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Article by SDCN Assistant Editor, Pablo Lara. Photos by SDCN Staff Photographer, Julie Ring.
On a typically sunny San Diego afternoon palm trees danced to the slow breeze along a
desolate Park Boulevard, with few cars on the road. This day brought me together with
Karen Cebreros, full-time advocate of sustainability in the coffee sector; she is a wealth of
knowledge and source of inspiration.
We decided to enjoy a cup of coffee at Hessian Global Goods (Prounounced "Hess-si-an"), the perfect setting to discuss Karen’s upcoming projects, which are always resonating with global awareness. Coffee, the second largest commodity in the world, possesses the immense possibility of creating lasting impact on environmental and social fronts due to its large chain from farm to cup. The numerous opportunities to intersect environmentalism and humanitarianism in our industry are pivotal for its future. This is why we must take action. Karen has devoted the last twenty-years of her life shedding light and finding solutions to help the buttress of our industry: Women in farming communities.
While drinking my coffee, its aromatics transported me to the narratives of Karen’s spoken
words. Recounting her first visits to origin in the early nineties, before the advent of social
consciousness in coffee, she witnessed firsthand the harsh reality of coffee farmers. She
specifically noted the distressing situation women of these farming regions found
themselves in. Cyclical poverty and abuse were the social norm. Cebreros quickly
concluded that their realities were a direct result of the economic dependence on their
husbands. Facilitating access to micro-loans for women at origin is an initiative Karen has
been working on through the Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund, and the results are eminent.
Karen truly believes that women are motivated by the necessities of their family, making them the best candidates for loans like these. Loan recipients have proved to be successful entrepreneurs, opening eateries and workshops that diversify family income. The inception of this initiative took place in Guatemala, and Karen hopes to extend the program to other coffee growing regions, such as Africa.
To my excitement, Karen is launching her most innovative project yet: an automated café that will serve beverages made using coffee sourced from women-led co-ops. The coffee will be roasted by Daymar Coffee Roasters; a company that has been an active supporter of Karen’s women forward initiatives. This partnership is possible thanks to the technological component of this project. Technology, coffee and consciousness merge into one machine, linking Karen’s green coffee sourcing and origin initiatives directly with the mainstream pool of consumers.
“This is the culmination of twenty-five years of work,” said Cebreros.
For many years now she has been waiting for the right technology that will best represent
these coffees. The machine has a screen component with the potential to play images from the farm that day’s coffee selection originates, or perhaps the story of a woman farmer from
that co-op your cup comes from. While this this closes the gap between conscious sourcing and market, will it accomplish this without compromising quality?
I’m not going to lie; at first I was skeptical about the quality aspect of this project. And as a
barista I don’t quite agree with the automation of our craft. Indeed, I had some questions
pertaining to the brewing technology of these machines, which were answered by the creator, Howard Heller of The--CoffeeHouse.com representative. Heller is the maker of the machine for Earth's Choice, custom labelled "The Organic Coffee House."
How will water be filtered in order to ensure beverage quality and to prevent mineral build up, for instance? A reverse osmosis filtering system is used to ensure machine longevity
and drink standards. What sort of grinder is employed and how will it stand the high
volume projected? “This was in fact the hardest problem to solve,” said a representative of the Creator, and if you are
familiar with coffee extraction, you know how challenging grind consistency is. When the
purchase contract is signed, if you choose to only serve Daymar’s Women’s Co-op
coffees, burs will continually be replaced under the guarantee. High quality conical
burrs will be replaced by regional technicians along with filtering systems. Interestingly
enough, the quality control gurus at Daymar Coffee tested the machine and were quite
pleased with the results. Roy Gallegos, owner of Daymar coffee stated, “We were able to
play with grind size, and frankly we had never seen a shot with such great crema and flavor
through a fully automatic machine.”
We will all have the opportunity to enjoy cups made by the automated café at A Small Section of The World: Women in Coffee Film Event on May 20. The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) will host our screening of A Small Section of the World. From the award winning producer of Waiting for Superman, comes an inspiring story of a community of women in Costa Rica that against the odds sought out coffee as a way of bringing prosperity and sustainability to their community. The event is a fundraiser for the microfinance initiative discussed above. In fact, $5 of every ticket sold, will go to the Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund. The intimacy of the Museum of Photographic Arts will allow attendees to ask further questions directly to Karen Cebreros, Daymar and special guests that will be part of the Q&A panel.
I lastly want to emphasize the huge impact that the auto-café will have. The mainstream market still consumes coffees dictated by C Market pricing, unlike the third-wave industry, which buys green coffee at an elevated price. C Market prices and their fragility create pressing realities for farmers; higher prices paid by Cebreros’ sourcing will translate directly to the women co-ops. We hope the initiative succeeds, and if it does, it will reach a market far
greater than that of the third-wave coffee shop.
Karen walked out of Hessian with a lovely vintage Tintin poster for her grandson. It reminded her of origin trips to the jungles of Peru. Certainly this kid won’t grow up with a provincial point of view!