Despite all its growth over the years, Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee, at its sourcing core, has maintained a steadfast commitment to promoting quality and sustainable long-term relationships with coffee farmers.
That commitment is evident in the company’s recent social impact coffee event series ECWx, which first launched in Colombia in 2018 and took place this past December and January in Honduras and Guatemala, respectively.
Essentially four-day workshops for 30-40 smallholder farmers, the events are location-specific offshoots of Intelligentsia’s long-running ECW (Extraordinary Coffee Workshop) event, which brings together roughly 50 of Intelligentsia’s trading partners from some 15 coffee-producing countries. The next ECW is taking place this May in Rwanda.
For the Honduras and Guatemala events — supported by hosts and sponsors Root Capital and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), respectively — Intelligentsia added a financial commitment, pledging to purchase 20,000 pounds of green coffee from the most promising farmers or producer organizations at each workshop.
“Intelligentsia extended the contract offers as a way to advance its goal of increased smallholder inclusion in its direct trade network,” Intelligentsia Director of Sourcing and Shared Value Michael Sheridan told Daily Coffee News via email following the event. “We also believed these contracts would go a long way to support the market-access goals of our event partners, Root Capital and CRS.”
Participants for the ECWx events — including farm representatives, agronomists, cooperative leaders and more — benefitted from farm visits; demonstrations of applied technology in the field, mills and labs; cuppings and sensory exercises; and more. Sheridan helped lead the workshops on behalf of Intelligentsia along with Intelligentsia Vice President of Coffee Geoff Watts and Director of Coffee Sam Sabori.
Of course, quality has no financial bearing without market access, and Sheridan said that given the global coffee market’s continued low prices, more farmers are seeking to tap into a specialty market that will reward them with higher prices.
Said Sheridan, “Our model, with fixed-price contracts, guaranteed minimum prices for each quality tier, and a commitment to multi-year business, has been attractive for growers of all shapes and sizes for many years.”
As for Intelligentsia’s most recent purchase commitment for the yet-to-be-determined Guatamalan and Honduran ECWx coffees, Sheridan said there are plenty of details to iron out before those coffees fill Intelli’s recently redesigned bags, although one goal is to forge some long-term sourcing relationships.
“We have told ECWx participants in Honduras and Guatemala alike that our goal is a half-container of multi-grade purchases to begin with, mostly blenders at the A and AA tiers, but we are hopeful that we can also include some AAA purchases for a single-origin release later this year,” Sheridan said. “We hope and expect that some of the groups we have met through ECWx in Honduras and Guatemala will be with us for the long haul, and that eventually these new relationships will yield single-origin lots we can present as the products of ECWx.”
[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated. An earlier version identified ECW as an acronym for “Excellent Coffee Workshop.” The full name is actually “Extraordinary Coffee Workshop.”