fresh filtered water, and make sure the beans you’re using are freshly ground. Your iced coffee will taste better!
• Like it sweet? If you’re using a hot-brewing method, try adding sugar before the coffee is cool. It will dissolve more quickly. If you’re doing cold brew, try adding simple syrup.
• Did you know you can coffee in an ice cube tray to create ice cubes that won’t dilute iced coffee? Genius!
• Utilize the power of science to cool your iced coffee quicker. Use a large container like a pan to create more surface area before putting it in the fridge. Or try a metal vessel to cool your iced coffee – metal conducts heat most efficiently.
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