Something special is brewing for smallholder coffee producers in Burma.
For the vast majority of coffee drinkers in the United States and around the world, java from Burma remains an unexperienced delight. But, with Winrock connecting hundreds of smallholder farmers with international coffee buyers recently, that may be primed to change.
In February, two years after a single Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer visited the country to explore its virtually unknown coffee landscape, the USAID-funded Value Chains for Rural Development project and the nonprofit Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) arranged a visit for eight “relationship coffee” buyers. These buyers — owners or representatives of socially conscious companies — offer premium prices to small-scale coffee growers engaged in sustainable farming and rural development. The group included elite roasters and importers from Seattle, Los Angeles, Princeton and St. Louis, as well as buyers from the United Kingdom and New Zealand. A buyer from Allegro Coffee Co., which supplies Whole Foods Markets, also attended.
The group toured a dozen coffee farms, tasted sun-dried natural Arabica coffee varietals, and visited smallholders in the country’s remote coffee highlands, where farmers had never met with prospective international importers.
“I know I speak for all the buyers when I say it was the coffee trip of a lifetime,” said Craig Holt, owner of Atlas Coffee Importers (Seattle) and Board Chairman for CQI. “All of us see the potential to do something great on behalf of these communities, and we’re all motivated.”
While details of a groundbreaking potential export deal are still under discussion, plans are underway to showcase Burma’s smallholder coffee for the first time at the world’s largest annual specialty coffee trade event next month: The Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 2016 Expo in Atlanta. Stay tuned!