International figures shared their global coffee and tea perspectives at the National Automatic Merchandising Association's recent Coffee, Tea & Water conference in Nashville. In his keynote speech, Juan Esteban Orduz, president of the Colombian Coffee Federation, described the role the federation has played in raising the standard of living for coffee growers and their families. Also presenting were Stephen Twining, a 10th generation member of England’s most famous tea family, and Luz Marina Trujillo, the third-generation owner of the Santa Elena coffee estate in Costa Rica.
Coffee, Tea & Water Keynoter: Juan Esteban Orduz, Colombian Coffee Growers Federation
NASHVILLE -- Colombian coffee is backed by a powerful marketing campaign that has established it among today's savvy coffee drinkers as one of best in the world. Keynoting at NAMA's Coffee, Tea & Water confab, Juan Esteban Orduz, president of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), provided the back story on Columbian coffee, its rise to prominence and the steps the organization is taking to position Colombia as the world's first 100% sustainable coffee-producing nation.
Orduz pointed to the country's unique geography and prime growing conditions as the foundation for the quality of its coffees, but it's also the passion of its farmers and the financial, social, environmental and marketing support the federation provides them that have helped establish a name and a following for the nation's prized beans.
"Coffee is a way of being and a source of national pride for Colombians," the speaker remarked. "It's in the hearts, veins and blood of all Colombians. With that pride comes a passion among farmers to uphold its high quality standards. When you say Colombian, quality is a given and we are working to continue to improve further in terms of sustainability."
Founded in 1927, the FNC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the standard of living for Colombian coffee growers and their families. It represents some 563,000 small coffee farmers, with the average farm occupying only four acres of land.
"Each of the farms is quite small and they're all high up in the Andes Mountains, which provide ideal growing conditions," the speaker explained. "Harvesting the prized berries is extremely labor-intensive. Pickers have to go to each tree six to eight times, picking bean by bean on a very steep slope, which is very tough work."
Orduz also pointed out that another unique advantage Colombia has over other coffee-growing nations besides the quality of its beans is its yield, since its trees produce two crops each year.
FNC plays a vital role in the sustainability of Colombia's coffee supply by working with national and local governments and international agencies to support coffee farmers and their communities in many ways, from building roads, schools and housing, to providing healthcare and agricultural resources. The federation guarantees purchase of green coffee and maintains more than 500 storage facilities throughout the country, but farmers are under no obligation to sell to them, explained Orduz.
The federation's state-of-the-art research center is home to 1,500 engineers, technicians and agronomists devoted to scientific research projects to safeguard crops against disease and keep close watch on the ecosystems in which coffee is grown. "One of the many things they do is study insect ecosystems and birds," explained Orduz. "If the chain's broken, something's wrong with the whole ecosystem." The team disseminates information to farmers and provides them with technical assistance to support their crops.
Orduz pointed out that Colombia was not recognized as an origin for coffee until 1960 and credited the FNC for getting the word out. In the late 1950s, an excessive supply of coffee in the world markets sent the price of Colombian coffee tumbling from 85¢₵ a pound to 45¢ a pound. "And only 4% of consumers even recognized Colombia as a country of origin," recalled Orduz.
The federation responded with an aggressive marketing campaign, at the center of which was the charismatic fictitious coffee farmer, Juan Valdez. "We took a farmer and put him in front of the consumer to show the public the passion, love and hard work of Colombian coffee growers," the speaker said. "He was in the stands at every high-profile sporting event and it worked -- coffee became either Colombian or 'the rest.'"
But then another challenge came in 1989 when the quota system for coffee exports ended and real competition began. "The market went from a limited number of brands to multiple brands, channels and prices," Orduz recalled.
This impelled the federation, in 1991, to work with roasters to sell roast and ground coffee under the Juan Valdez brand and open coffee houses. Juan Valdez coffees have earned a reputation among consumers for their high quality and also pay premiums to the coffee growers FNC represents for the development of social and environmental sustainability projects in coffee-growing areas.
FNC created a separate organization called Procafecol that is owned by Colombian coffee growers to oversee the sale of branded roast and ground coffees, as well as the growing network of Juan Valdez cafes. There are currently 170 shops in Colombia and 66 shops in the United States, Mexico, Aruba, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
"Coffee is a commodity, but the next trend is specialty coffees," stated Orduz. "In some cases that's clear, in some cases it's not. Organic coffee is one example; estate is another. Consumers are more sophisticated every day. Our job is to figure out what's the 'green' the market wants. We're working toward that if you buy Colombian, you buy sustainable in every sense of 'green.'"
Orduz said Colombia is well on its way to achieving its goal to become the first 100% sustainable country in the world in social and environmental terms. "That means protecting the ecology and improving the livelihoods of producers and their families through our purchase guarantee program and many more initiatives and by reducing our carbon footprint through use of alternative energy and agronomical practices," he concluded. "We need to give consumers 100% Colombian coffee plus all else that is sustainable in all formats in which coffee is consumed."
