Aequitas Coffee: from conception to birth

Wow! 2017 was one of the most intense years in my whole life. Being an entrepreneur requires an energy that you didn’t imagine you’d have, ability to deal with unknown experiences, be patient to learn with them, and remember your mission every day.

I remember two and half years ago talking to a close friend who calls herself as my second mother. She is my mom’s age and a great counselor. At that time, I told her that I wanted to have my own business, apart from working in the family farming business, something related to specialty coffee export but I didn’t know how to start. By that time I had already exported a container with the family's coffee to Europe and wondered how I could do the same for other producers.

I’ve been closely in touch with specialty coffee since September 2013 when I did a barista course at CoffeeLab in São Paulo. In that same year, I spent three months in Paris and frequently visited many coffee shops there. I got amazed by the growing specialty coffee scene and dreamed of one day seeing my family's name in a coffee menu at one of those cafés. My knowledge was restricted to the market from a specialty coffee consumer perspective and I dedicated myself to studying and researching every time I had an opportunity to travel abroad and in São Paulo as well.

In 2014, I decided moving back from Sao Paulo, a cosmopolitan metropolis of 11 million people, to my little hometown Sao Gotardo of 30 thousand people. It was a hard decision. I aimed working with specialty coffee from a producer perspective at the family’s farm. My father has been working with coffee since he was a little boy – now he’s 70 – and here in Cerrado region since 1975. He’s never heard of specialty coffee, and considering this context, it’s not hard to imagine his resistance to my fanciful ideas about producing this sort of product. As soon as I arrived I started the traceability program and began a plan for the farm certification. Now we have Certifica Minas Certification and UTZ. 

In September 2016, after accumulating some knowledge about the market, I had my export company business canvas done and now one and half years later here I am with Aequitas. In April 2017, I officially launched Aequitas Coffee at SCA coffee expo. There I made some contacts and thanks to IWCA network I started a meaningful connection that lead Aequitas to successfully accomplish the aim of connecting producers to the specialty coffee market and vice-versa.

Aequitas coffee bag

Aequitas coffee bag

After interviewing each producer, today I feel proud and fulfilled of seeing my family’s, the producers’, and the region stories into the importers’ website and I know that it’s reaching the roasters and I believe even consumers. It comes to my memory that moment in Paris four and half years ago that motivated me to challenge myself. Finally, the farmer is now the protagonist and from their perspective this is so meaningful because it broke a paradigm that has existed for years, in which coffee was simply traded as a commodity and the producer had no idea on its quality and destination. The stories are being forwarded to a numerous number of people and for those who value it, they’ll be able to dive into a journey behind an apparently single cup of coffee. 

After this first year of export experience, Aequitas presented above market prices in relation to the region’s physical prices basis and could pay an average for ready to export coffee from 70% to 75% of the FOB price to the producer, in comparison to the C-Market, considering the day the producer was paid and a fixed currency established via export financing. The other part refers to packing, logistics, bank financing, port, government taxes and Aequitas work. 

For 2018, the expectation is to continue creating transparent, win-win relationships, long lasting, and meaningful coffee connections and share with the world our specialty coffee, our people and our stories. If you’re interested in learning what we have to offer please contact me. Or if you want to know our coffees and their profiles, please visit Crop to Cup Coffee Importers – look for Edson Tamekuni and Yuki Minami. Also Mercanta – at UK warehouse, look for Fazenda Olhos d'Água, Yamaguchi Farm Lote 68, Fazenda Onze Mil Virgens, Fazenda Santo Antonio and Fazenda Agrovila.

I couldn't finish this post without thanking my family, the producers, importers and IWCA who have trusted in Aequitas work and contributed to making this dream a reality.

See ya!

Coffee chain shortcut: from producers to barista and vice-versa

As part of Aequitas’ initiative of approaching farmers to the market, during one week in August, a series of lectures and coffee brewing workshops was held for 4 distinct groups of coffee producers in the region of São Gotardo.

