Around the globe

 Around the globe @ Precious Drop Coffee

Small family-run farms produce around 60% of the world’s coffee – there are 12.5 million of these farms that are less than 5 hectares.

Almost half of the world’s smallholder farmers are living in impoverished conditions and a fifth live in extreme poverty.

That’s why it’s so important to ethically source coffee beans and ensure traceability so the producers are paid what the beans are worth!


Colombia @ Precious Drop Coffee

Size: 1.142 million km²
Capital city: Bogota
Population: 48.65 million
Language: Spanish
Average farm size: 3 acres
Annual production: 13.6 million bags
Bags exported annually: 12.2 million bags
Annual domestic consumption: 1.4 million bags
Growing regions: throughout Colombia. Each growing region is determined by the availability of water, temperature, sunshine hours, and wind.
Varieties: Typica, Bourbon, Caturra
Processing methods: washed
Bag size: 70 kg
Harvest period: October to March
Shipment period: December to February

It's believed that coffee was first brought to Colombia in the early 1700s by Jesuit priests, who arrived with Spanish settlers, however, in 1808 the first commercial production was registered with 100 green coffee bags (60 kg each) that were exported from the port of Cucuta, near the border with Venezuela.

A priest named Francisco Romero is attributed to have been very influential in the propagation of the crop in the northeast region of the country. After hearing the confession of the parishioners of the town of Salazar de la Palmas, he required as penance the cultivation of coffee. Coffee became established in the departments of Santander and North Santander, Cundinamarca, Antioquia, and the historic region of Caldas.

Despite these early developments, the consolidation of coffee as a Colombian export did not come about until the second half of the 19th century. The great expansion that the world economy underwent at that time allowed Colombian landowners to find attractive opportunities in international markets. Little by little, the United States became the most important consumer of coffee in the world, while Germany and France became the most important markets in Europe.

In 1927, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (FNC) was founded as a business cooperative to promote the production and exportation of Colombian coffee. Since the FNC came to exist, it has become one of the largest rural NGOs in the world. It is a non-profit organisation and is not affiliated with any political party.

Since the beginning, the FNC has been the foremost coffee association in Colombia, with a presence in every rural region where coffee is grown. The work of the FNC revolves around the coffee growers and their families, ensuring Colombian coffee is grown in a sustainable manner, strengthening common interests within coffee-growing communities. The FNC believes this positions Colombian coffee as the best coffee in the world!

The FNC represents more than 500,000 coffee producing families by supporting research and development, monitoring production standards, and protecting the industry in Colombia. It has developed a complex infrastructure of federated representation that promotes collaboration and joint decisions which address the interests of coffee growers and their families. Their goal is to improve the quality of life of Colombian coffee growers.

Colombia coffee is often regarded as some of the highest quality coffee in the world. It’s mountain ranges make for excellent growing conditions, giving it a third place position for production, after Brazil and Vietnam.

Sources: John Burton; Cafe de Colombia


Ethiopia @ Precious Drop Coffee

Size: 1,104,300 km²
Capital city: Addis Ababa
Population: 102,374,045
Languages: Amharic, Oromo, Somali
Number of people involved in coffee: 700,000
Average farm size: 1 hectare
Annual production: 6.5 million bags
Bags exported annually: 3.5 million bags
Annual domestic consumption: 3.5 million bags (half of the total production)
Growing regions: Sidama (including Yirgacheffe), Harrar, Limu, Djimma, Lekempti, Wallega, Gimbi
Varieties: Heirloom Ethiopian varieties – Kudhome, Gesha, Djimma, and others
Processing methods: washed, natural
Grading: Grades 1–9 (Specialty; Grade 1–2, Commercial; Grade 3–9)
Bag size: 60 kg
Harvest period: November to February
Shipment period: February to June

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. In the tenth century, Ethiopian nomadic mountain people may have been the first to recognise coffee’s stimulating effect, although they ate the red cherries directly and did not drink it as a beverage. The mystic Sufi pilgrims of Islam spread coffee throughout the Middle East. From the Middle East these beans spread to Europe and then throughout their colonial empire including Indonesia and the Americas.

Ethiopian coffee is one of the most popular coffee origins in the world. In 1952, the government developed a coffee classification and grading system and then modified it in 1955. Ethiopian coffee certification began after the establishment of the National Coffee Board of Ethiopia (NCBE) in 1957. The NCBE’s aims were to control and coordinate producers, traders, and exporters' interests and to improve the quality of Ethiopian coffee.

