The vertically oriented Colombian green coffee business formerly known as Direct Origin Trading has rebranded under the name Cedro Alto, a change designed to better reflect its network of coffee growers.
Based in Bogotá, Colombia, Cedro Alto is a collective of coffee producers representing more than 150 farmers, with an export office in Pereira, Colombia, and a U.S. import office in Baltimore, Maryland. Although not a traditional producer cooperative, Cedro Alto facilitates negotiations and logistics between producers and roasters, with the goal of improving market access for smallholder farmers.
Prior to entering the world of specialty coffee, Cedro Alto Owner and Founder Karl Wienhold worked with various smallholder agriculture associations and businesses in South America before llaunching the business. In the coffee sector, Wienhold discovered a potential means by which to help improve economic opportunities for smallholder producers in war-torn or underserved areas.
“Rather than the exporter and the importer being the middle man, the farmers are taking the role as the middle man with Cedro Alto,” Wienhold told DCN. “We take the coffee and send it directly to the roaster… When a roaster buys the coffee, all of the costs of the harvesting, the milling, the producing, and shipping are broken down and shared with the roaster and the money goes directly back to the farmer.”
Cedro Alto initially began working with only five farms, but the network has greatly expanded in recent years, in part because of the work of Frank Villada, a Q grader and director of farm processing and quality control. Wienhold and Villada travel to farms throughout Colombia and look for ways to get coffees milled and processed as individual microlots or as blended, hyper-regional lots. Most of the farmers Wienhold works with simply don’t have the resources nor the means to move their coffees to depulping stations and mills. However, in identifying and separating those quality lots for the export market, more value can theoretically be retained by the farmer.
Within its product line, Cedro Alto offers what it calls “traceable micro-regional lots.” The idea is to maximize market channels for farmers by taking the traceable microlot model and applying it to blended lots. This potentially prevents farmers from experiencing a situation by which they may lose money by combining their season’s best coffees with the rest of their production volume simply to meet the volume-driven market demand.
“If a roaster bought one to several bags that make up a 150 bag lot, the green coffee would include a list of each farmer, how many kilos of coffee they put in, and how much they’re making from the combined harvest,” Wienhold said. “We’re trying to create the same level of transparency and traceability from these blended lots to a micro-lot.”
In addition to working towards year-to-year economic sustainability for coffee farmers, the company is also invested in the economic sustainability of coffee farming, working exclusively with farms that are employing shade-growing techniques that promote biodiversity, soil health and, in many cases improved quality.
“The cost of quality control is still high, and we’re working on improving that,” Wienhold said, adding that Cedro Alto has plans to continue to expand throughout Colombia. “It’s hard for farmers to participate in direct trade these days. You have to be really well funded and have a lot of resources to be able to ship coffee directly to the roaster…. Our goal is to have the roasters pay the farmer based on the quality of the coffee, not the lowest price the farmer is willing to take.”