During three and half hours, a brief outlook about the US market was presented – as result of my research field trip to the US in April for SCA coffee expo and impressions from the specialty coffee scene around Seattle, Portland, Bend, and San Francisco. Afterwards, throughout 3 hours Maria Antonia Mion, barista and partner at Supernova Coffee Roasters located in Curitiba – 1.100 km from São Gotardo – presented filtered coffee brewing techniques, perceptions about Curitiba’s specialty coffee consumers and her everyday experience behind the counter making lots of espressos, macchiatos, cappuccinos and drip coffee to Supernova clients.

Maria’s workshop is quite interesting, she teaches not only about extraction techniques but also curiosities and the history of each method. She divides the methods in timelines: classic, modern, and post-modern and focused on teaching the most popular methods in specialty cafés.

Specialty coffee talk at COOPACER co-op

At this edition, she taught in minute-details the importance of coffee and water qualities, storage, different coffee infusions and extractions due to different types of grinding and lastly a step by step for making a delicious coffee with a French press, Hario V60 and Aeropress. We used the producers’ coffee from the 2017 harvest. The workshop got more stimulating for everyone, especially the sensorial perceptions in body, sweetness and acidity when tasting the same coffee in different methods.  

At Coopacer, a co-op located in São Gotardo, the first group had producers, agronomists, co-op employees and local roasters participating. They were quite curious and lots of questions arose about the specialty coffee market.

The second group were formed by small producers, from 2,5 to 30 hectares, who are assisted by EMATER (Minas Gerais State Company for Rural Technical Assistance and Extension) and the activities happened at Mr. Rafael’s house in Agrovila – thanks a lot Mr. Rafael for your hospitality! They were quite curious about Maria’s teachings and it’s interesting noticing that each audience has different doubts, behavior and needs, even though dealing with the same thing that is coffee. This is the beauty of human nature.

Brewing workshop with Maria Mion at Mr. Rafael's house

Brewing workshop with Maria Mion at Mr. Rafael's house

The third class was at Coopadap where most of the participants were coffee producers. The class were quite advanced about concepts of specialty market and delighted themselves at the workshop.

At last, the 4th group was my darling one. I was there not just representing Aequitas but it was my contribution to IWCA, as an IWCA Cerrado Mineiro member and advocate for women empowerment, especially in the coffee chain. The women producers belong to the rural community of Chaves and to the co-op Carpec in Carmo do Paranaíba, 50 km from São Gotardo. Maria and I were quite surprised and pleased for seeing Maisa, a curious 16-year-old girl who were attending the workshop among adults. Her mother couldn’t participate so she was there to represent her. This is such a significant participation that express the importance of family succession in farming, whereas sometimes we see the younger generations that don’t want to continue in rural activity.

Women producers from the rural community of Chaves and CARPEC co-op. Maisa is the second on the left

Women producers from the rural community of Chaves and CARPEC co-op. Maisa is the second on the left

At the end, after an intense week sharing and learning through talks, workshops and visits to farms, the feeling was of fulfillment for the opportunity of impacting 40 people’s lives and a reinforcement to myself: I simply enjoy establishing connections with people and even more when those new links are created through coffee.


Other pictures

Four generations cultivating history and coffee

Ditian (grandfather in Japanese) Goro and children, Noboru, Yoko and Niculau (1950)

Ditian (grandfather in Japanese) Goro and children, Noboru, Yoko and Niculau (1950)

The ship that brought Minami family to Brazil (1927)

The ship that brought Minami family to Brazil (1927)

In June 16th 1927, my great-grandfather Tsunekichi Minami, my great-grandmother Kachi Minami and children arrived in Santos, Sao Paulo, Brazil after leaving Japan and travelling during 2 months on Kanagawa-Maru ship. My grandfather Goro Minami at that time was 11 years old. The emigration turned into an option for more than 157.000 Japanese people that arrived in Brazilian lands in the period from 1924 to 1941, as a result from a chronic and exponential demography that was causing an intense social, political, cultural and economic change in Japan.

Pursuing the dream of a better life condition my ancestors from the families Minami and Okuyama (paternal grandparents), Kumata and Iida (maternal grandparents) came to Brazil looking for the Brazilian golden – coffee – that was the country’s main export product. In the end, the promise of making money by working in coffee plantations and going back to Japan was different from the reality. Staying in Brazil was no longer an option but the one and only alternative.