Growing, processing, and drinking coffee is part of the everyday way of life, and has been for centuries, since the trees were discovered growing wild in forests and eventually cultivated for household use and commercial sale. Domestic consumption is very high, one of the highest of all coffee producing countries, due to the significant role coffee plays in the daily lives of Ethiopians.

Coffee is still commonly enjoyed as part of a ceremonial preparation, a way of gathering family, friends, and associates around a table for conversation and community. The senior-most woman of the household will roast the coffee in a pan and grind it fresh, before mixing it with hot water in a pot called a jebena. She serves the strong liquid in small cups, then adds fresh boiling water to brew the coffee two more times. The process takes about an hour from start to finish, and is considered a regular show of hospitality and society.

The majority of Ethiopia’s farmers are smallholders and sustenance farmers, with less than 1 hectare of land apiece; in many cases it is almost more accurate to describe the harvests as “garden coffee,” as the trees do sometimes grow in more of a garden or forest environment than what we imagine fields of farmland to look like. There are some large privately owned estates, as well as co-operatives made up of a mix of small and more mid-size farms, but the average producer here grows relatively very little for commercial sale.

Source: John Burton


Guatemala @ Precious Drop Coffee

Size: 108,889 km²
Capital city: Guatemala City
Population: 15.2 million
Language: Spanish
Average farm size: varies, between 1 hectare and 50 hectares
Annual production: 4 million bags
Bags exported annually: 3.5 million bags
Annual domestic consumption: 300,000 to 400,000 bags
Growing regions and sizes: Acatenango, Antigua, Atitlan, Chimaltenango, Cobán, Fraijanes, Huehuetenango, Nuevo Oriente
Varieties: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Typica, Maragogype, Pache
Processing methods: washed or mechanically mucilaged
Bag size: 69 kg
Harvest period: December to March
Shipment period: February to July

The coffee industry began to develop in Guatemala in the 1850s and 1860s, initially mixing its cultivation with cochineal. Small plantations flourished in Amatitlán and Antigua areas in the southwest. Initial growth though was slow due to a lack of knowledge and technology. Many planters had to rely on loans and borrow from their families to finance their coffee estates with coffee production in Guatemala increasingly owned by foreign companies who possessed the financial power to buy plantations and provide investment.

A scarcity of laborers was the main obstacle to a rapid increase of coffee production in Guatemala. In 1887, the production was over 22 million kg’s. From 1879 to 1883, Guatemala exported 133 million kg’s of coffee. By 1902 the most important coffee plantations were found on the southern coast.

Many acres of land were suitable for cultivation, and the varieties that were produced in the temperate regions were superior. Coffee was grown around Guatemala City, Chimaltenango, and Verapaz. The majority of the plantations were located in the departments of Guatemala, Amatitlan, Sacatepequez, Solola, Retalhuleu, Quezaltenango, San Marcos, and Alta Verapaz.

Source: John Burton


Kenya @ Precious Drop Coffee

Size: 580,367 km²
Capital city: Nairobi
Population: 46.7 million
Languages: Swahili (official), English and various indigenous languages
Average farm size: 1–14 hectares for smallholders; 15–50 hectares for estates
Annual production: 800,000 – 1 million
Bags exported annually: 700,000 – 1 million
Growing regions: Bungoma, Embu, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Kisii, Machakos, Mt. Elgon, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nyeri, Taita Taveta, Thika, Tran-Nzoia
Varieties: SL-28, SL-34, French Mission Bourbon, Ruiru 11, Batian, K7
Processing methods: “Kenya Washed,” typically a washed process with an additional soak lasting from 12–72 hours
Bag size: 60 kg
Harvest period: October–December (main crop); March–June (fly crop)
Shipment period: February – May/ August – September

Kenya was one of the last places to plant coffee, nearly 300 years after the plant was first cultivated for sale, which is interesting given their neighbour, Ethiopia, was the first. The varieties that were brought to Kenya had circumnavigated the globe before they found their way back to the African continent, mutating in various climates to create a profile that, once adapted to the rich soil around Mt. Kenya, resulted in the singular profiles that this country has to offer.

The first plants were brought to the country by Scottish and French missionaries, the latter contributing what would be known as French Mission Bourbon, transplanted from the island of Bourbon (now called Reunion) to Tanzania and Kenya in an attempt to finance their efforts on the ground. The Scottish, meanwhile, brought strains from Mocha, the different varieties contributing to the dynamic quality of the coffees in the country even to this day.

