Thanks to the generosity of our customers and baristas, we were able to reach our match goal of $500 and raised over $1350 with the help of your donations! The money you helped us raise will go to The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, which we chose for a number of reasons.
The Community Foundation has created the Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville Emergency Response Fund that gives grants to victims and nonprofits who are providing on-the-ground immediate assistance AND long term services. The unfortunate reality of wildfires is that the effects are long lasting; people are displaced from their homes and some have to essentially start from scratch. Being able to give the money as directly as possible to the residents and people affected was important.
You can find out more about The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s wildfire relief efforts and donate with them here: http://www.cfmt.org/
One of our barista’s, John Mike, was moved to go volunteer to help distribute donated goods to those affected. You can read about his experience and look at his photos taken in the area in his blog post below:
Mountains. Space Needle. Aquarium. Cabins. Wildfire.
All of these words perfectly describe Gatlinburg, TN with the exception of one which is obvious. The small, tourist Tennessee town was taken by complete surprise when a wildfire exited the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, speeding down the hillsides with grander due to 80+ m.p.h. winds. The wildfire, striking Gatlinburg on Monday, November 28th following its inception on November 23rd by two juveniles, has already caused upwards of $500 million in damages. Most of the structures that were destroyed were homes of people that lived in the city leaving them with the clothes on their back and nothing else.
There is much to be done. After hearing the news and knowing people who almost lost their lives in an attempt to escape from their resort, I knew something had to be done. The news broke in under a week after the fire that Heine Brothers’ would be teaming up with Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to take up cash donations for the victims. The amount of support that has been shown at our cafes has been astounding! While seeing the cash pour in from behind the counter, I still knew that something more had to be done to help this town. That was when a roommate and I signed up to volunteer and drove straight into the area of disaster. Little did we know what we would see or hear about.
For our volunteering, we were sent to a distribution and pick up center for all the goods donated. The amount of goods donated is on another level. The country is uniting to support the people of Sevier County and have shown that with the five warehouses that are now full of goods. While the support is great, seeing the families pour into the facility to pick up the pieces of what they now call a “new normal” is heart breaking. Family after family, child after child, relative after relative now find their whole life confined to the contents of a shopping cart full of donated goods. While volunteering, I personally got to interact with people who had story after story of relatives that lost their house and business, employees that were now unemployed, families relocating across the country, and small Churches destroyed along with members losing their homes. Keeping a straight face during all of this was difficult to do. Every moment I could I would step away to breath for just a moment. You simply do not realize how big a disaster is until you see the people it affected right before your eyes.
Keeping all of this in mind, what can you do? Well, glad you asked! The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee is still accepting donations via their website which are still very much needed. But, I would encourage you to go a step further and volunteer to go to Sevier County and help. You can sign up to do just that. There is a massive need for volunteers to just sort through the donations to ensure their efficient arrival to the fire victims. Similar to how we love to keep Louisville weird with our local businesses go to Gatlinburg and spend your money at their local businesses. The continued tourism to the area will aid tremendously to the recovery of the town. Plus, you will be spending time in the mountains! Who doesn’t love a Smoky Mountain getaway? I beseech you to go to Gatlinburg to volunteer, visit, or even donate. The people of Gatlinburg will appreciate you for it.
Smoky Strong. Mountain Tough.
Alec Risch, head roaster here at Heine Brothers’, is currently in Peru! He’ll be meeting with CENFROCAFE, where we get a majority of our Peruvian coffee. He is particularly excited to visit Coyona farmers and their processing facility in Piura. They’ve been perfecting their natural processing for the past three years, and he’ll be there in time to see how they process, and cup coffees that we’ll be purchasing this fall. We bought a few bags from them in 2013 to try it out, and liked it so much we’re buying several more bags this season! Keep up with his trip on the Heine Brothers’ Instagram account.
Last weekend a group of eight of Heine Brothers’ best and brightest piled into a couple of cars and road-tripped up to Coffee Fest St. Louis to take classes, meet coffee folks from all over the world, and compete in the Latte Art World Championship Open. We’d all been looking forward to the trip for weeks, perusing the class offerings, scoping out the vendors, and feverishly working on the perfect latte pour.