After several years of hard work in coffee farms in Sao Paulo state, they raised some money and bought a small piece of land in the north of Parana state where they cultivated coffee. In 1944 my grandfather married my grandmother Mitsuyo and in 1947 my father Niculau Minami was born. Since young age he used to work in the farm following his father’s steps. A curious fact is that my grandfather wanted his son studying Medicine School, but he attended school until he was 9 years old. He quit studying to help in the farm and to follow his dream of becoming a farmer.

Goro Minami (on the right) holding a prize in recognition for the coffee quality production

Goro Minami (on the right) holding a prize in recognition for the coffee quality production

In the 1960’s the north of Parana concentrated 50% of the national coffee production. However, many severe frosts were gradually damaging coffee plantations and in 1974 Goro and Niculau visited the Alto Paranaíba in Cerrado Mineiro to get to know the region for developing farming activities in an area safe from frosts. Since 1973 the region was undergoing an agricultural expansion program, the PADAP – Alto Paranaiba Guided Settlement Agricultural Program. An area of 60.000 hectares was expropriated and divided in many smaller lots and approximately a hundred families of Japanese origin settled the region and started agricultural activities.  

In April 25th, 1975 Niculau Minami arrived to PADAP region under the supervision and support of his father and elder brother. They acquired an area of 442 hectares, the lot number 71, called Fazenda Olhos d’Água, which means Farm of Spring Waters due to its several springs, in Rio Paranaíba municipality, 30 km from São Gotardo.

Since then, coffee and other crops (potato, carrot, garlic, soybean, corn, oat and wheat) has been planted. This is a privileged location, thanks to its soil, higher altitude, around 1.140 and 1.160 meters and its climate turns, that is, hot days and cool nights, which is good for coffee.

An area of 180 hectares are dedicated to coffee in Fazenda Olhos d’Água (Lot 71) and Fazenda Santo Antonio (Lot 42) and more than 20% in both farms consist of Cerrado natural biome.

Coffee plantation characteristics:

  • Varieties: Yellow Catuaí, Red Catuaí, Mundo Novo, Icatu and Red Catucaí
  • Harvest: June to August
  • Method: Natural
  • Average altitude: 1.150 m
  • City: Rio Paranaíba, Minas Gerais, Brazil
  • Region: designation of origin Cerrado Mineiro

A new chapter in coffee quality production at COOPADAP

On May 29th, our co-op, COOPADAP (Agricultural Cooperative of PADAP), started writing a new chapter in coffee quality production. Since May last year, we’ve been talking to PhD. professor Flavio Borém, about a consulting project to our producers. Since 1997, he has been teaching at Federal Lavras University and he’s a nationally and internationally well-respected researcher for coffee scientific articles and for the book “Handbook in Coffee Post-Harvest Technology”.

After negotiating the investment for the consulting services, defining the project goals and schedule, we finally had the kick off that happened on May 29th for a group of twelve producers focused in improving coffee quality.

According to Professor Borém, there are 10 concepts related to specialty coffee production:

1)    The specialty coffee is formed at the coffee plantation area. The producer must know the coffee plots (in Brazil we call it “talhão”) and each one potential. Then different sensorial profiles must be separated.

2)    Only healthy and well-nourished plantations will result specialty coffee. The soil must be well covered by organic material and vegetal cover to protect it from sun heat. The earth must be chill.

3)    The harvest planning must be aligned with the capacity of post-harvesting infra-structure. It doesn’t make sense saving money making use of mechanical harvesting but then losing coffee quality on drying patios.

4)    When considering coffee matureness and harvesting it mechanically, specialty natural coffee must be harvested with a maximum of 20% of immature fruits (frutos verdes) and for specialty pulped natural a maximum of 30%. It’s preferable having a tolerance for immature fruits to explore the maximum potential of ripe (cereja) and a little bit over-ripe and dry cherries (passa, seco or bóia).

HINT: coffee with pendulum is not totally mature and coffee without pendulum is mature.