Tea Presenter: Stephen Twining, Twinings Of London
Stephen Twining, global ambassador for the Twinings of London brand and tenth-generation member of England's famous tea family, educated operators attending NAMA's Coffee, Tea & Water conference on the finer points of tea quality and preparation.
The tea aficionado, who drinks at least nine cups of the beverage a day, emphasized that no single tea fits all occasions or moods and that the beauty of tea is that there are so many varieties available to suit every need or desire throughout the day.
A typical day in the life of Stephen Twining, for example, might start with cup of English Breakfast to get him going in the morning, followed by a cup of Ceylon orange pekoe or Darjeeling. After lunch, he said Earl Grey is his likely choice, followed by a green tea. After dinner, it's usually a cup of jasmine tea, peppermint or chamomile to wind down.
Twining's advice to tea drinkers? "Drink what you like, when you like and how you like, because, it's a very personal experience." The British tea expert has one caveat: "Milk or lemon are fine, but sugar and honey are frankly barbaric! I don't like sugar in hot tea because it dominates the flavor; the sugar is the first thing you taste."
Twining makes an exception to his no-sugar rule for iced tea. "Adding a little sugar to iced tea helps hold the flavor," he said. Sugar is also acceptable to Twining in chai tea, a black tea with ginger, cardamom and other spices inspired by the sweet, milky drink originating in India. "A little sugar or honey accentuates the spiciness," he said.
The tea aficionado guided CT&W participants through the process of expertly steeping black and green teas and herbal infusions, which are commonly called herbal teas. He recommends placing the tea bag into the cup first, and then adding hot water and letting it steep for about three minutes for full extraction of both flavor and antioxidants. With black teas, Twining said it's best to add the water just as it boils. For green teas, he advised waiting for five minutes for the temperature to drop before adding the water, since too high of a temperature can result in a bitter taste.
To prepare iced tea, Twining advised making hot tea twice as strong and pouring it over an amount of ice equivalent to the water used to brew the tea. He added that tea bags that Twinings designed specifically for cold brewing take longer but produce the same quality end product.
The tea expert said Twinings tea bags deliver the taste and quality associated with loose teas in a convenient format that's the choice of the majority of today's busy consumers. He showed office coffee service operators that Twinings teabags contain one gram of tea in each of their two chambers and are designed for optimal brewing.
Twinings has also formulated its teas for single-cup pods used in the Keurig and Tassimo brewing systems.
"If you have good tea in the bag and treat it right when you prepare it, you will get a great cup of tea in convenient form," he said. "The taste is the same from the tea bag or loose leaf or pod. It's your choice. Twinings is 307 years old and we only put our name on it if the quality is there."
Twinings sources its tea across the globe and just nine master blenders with refined sets of taste buds and a minimum of five years of training each are responsible for ensuring the quality and consistency of every type of tea the company produces. The tea for every blend is tasted 15 times between the plantation and packing of the final product, according to Stephen Twining.
He explained that tea is like coffee: Every time it is picked it has a different flavor. So Twinings is dependent on the skill of its tea blenders to make sure each of its teas deliver the consistent taste consumers expect.
Twinings tea drinkers can also feel good about the product they're drinking. In 1997, the company was a founding member of the Ethical Tea partnership that ensures tea is ethically grown, both socially and environmentally.
The tea expert concluded by extending CT&W participants an open invitation to visit Twinings headquarters.
Coffee Presenter: Luz Marina Trujillo, Santa Elena Coffee Estate
Third-generation coffee producer Luz Marina Trujillo provided CT&W showgoers a firsthand account of what's involved in running a successful coffee farm and shared the deep connection she has with the people who work on hers.
Trujillo hosted a group of National Automatic Merchandising Association members at her Santa Elena coffee estate in the mountainous Tarrazu region of Costa Rica last February, allowing them to personally experience one origin of coffee's farm-to-cup journey.
She grew up on a Colombian coffee estate and moved to Costa Rica in 1989 to run the Santa Elena coffee farm that her father and uncle had purchased years earlier. "I planned to stay six months, but it's been 24 years," she laughed.
The coffee grower decided early on that she wanted to sell directly to roasters. Her first client to buy direct was Seattle's Best founder Jim Stewart. Their relationship budded into a romance and the two married. Stewart joined his wife at NAMA's CT&W event.
Trujillo pointed out that many coffee farmers never taste their coffee in roast and ground format before the green beans are sold and shipped. So she stepped it up a notch by investing in a roasting machine, allowing her and her employees to cup each batch of coffee to ensure its quality and consistency.
Trujillo guided CT&W showgoers through the coffee-picking and sorting process via a slide show that spotlighted each step and the families behind Santa Elena coffee.
"We treat coffee with love every step of the way," she said. Santa Elena coffee is shade-grown and produced with natural fertilizers. And the coffee estate supports the quality of life of its workers through community health, education and social outreach programs.
"Any time you want to visit, you're more than welcome to visit Santa Elena," Trujillo concluded. "You're part of my family."