The opening round of the latte art competition got underway bright and early on day one. Jay Haynes (manager of Vint Coffee) poured first. Anyone who has seen him slinging beautiful and delicious lattes behind the Vint bar knows that he is cool as a cucumber. Meanwhile, we were all biting our nails in the audience! He poured a lovely tulip and winged heart, but the opposing barista took the match.
Next up was Jay Keywood (manager of HB Shelbyville Rd) who stepped up at a moment’s notice as an alternate. He poured with his characteristic enthusiasm and skill, creating a very nice tulip, but the other barista just had a better pour and he was also eliminated. Both of our Jays described the experience as totally terrifying, but they did us proud! You can see them both in action again at HB Northfield on June 22nd at our company-wide latte art competition!
But going to an event like Coffee Fest isn’t just about competing, picking up coffee swag, and enjoying a weekend away from home—it’s an opportunity to connect with baristas and roasters from around the country, and to learn about what’s on the cutting edge of the coffee industry! Coffee culture has changed a lot over the past decade, with the rise in popularity of manual brewing options like the Chemex and V60, and an emphasis on quality from seed to cup.
Heine Brothers’ has been taking these developments to heart; we’ve always sourced high quality organic coffees, and we’ve got a passionate and hardworking bunch of roasters and baristas who are making sure that quality carries through to you in every cup. We took classes that ranged from the very technical (like “Packaging for the Roaster”) to the creative (like “Cooking with Coffee”), and everything in between. Some of the biggest coffee nerds in the company attended Coffee Fest, and they are bringing the enthusiasm and knowledge gained back here to Louisville. I know I saw at least one manager heading home with an armful of V60 brewers, and we all came away with ideas that we can’t wait to try out!
That’s not to say that we didn’t get out and have some fun in St. Louis, though. Most of us got together and went to a Cardinals baseball game on Friday night. Sadly (according to some of us), they lost. We also got to meet up with some of our friends from Sunergos and some of the Coffee Fest staff for a Louisville party at a local restaurant on Saturday night, where we enjoyed some great drinks and conversation. We are lucky to have such a vibrant coffee community here, and it was great to hang out with them. We also did a fair amount of coffee tourism, checking out coffee shops and roasters both in the exhibits hall and around the city. I brought back a lot of coffee for our Head Roaster, Alec, to sample!
In January 2014, I traveled to Marcala, Honduras to attend a meeting hosted by Cooperative Coffees, our green coffee buying cooperative (Heine Brothers’ Coffee is a founding member of Cooperative Coffees). We invited (and covered the expenses for) representatives from our coffee farmer partners from all over Central and South America to join us for several days of meetings focused on the problem of leaf rust, or Roya as it’s called in Spanish. Roya is devastating coffee plants all over this part of the world. Roya is a naturally occurring fungus in coffee fields that found the perfect climatic conditions during the 2012-2013 growing season to reproduce in epidemic proportions. Roya attacks the leaves of the coffee plant, it’s primary source of photosynthesis. This not only affects the ripening of the current-season cherries, but can also cause the flowers of the following season to drop. Depending on the intensity of the infestation, Roya can kill a branch or the entire tree.
As Cooperative Coffees, we deal directly with the coffee farmers from whom we buy. We have been hearing for some time now that Roya was devastating coffee plants and causing a severe drop in the annual yield for many of these farmers. We decided that one way Cooperative Coffees could help would be to convene a meeting where where we would invite farmers from many different regions to share their experiences and, hopefully, successes in dealing with Roya.
We held our “Roya Summit” meeting at the headquarters of Cafe Organico Marcala (COMSA), a small-scale, farmer-owned cooperative in Honduras, who is having great success combating Roya using organic farming practices. COMSA is proving that, despite the claims of many coffee industry influencers, research institutes and government agencies who advocate aggressive use of chemical fertilizer solutions, organic farming practices can be used to combat Roya and produce bumper crops of prime quality organic coffee.