5)    The quality can improve during post-harvesting process. If adequate techniques are applied during coffee post-harvesting the quality might improve and you reduce the risk of losing quality potential that already comes from the cherries. For instance, one coffee processed as Natural may result in better final score than processed as Pulped Natural or vice-versa.

Coffee producers and their team cupping coffees from several countries of origin 

6)    It’s possible producing specialty coffee using any kind of coffee process! That is Natural, Pulped natural (in Brazil we it’s possible producing 3 types of pulped natural in the same wet milling structure that are CD1, CD2 and CD3, which mean depulped ripe cherry, depulped unripe cherries and depulped over-ripe cherries, respectively), and Washed processes. It depends on infra-structure, logistics, coffee potential and most importantly the Coffee buyer!

7)    The hygiene is a critical success factor because without it excellent coffee may be contaminated. So, every post-harvesting structure must be cleaned and “shining” every day!

8)    More uniformity and less risk are synonyms for quality. In the end, producing coffee quality is about reducing risks. For every new attempt in coffee process make both questions: (1) Is it going to result in more uniformity? (2) Is it going to reduce risks?

Example: does using a wet milling washer-separator results in more uniformity? YES, because it separates the ripe cherries from the over-ripe and dry ones. Does it reduce risk? YES, because there are less unripe fruits.

Professor Flavio Meira Borem at Coopadap

9)    The coffee drying process can reduce the coffee quality. If coffee cherries dry at a high loss of moisture rate it can damages the quality. There are expected drying times for each process, also according to each local climate context.

10) The coffee quality reduces along storage period. To minimize the loss of quality Natural dry cherry coffee can be stored in tulhas (wooden cells) for a minimum period of 30 days to equilibrate the moisture and once hulled sounds just like fresh coffee.

If you want to learn more about Professor Borem research, projects, articles, presentations, etc. in coffee post-harvest technology I highly recommend accessing his website where he shares lots of content he has produced along his career.

How Aequitas is addressing gender equity

Meeting with women coffee producers

Besides looking for promoting producers from the region of Sao Gotardo, Aequitas is focused in addressing gender equity with women producers from IWCA Brazil chapter, especially from the Cerrado Mineiro sub-chapter. I participate in many coffee events and most of them have notable majority of men producers, but gradually there's been created a room for women, as now we have some meetings exclusively for women producers where we talk about many subjects.

At first women are shy, as they're not used to have a space for sharing their experiences and opinions. We see several kinds of women producers, the ones who are active involved in farming activities, others who dedicate more time in household activities but are starting to have a voice in production that normally it's the husbands' territory, daughters of producers who are undergoing to family business succession (which is also my case). In the end, inhibition disappears and everyone shares what they have been doing for improvements in coffee quality, situations within their families by the increase in their participation in decisions related to coffee, and many other stories. It's rewarding to witness how those women growers feel more empowered and confident after each event.

coffee women producers

On March 30th 2017, with the help of PhD. professor Raquel Santos Soares Menezes from Federal University of Viçosa, a researcher of the topic women in business and an active member of IWCA Cerrado Mineiro, I met a group of 5 women producers who are engaged in producing high-quality coffee. We presented Aequitas mission that is fostering connections with the specialty coffee market in a transparent and equitable relationship. We talked about each one’s story in coffee production, how they felt about the way their coffee is traded, the importance of cupping their own coffee, post-harvesting techniques, etc. We explained about the traditional coffee journey through supply chain, the Aequitas market access model, how C-market influences coffee prices, differentials, costs for exporting, etc.

Finally, as part of our commitment in building a company focused in understanding the producers’ needs we asked them to tell what Aequitas could offer them, as we’re interested in building together a bilateral relationship that it’s more than just buying and selling coffee. All producers asked for transparency. An aspect that many roasters values is also a request for these women. They shared their curiosity in learning where their coffee go to and transparency in the traded price. At the end of the meeting, the producers committed to looking for a coffee tasting course, as they realized the importance of checking if the whole processes they’ve been applying throughout the coffee plantation are resulting satisfactory cupquality.

What excites me the most in every meeting is the possibility of mobilizing women and exchanging experiences. Our next step is already defined: gathering again after harvesting season to roast and cup our samples and debating each other processes and experiments.