2017 Farmer Newsletter

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A Message from Just Coffee

Just Coffee Co-op Cafe: Mermaid Cafe

Farmer Visit Recap: Ethiopia 2016



Just Coffee Staff Photo 2016


As we head into our fifteenth anniversary year of 2017, we’d like to thank you for being part of our community, for your hard work, your delicious coffee, and your partnership. We honestly would not be here without you.

We have changed and grown a lot since 2002. In fifteen years we have gone from a tiny fair trade company with one full-time worker, to a coffee roaster with a national presence that employs over thirty people. We have expanded from working with two farmer cooperatives in Chiapas, Mexico to a business that partners with 23 cooperatives on three continents annually. We have been very fortunate and we appreciate all of our partners in the global north and the global south.

One thing that has not changed about Just Coffee Co-op is our commitment to our mission and our values. We started our company to show that we could hold ourselves to a higher standard, work to better satisfy the needs of all who are touched by our business, and still be successful by any standard business measurement. We have not been perfect, but we have welcomed your feedback with open minds and hearts. And we are a better company for it.

Our mission drives us to help create a better world- one that is truly open to everyone. We don’t need to agree on everything, but we do need to recognize that all human beings are equal and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

We welcome all into our community and promise to continue to support causes that work toward building an inclusive and tolerant country and global society. This is who we have always been, who we are now, and who we will always be. Thanks for being with us on this journey and for working with us to build a better world.






We’ve heard many times from farmers that they would like to know more about where their coffees are sold. So to expand the relationships between farming partners and our customers here, we’ve decided to interview some of our customers- such as cafes and grocery stores- in order to share their stories with you. This time, we interviewed Lisa Jacobson, owner of Mermaid Cafe, and also a close friend of Matt, one of the co-founders of Just Coffee. Lisa has always been an advocate for fair trade, and recently visited the all women’s cooperative of Las Diosas in Esteli, Nicaragua.

1- How long have you been open? How long have you sold Just Coffee?
This building came up for sale, and I opened it in 2005. I have sold JC since December of 2005.

2- Why do you choose to serve/sell Just Coffee?
I went around Madison and talked to large and small roasters. I chose Just Coffee because the value system behind the business meant a lot to me. The sincerity and transparency there made other roasters look less desirable when I asked them why they didn’t sell more Fair Trade. Also, honestly, when I left that small group of guys the first time after a tasting I got in my car and realized something. I was relaxed. So the vibe at that time from the JC startup made me feel like it would be a great working relationship

3- Why do you purchase Fair Trade? How do you define Fair Trade?
Most important to me about Fair Trade is the value you place on the person who grew the thing that you are consuming. Poverty and social justice issues are hidden from consumers (and coffee shop owners) so that profits can continue on a grossly inequitable scale tilted towards the consumer. Fair Trade is a way of knowing that at least some very basic needs are being met for producers.

4- What information do you share with your customers about your coffee and Fair Trade?
Honestly, this one is still lacking in my cafe. I met with Matt earlier in the year when I had a bit of free time and I was hoping to produce about a half dozen photographs of Just Coffee producers and the JC world to put up around the cafe and spark questions and be a visual reminder of where we get our product from. I will probably be able to return to the project in the fall but this is an area where I struggle to create that conversation with my customers.

By doing an installation of photos, we could have a more permanent display. This could show: this is where we get our coffee from- and it really is different. People are already here, drinking the coffee, and it would give them another reason to feel good about it.

5- What is something that you would like to share with the farmers who grow your coffee?
I have always shared with the farmers when I have had a chance to meet them that I am responsive to their opinions and ideas. I want to know what their lives are like and what their hopes and aspirations are.

6- What have you found to be the most difficult thing about Fair Trade?
I’ve found fair trade to be pretty commonly accepted, though there was a bit of a pushback by the conventional industry. I’ve seen greenwashing be used often to promote a company (Google Definition: greenwashing: Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image). I’ve seen confusion that coffee may be marketed as single origin, and the consumers associate that with fair trade. With greenwashing, they can market something as coming from a single batch, or that they know the farmers, but it’s not equivalent with workers being treated fairly and receiving a fair wage and price for their product. There’s also this expectation that if you go somewhere, that place will reflect the values that they portray. In many coffee shops, you go in and expect that the cup of coffee has the value behind it that the company conveys. And unfortunately, places can continue this practice, because it doesn’t bother the average consumer enough to change what they do.

7-What inspired you to open Mermaid Cafe?
Having little kids, I was inspired to have a business that would keep me closer to my family and in the community.