Established as a British colony specifically for its moneymaking potential, Kenya became a coffee powerhouse as a way for the empire to control both the tea (already a Kenyan staple crop) and coffee markets worldwide. By the 1920s, as Europe demanded more and more coffee, the cash crop became a major Kenyan export, and in the 1930s the auction system was developed, ostensibly to democratise the market for farmers. After Kenya achieved independence from Britain in the 1960s, coffee took on a greater importance to small landholders, many of whom were given coffee farms in the redistribution of private property from large colonial and government-owned plantations.

In the 2000s, approximately 85% of the coffee farms in Kenya are owned by natives to the country, though European influence is still evident in larger estates. Today, the majority of Kenyan farmers tend small plots, growing as few as 150 coffee trees. They bring the coffee cherries to centrally located mills, where their coffees are weighed, sorted, and combined to create lots large enough to process and export. There are also privately owned estates, with the average estate growing around 10,000 coffee trees.

Most Kenyans prefer to drink tea in their homes, and the café culture largely exists for tourists and in the major cities.

Source: John Burton

Costa Rica

Costa Rica @ Precious Drop Coffee

Size: 51,100 km²
Capital city: San José
Population: 4.857 million
Language: Spanish
Average farm size: less than 10 hectares
Annual production: 1.2 to 1.5 million bags
Bags exported annually: 1.2 to 1.5 million bags
Annual domestic consumption: 200,000 – 300,000 bags
Growing regions: Central Valley, West Valley, Guanacaste, Tres Ríos, Turrialba, Orosi, Brunca, Tarrazú
Varieties: Caturra, Catuai, Bourbon, Villa Sarchi, Villa Lobos, SL-28, Gesha
Processing methods: washed, semi-washed, natural, honey
Bag size: 69 kg
Harvest period: December to March
Shipment period: February to July

In the nineteenth century, the Costa Rican government strongly encouraged coffee production. The industry fundamentally transformed what was a colonial regime and village economy built on direct extraction by a city-based elite, towards organised production for export on a larger scale. The government offered farmers plots of land for anybody who wanted to harvest the plants. The coffee plantation system in the country therefore developed in the nineteenth century largely as a result of the government’s open policy, although the problem with coffee barons did play a role. As early as 1829, coffee became a major source of revenue surpassing cacao, tobacco, and sugar production.

Exports across the border to Panama were not interrupted when Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. In 1832, Costa Rica, at the time a state in the Federal Republic of Central America, began exporting coffee to Chile where it was re-bagged and shipped to England under the brand of “Café Chileno de Valparaíso”. In 1843, a shipment was sent directly to the United Kingdom by the Guernseyman William Le Lacheur, captain of the English ship, The Monarch, who had seen the potential of directly cooperating with the Costa Ricans. He sent several hundred-pound bags and following this the British developed an interest in the country. They invested heavily in the Costa Rican coffee industry, becoming the principal customer for exports until World War II.

Growers and traders of the coffee industry transformed the Costa Rican economy, and contributed to modernisation in the country, which provided funding for young aspiring academics to study in Europe. The revenue generated by the coffee industry in Costa Rica funded the first railroads linking the country to the Atlantic Coast in 1890, the “Ferrocarril al Atlántico”. The National Theater itself in San José is a product of the first coffee farmers in the country.

Coffee was vital to the Costa Rican economy by the early to mid-20th Century. Leading coffee growers were prominent members of society. Due to the centrality of coffee in the economy, price fluctuations from changes to conditions in larger coffee producers, like Brazil, had major reverberations in Costa Rica. When the price of coffee on the global market dropped, it could greatly impact the Costa Rican economy.

In 1955, an export tax was placed on Costa Rican coffee, and this was not abolished until 1994. In 1983, a major blight struck the coffee industry in the country, throwing the industry into a crisis that coincided with falling market prices; world coffee prices plummeted around 40% after the collapse of the world quota cartel system. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, coffee production had increased, from 158,000 tons in 1988 to 168,000 in 1992. In 1989, Costa Rica joined Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador to establish a Central American coffee retention plan which agreed that the product was to be sold in installments to ensure market stability. There was an attempt by the International Coffee Organization in the 1990s to maintain export quotas that would support coffee prices worldwide.

At present, the production of coffee in the great metropolitan area around the capital of San José has decreased in recent years due to the effects of urban sprawl. As the cities have expanded into the countryside, poor plantation owners have often been forced to sell up to building corporations.

Costa Rican coffee beans are considered among the best in the world. Tarrazú is thought to produce the most desirable coffee beans in Costa Rica. In 2012, Tarrazú Geisha coffee became the most expensive coffee sold by Starbucks in 48 of their stores in the United States, using the Clover automated French press.

Source: John Burton