P.S. Visits Monkaaba in Colombia
We started 2023 with a trip to Huila, Colombia to visit our friends of Monkaaba. We're always deeply inspired by our time with them, but this trip felt extra special as it reinforced why it's so important we continue supporting smallholders.
The valleys of Ricabrisa, Tarqui, Huila, Colombia where coffee grows at soaring altitudes of 1900-2000masl, locally known as La Profunda or The Depths for its extreme remote location.
A Changing Mindset
Since our last visit to Huila 14 months ago, the producers of the Monkaaba network have been hard at work, not only improving their knowledge of all things coffee but also re-investing in their farms and their families. We saw new drying beds, new depuplers, new houses, new cars, all evidence that in a short time, consistent and reliable partnerships can yield meaningful results.
Armel Burbano has gone from processing in his father in law’s farm to processing everything in his own house, thanks to funds earned from the sale of his coffee.
Victor Ortega’s by now very famous coffee drying in his solar dryer.
Armel Burbano and his wife Johana are some of the youngest growers involved in the project, and are in their first years of planting and managing their own coffee. Previously, they sold their coffee to multinational buyers for very small gains, and zero year over year commitment.
Standing outside his new drying bed, he explained to us how working with Monkaaba had taught his family how to save. In the past, money was so scarce that when it arrived, the need to pay bills were so pressing that it was gone before they could even think twice. Now, Armel and Johana are able to manage their costs and budget for the year, always knowing their coffee will be purchased at a fair price.
The deep meaning behind this simple statement was so striking to us because it reveals how a safe and supportive environment is actually able to change a smallholders world outlook from one of survival to one of thinking about the future for themselves, their families and their communities.
Our dear friend and co-founder of Monkaaba, Esnaider Ortega-Gómez
Deimar and Sonia Bolaños in her farm El Limon
Relationships of Amistad vs. Relationships Vacíos
We heard the word amistad (friendship) and its antonym vacío - hollow or empty - repeated during our time in San Agustin. We've been thinking a lot about the role of a roaster and how our actions can either be in alignment with amistad or with vacío.
At P.S., we prioritize relationships based on amistad, or friendship, by asking ourselves:
"How can we show up for coffee producers in a way that offers the respect they deserve but are too often denied?"
"How do we be sure our work is contributing to the smallholders moving towards autonomy and agency?"
"What can a buying relationship mean and achieve, above and beyond a price paid?"
These questions can help guide us as we resist the conventional vacío relationship that is too often based on empty exchanges of capital for a product. This traditional buying standard is sadly seeping into specialty — relationships are merely transactional and don't set goals of going beyond paying more for higher quality.
While they are all motivated to produce high quality coffee as a means of earning a price that makes their work make sense, all of Monkaaba are primarily seeking relationships based in trust, friendship, collaboration and care.
Mario Trujillo and Eliecer Núñez in La Vega, Tarqui, Huila
Jaime Burbano, one of the elder statesmen of Monkaaba, and a veritable legend in coffee production in San Agustin.
Going Beyond The Conventional
Supporting smallholders by purchasing their coffee at the highest price possible is just the beginning and should never be the finish line. To us, this means moving beyond just thinking about buying and sourcing coffee as purely transactional and towards an ecosystem where people work side by side with one another.
Just as the farms where these beautiful coffees grow require a complete ecosystem to thrive, so too does a proper relationship require an ecosystem. It requires that all parties work together in a balanced way, with a recognition that interdependence is key to its health.
We're proud to be partnered with Monkaaba, and for the trust they've shown us to be their representatives in sharing these coffees with you. Every sip is tasting a little sweeter, knowing what's behind these cups.
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