8- What is your background? How did you get connected to coffee
I’ve always been a coffee drinker and coffee lover. Being in the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle in particular, I became accustomed to having access to really high quality coffee. My goal with Mermaid is to ensure that everything we serve is delicious.

9- Have you ever traveled to visit coffee producers in another country?
I actually went to visit producer partners for the first time a few weeks ago. I traveled to Esteli, Nicaragua, to connect with women of La FEM. I’ve had a lot of conversations with women from La FEM about starting a coffee shop, and I wanted to connect in person.



 Just Coffee Co-op Farmer Visit: Ethiopia 2016

Farmer Visit: Ethiopia 2016
Jessica Pernsteiner, Farmer Relations and Outreach Coordinator

Selam! Or hello, in Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia) A few months ago, I had the opportunity to travel on a trip coordinated by our green importing cooperative, Cooperative Coffees. Our group of 6 traveled from France, Canada and the US, to connect with members of Sidama Cooperative Farmers Coffee Union (SCFCU) in the Sidama Region of southwestern Ethiopia.

After 2 flights and 2 days of travel, I met with my companions. The group included: 3 staff members from Cooperative Coffees and 2 other roaster-members. Within Coop Coffees, Florent is responsible for contracting coffee with both Indonesian and African producer partners, Ellen is lead cupper and Deborah is the accountant and office manager. Fellow roaster-members included Glenn, with Desert Sun Coffee Roasters in Durango, Colorado, Brad, from Larry’s Coffee in Raleigh, North Carolina, and myself, from Just Coffee.

We met with the staff of the SCFCU main office in the capital, Addis Ababa, to exchange greetings, then embarked on the 318 km drive south to the Sidama Region. Our visit was centered around a workshop based at Fero Cooperative, situated on the outskirts of Yirgalem. At 1,800m (5,909 feet), Yirgalem is located in beautiful, lush, mountainous terrain, and an ideal region for growing coffee.

Coop Coffees has been sourcing from SCFCU since 2009. With over 70,000 farmers, SCFCU is the second-largest coffee producing cooperative union in the country. This trip was arranged to continue our partnership and collaboration in a workshop with managers and committee members from 6 of the 47 member cooperatives of SCFCU: Fero, Bokaso, Hunkute, Taramesa, Telamo and Shilicho. The workshop was held at the office of Fero Cooperative, which, with 3,913 male and 257 female farmers, is the largest cooperative in SCFCU.

The first day focused on presentations from staff at Fero Cooperative, and in turn, presentations from roaster members: Desert Sun, Larry’s Coffee, and Just Coffee. The focus of the following day was a cupping workshop coordinated by Florent and Ellen from Coop Coffees. Based on Florent’s previous experience hosting a similar workshop for farmers in Sumatra, he had planned a cupping workshop for 14 individuals (from 6 member cooperatives from SCFCU).

The cupping was organized into 4 rounds: the 1st round to establish a baseline for sweetness, the 2nd round to establish a baseline for acidity (both using various fruits) the 3rd round for cupping unwashed (natural) Sidama coffees, and the 4th for cupping washed Sidama coffees. To provide the best opportunity for evaluating sweetness, we provided a sampling of 3 fruits- and included both ripe and unripe plates to sample. We didn’t disclose that we were including unripe fruits, but instead requested that they sample both, and make note of flavor differences as well as preferences. After discussing, we did a similar exercise, but focusing on acidity. We had everyone sample banana (fruit with very low acidity) lemon (high acidity) and passion fruit juice (balance of sweetness & acidity). Again, we followed the same practice that allowed everyone to share what they tasted and what they preferred.

Florent made a point to explain that while everyone in the group could agree on the same conclusions- ripe fruits were the sweetest, banana was least acidic, lemon was the most acidic and passion fruit juice has a balanced level of sweetness & acidity, it was still important for everyone to understand that personal preferences may not be the same. Florent stressed this, to convey to the farmers that while certain characteristics and properties of a fruit or coffee will be identifying traits, it still can vary from an individual’s preference, as taste is qualitative, perceptual, and subjective.

After the fruit tastings, the group participated in 2 cupping sessions, of natural (unwashed) coffees and washed coffees. The cupping workshop led to an engaging conversation about quality, and how quality directly reflects differences in price and payment. The discussion that ensued encouraged farmers to collaborate together and to work to propose new project and investment ideas to their larger cooperative, SCFCU, to work together to consider additional options to promote development of the cooperatives and expand their resources.

With this recent travel, as with every trip, I found that I was reminded of our ability and the surprising ease in which we can adapt. I feel that these journeys speak our ability to connect and better understand the shared characteristics that make us human.

Thank you again for sharing parts of your lives with us.