While in Honduras, our group of 65 people – coffee-farmer representatives and coffee roasters from Cooperative Coffees – toured the coffee farms of several COMSA members, visited COMSA’s impressive biodynamic farm, toured COMSA’s coffee processing facility and shared many outstanding meals prepared by our friends at COMSA.
I was highly impressed by COMSA’s commitment to their organic practices. COMSA’s organic promoter, Victor Contreras, spoke to our group about how important they believe it is to “create a model of agriculture that is in harmony with the laws of nature to feed and nurture the life energy in the soil.” And COMSA’s organic practices are proving highly successful in resisting and/or recovering from the current Roya crisis. The coffee plants I saw at COMSA were as healthy as any I have seen anywhere in the world. While there was some evidence of Roya, it was very minimal.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to spend 3 days in Honduras with such a committed group of coffee farmers and coffee roasters. We were able to unite and share information around the Roya crisis and recovery while also sharing ideas on coffee production, coffee quality and coffee price. The spirit of generosity and cooperation was strong. While we did not solve the Roya problem for any of these farmers, I know that many left encouraged by what they had heard and learned.
I came home from Honduras with a deeper understanding of the impact Roya is having on many coffee farmers and was reminded how hard these farmers work to make a living. And I came away with hope that the success the farmers at COMSA are having with their intense commitment to organics will have an impact on farmers in other parts of Central and South America. I also came away as proud as ever that Heine Brothers’ Coffee is a member of Cooperative Coffees. At the end of our meeting in Honduras, several farmers made a point of noting how unique it was that Cooperative Coffees had stepped up and done something to help them by hosting and financing this “Roya Summit” (when what they feel like they typically get is little or no help and/or empty promises).
This trip to Honduras also affirmed a few things that I have learned in 20 years in the coffee business. The difficulties that coffee farmers face are significant. Our commitment to buying their coffee directly from them at Fair Trade prices is not solving all of their problems or making all of their dreams come true. However, I can say with confidence that the relationships we’ve formed with many of these coffee farmers (some of whom we’ve been buying from for 13+ years) and the fact that we continue to be there year after year to deal directly with them on a Fair Trade basis is having a meaningful impact on their lives.
In August, Andrea Trimmer, Operations Manager at Heine Brothers’ Coffee, and I traveled to the city of San Martin de Pangoa in the Satipo Region of Central Peru to visit our friends at Pangoa Cooperative.
After an 8 hour flight to Lima and a 16 hour van trip over and through the Andes, we arrived at Pangoa late in the evening to a warm welcome from Esperanza Dionisio Castillo, General Manager of Pangoa Cooperative. Esperanza immediately rolled out the red carpet of welcome and made sure we had a good meal before we finally hit our hotel for some much-needed sleep before beginning our 3-day visit at Pangoa.
While at Pangoa, we met with their leadership and with several of their members; we toured their coffee warehouse and drying patios; we cupped coffees with their cupping team; we visited the village of Mazaronquiari where we threw some frisbee in the village square before sharing lunch and visiting their coffee fields; we learned about cacao production and visited a cacao farm; we tasted some of the wonderful chocolate that Pangoa produces; and we enjoyed some great food. The best part of the trip was spending time with the people we met and learning a little bit about them, their families and their lives in Peru. It was a real pleasure to be treated to lunch at the home of Nelson in his thatched roof, open-walled kitchen, where just before lunch, we were welcomed with a gourd of Masato, a fermented concoction of yuka and purple sweet potato!
Pangoa Cooperative is a group of coffee farmers that began in 1977 with 50 members. Today, Pangoa has 600+ members. Pangoa Cooperative works with it’s members on improving coffee plant health and yield, organic practices and sustainable land management that includes reforestation work. Additonally, Pangoa is committed to programs that encourage women and young people to be part of its organization. Pangoa uses the Fair Trade Premiums we pay for their coffee to fund programs that provide scholarships to members’ children and loans to members for farm improvement and renovation.
