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Farm to Table (Cup), aka "Cup of Joe" 

"Farm to Cup" is another way to refer to the same thing as “farm to table.” As Rutgers University puts it, “farm to table (or cup)” is “a food system in which food production, processing, distribution, and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of a particular place.” While most of us see the term used in restaurants, it can be applied much more broadly than that. Others simply refer to their coffee as a “Cup of Joe.”

We had the pleasure of hosting Ben Schellack, co-owner of Penstock Coffee (NJ), with our recent visit to Haiti. Penstock, formerly OQ Coffee, is a ten-year EcoCafe Haiti customer. Ben Schellack is an entrepreneur, former Princeton seminarian, teacher of Latin and the humanities, graduate from the University of Michigan and Rutgers, and a former student of Hebrew at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Vatican). In addition, Ben is fluent in Latin, Koine Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and almost conversationally fluent in Haitian Creole (after one short week). As important, Ben is an expert coffee roaster. He and his wife, Jessica (co-owner, expert coffee grader, and a graduate from the University of Michigan and Rutgers), have received numerous awards for their outstanding brew; including, local and regional accolades, a two-time Finalist distinction in the category of Coffee from the Good Food Awards (2017 and 2018), and Food & Wine’s Best Coffee in New Jersey award (2019).

More than ten years ago EcoCafe Haiti was blessed to have Dan Kuhn, expert coffee agronomist, set up our operation in Haiti, providing us with a process to cultivate and process high-quality, specialty, green coffee beans, the beans sourced by roasters. Among other things gleaned from Dan’s knowledge base, we learned to use only perfectly ripe coffee beans with the proper sugar content (Brix Refractometer), beans pulped the same day when picked, a carefully chosen fermentation cycle, a specific washing method in stainless steel tanks, solar drying of beans above ground on drying racks to an exact moisture level, and grading/sorting/screening methods to ensure each/every bean is free from defect. Over the years we have perfected that process, earning us the distinction of a high quality, specialty coffee; however, our understanding of coffee pretty much ended after we shipped our green coffee beans to roaster/customers like Penstock Coffee.

A good “Cup of Joe” starts with the coffee bean. Although we process, sort, and grade our beans before they are shipped, it proved interesting to learn that Penstock grades the coffee beans again once received at the roastery. That being said, Ben taught us how he grades coffee by pointing out potential defects in the green beans, defects due to errors when pulping, drying, or hulling the coffee beans. As a result, we are now synchronous with Penstock when processing our finished product.

Ben and some of our employees “cupped” our coffee, comparing our coffee with a few high-quality coffees from Colombia and Ethiopia. Ben used terms such as citrusy, floral, chocolatey, fruity, nutty, earthy, among other terms, to define the aroma and taste of our somewhat-blind cupping test. As important, Ben went on to explain how each term relates to many of the chemical compounds (over 1,000 chemical compounds) in coffee, compounds that originate in the bean itself and/or are produced from the ensuing roasting and brewing methods. We learned about quinic/acetic/malic/caffeic acids, malimethylbutanal, furaneol, methylpropanal, ketones, etc., terms that are as difficult to spell as they are to pronounce.

By gaining a rudimentary understanding of the processes and terms described by Ben, we now have a better idea of the complexities involved once our coffee beans make their way into the roastery and, ultimately, into the coffee cup. Further, we were able to synchronize Ben’s palate with our employees’ palates, providing us with a better, first-hand understanding of how our coffee is received and tested by a coffee expert. The knowledge gained from this experience completes the cycle of farm to cup, aka “Cup of Joe.”

For Penstock Coffee, it is as important to source quality coffee beans as it is to establish a direct relationship with the farmers and coffee mill employees who are the source of their end product. Knowing that the farmers receive a fair price for their coffee, that our employees are paid well and are satisfied with their work effort, and all are treated respectfully; these are important factors when purchasing coffee from coffee companies like EcoCafe Haiti. Additionally, to witness the natural, organic cultivation and processing of green coffee ensures that the end product is sustainably sourced, minimizing any adverse effects to a fragile environment.

For Ben Schellack and other EcoCafe Haiti roaster/customers, there is more than the quality of coffee that serves as a motivation for purchasing our coffee. There are social, environmental, economic and, sometimes, faith-based elements that serve as motivational factors. As an instructor of business/management classes, it is difficult for me to define success beyond the economic factors that underly our efforts in Haiti; however, I have learned to see results beyond those of profit/loss. Although we fell short of our objective to achieve break-even profitability merely after five years of operation (it took seven), we have greatly benefitted from the non-economic factors in Haiti, benefits in the form of relationship, community, compassion, love, empathy, and hope—the intangibles that ultimately prove more meaningful in the long run. It has been a humbling experience.

So, when drinking coffee, remember to look beyond the aroma/flavor of the coffee and focus on the people who labored to bring your morning “Cup of Joe,” from the farmer (such as Madame Dissomat) to the coffee mill workers (such as Bebe and Deus), to Penstock’s CEO (such as Jessica), to the coffee roaster (such as Ben’s production roaster, Catie), to Penstock’s lead barista (such as Justine), and to the wait staff who graciously served your cup.

For more information about our coffee and Penstock Coffee, please visit the Penstock website and, while there, purchase some freshly roasted coffee expertly/lovingly crafted for your pleasure.

Tom Durant


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