Ever wondered what the inside of a fairly-traded coffee company looks like? Wonder no more! Andrew and I were recently invited to go on a tour of the inner workings of Peace Coffee, a Minneapolis-based company that truly puts people before profit (and makes some darn good coffee while they're at it)!
When we arrive at Peace Coffee HQ, we're greeted by our tour guide, Ryan, and escorted to a gigantic space filled with piles of burlap sacks filled with coffee from around the world. Here, we learn about the process that the humble coffee bean goes through before landing at Peace Coffee for roasting and distribution:
- The Coffee Plant: A new baby coffee plant must be cultivated for four years before it begins to produce fruit. When it reaches maturity, it will bloom with lovely, fragrant flowers which precede plump, red berries (known as cherries).
- De-Pulping: Once the ripe coffee cherries are picked, the fleshy, fruity outside is stripped off, revealing the bean.
- Drying: Usually on a concrete slab, in the sun.
- Dry Milling: This process removes the hull or skin that remains on the coffee bean.
- Sorting: Removing all of the bad beans, stones, and other imperfections.
- Shipping: It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for shipping containters filled with beans to make it to the US.
We're allowed to touch and smell several different types of green coffee beans- noting how location, processing methods, and climate create subtle differences. At this point, I'm beginning to understand why people get so passionate about their favorite coffee. There are so many variables that go into getting just the perfect taste!
Ryan tells us that Peace Coffee purchases beans from 24 co-ops in 13 countries. Many of the farmers in these co-ops own relatively small amounts of land (11 acres or less). Photos of the famers, workers, and their families are plastered all over the warehouse. It's obvious that there's a personal, meaningful connection between Peace Coffee employees and the people behind the origin of the coffee beans that they work with. If you know me, you know how much I love this. I'm becoming a bigger Peace Coffee fan by the minute.
Next we learn about roasting. Peace Coffee's behemoth roasting contraption is the star of the show- It churns out hundreds of pounds of coffee every day. Roasting is closely monitored down to the second- a few seconds too long or too short, and the flavor isn't right. Again, I'm suitably impressed, Raising my eyebrows at Andrew and whispering "this is so cool!". Andrew gives me a lofty smile (being the coffee fanatic in our household, he clearly knows way more than I do about this process).
The (super non-high-tech) packaging area of the warehouse is next. No conveyer belts here, this coffee is lovingly packaged and packed by hand. Big bags for restaurants, smaller, brightly colored bags for store shelves.
Peace Coffee is delivered to many local restaurants, coffee shops, and cafe's (locally roasted is a big deal for us Twin City folk, apparently...). You can even find Peace Coffee in Target if you live in the Midwest. You can buy it online if you don't!
Always conscious of being as eco-friendly as possible, Peace Coffee uses bikes to deliver freshly roasted beans around the Twin Cities. If you're a Minneapolis dweller, you've probably seen a bike attached to Peace Coffee's little red cart rolling around the city. I know, I know... So awesome. So hipster.
One thing that I learned about Peace Coffee stuck out to me more than all the others. Just like the stock market, coffee prices fluctuate- one day they're up, one day they're down. Many coffee companies buy only when the market is up (so that they can say that they are paying fair trade prices- which, technically, they are)- we need more coffee buyers who are willing to pay steady, fair-trade wages both when the market is up and when it's down so that coffee farmers can count on a stable source of income. Peace Coffee is one of those outstanding companies that goes the extra mile- not just "talking the talk" about ethical production and fair prices, but really ensuring that they are doing absolutely everything that they can to care for the Farmers and Co-ops that they work with.
I'm a huge Peace Coffee fan, and by now I hope that you're one, too! Let's buy lots of Peace Coffee and dedicate those oh-so-essential morning cups of Joe to the cause of global empowerment and good ethics!
All photos by the amazing Nicola Harger Photography
I'll be posting Part Two of this experience next week- come back then to hear about my experience with a Peace Coffee cupping and tasting! I'm admittedly coffee illiterate... (notes of what?) and it was amazing to get a glimpse of what it must be like to be a coffee connoisseur and flavor maestro!