Pangoa Cooperative is an excellent example of the Fair Trade System working well and as it should. They are well-organized, cooperatively-governed, transparent, and committed to the well being of their farmer members. And, they produce consistently excellent coffee! We’re proud to have been buying coffee from our friends at Pangoa since 2007.
In August, I attended the Annual General Meeting of our green coffee buying cooperative, Cooperative Coffees, in Whitehorse, Yukon Terr., Canada. In 1999, Heine Brothers’ Coffee was one of six founding members of Co-op Coffees. In the last 11 years, Co-op Coffees has grown to 24 members spread across the United States and Canada. Because coffee comes out of growing countries on shipping containers, 40,000 lbs at a time, most of our Co-op members, including Heine Brothers’, is too small to buy directly from farmers in growing countries. Acting alone, we would have to buy through coffee brokers in New York or San Francisco and would have no contact with the farmers that produce the coffee. Through Co-op Coffees, we are able to pool our buying power and buy directly from farmer cooperatives. This year, Co-op Coffees will, as a group, buy 90 containers of coffee (3.6 million lbs!) from 26 farmer co-ops in 13 different countries around the world – all at fair trade prices that guaranty farmers a fair price for their coffee. Heine Brothers’ Coffee is proud of our membership in Co-op Coffees. Through Co-op Coffees we have developed 10+ year relationships with coffee farmers all over the world. We have had many opportunities to travel to coffee growing regions around the world to meet with and share meals with our producer partners. During these trips, we have heard first hand that the efforts we are making to buy only fair trade coffee are making an important difference in the lives of these farmers. We could not do this without customers who believe in and support what we are doing. Remember, drinking a cup of fair trade coffee really does make a difference. Rest assured that we intend to continue to do our part to bring you excellent coffees that are purchased from coffee farmers at fair trade prices.
In January, I visited Ethiopia with my 10-year old daughter, Ella. We traveled with a group from Coop Coffees, our green coffee buying coop (of which Heine Brothers’ Coffee is a founding member). We drove 9 hours south from the capital of Addis Ababa to the coffee growing regions of Oromia and Sidama. We spent our days visiting coffee growing communities in rugged, rural Ethiopia. These communities are are spread among a beautiful area, 6000 feet up in the mountains. Wherever we went, we were greeted with waves, warm, friendly smiles and people swarming around to say “Salam” (hello in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia). We had multiple opportunities to sit down with the leadership of coffee growing cooperatives where we shared meals and stories of our lives and our businesses (and “Buna,” Amharic for coffee) .
During our conversations, we learned first hand about the monumental struggles many in Ethiopia face. Fetching water and fire wood are part of a typical daily routine, chores made extra difficult by the incredibly rough and rugged condition of the mountain roads. Access to water and the lack of electricity are also major problems for the people of this part of Ethiopia. Through these discussions, it became obvious that buying fair trade coffee will not be the magic solution to the huge challenges the people face. Infrastructure projects like access to water and electricity and building roads are truly monstrous issues – issues that are too big for an extra .10 or .20 cents per pound to solve.
That said, we did come away with an understanding that fair trade does still matter and, within our capacity as a fair trade coffee importer, there is a lot that we CAN do. We can continue to strengthen our partnerships with these coffee farmer coops, we can continue a dialogue where we help brainstorm ideas, we can help get the word out among our allies in the fair trade world and we can tell the stories of these farmers and their struggles to our employees, customers and local communities. And, of course, we will continue to be there to buy coffee from these farmers at prices that are fair to them.
I asked Ella what she thought about the people of Ethiopia. Her response was “they’re really poor … but they’re really happy.” We found that while the daily reality of the people we met is difficult and their struggles are real, so is their level of resilience and their level of hope. And it was affirming to learn that the 10+ year relationship we’ve built with these farmers adds to this sense of hope.
It was a real honor to meet so many of the people that work so hard to grow some of the coffee that we enjoy here at home. Since returning from Ethiopia, I have found myself enjoying my cup of Ethiopia Sidama even more than normal.
After a brief stint in practicing law, Mike Mays started Heine Brothers’ Coffee in 1994 with Gary Heine, and has never looked back.