Tell us how you started out in the coffee industry? What journey led you to FAL Cafe?
I first started working in coffee when I was 14 years old. My parents had a coffee company which had been in the family for over 90 years – and I was expected to work there around my school commitments. I worked as a waiter, a cleaner and then I roasted samples. When I completed school, I continued to work in the coffee industry – from trading right through to sales – and 25 years later, I am still here.
I was first introduced to the FAL Group when I worked alongside my father in one of the warehouses that FAL Cafe owned. I started working for FAL Café in a sales capacity, and then worked my way through to my present position as CEO in 2017. I absolutely love my job. I love having guests, talking to people and making connections. I love working with the small speciality producers, discussing coffee, coffee quality, and finding ways to invest in and encourage continual improvement in our region and in the industry.
FAL Cafe also own and operate the dry mill in Ouro Fino (previously Icatu), where coffee from both farms go before they are exported. You’ve started a Neighbours and Friends Programme over the last few years which encourages farmers around the area to sell their coffee through this dry mill to buyers (like us). How is this programme going?
The Neighbours and Friends Programme is going well. Over the last two years, the number of producers in the programme has increased six fold. Currently there are 94 members.
Members become certified so that the buyers are confident in the coffee that they are buying. It’s really important to us that members also understand why the programme was developed – so the quality of coffee in the region is improved, which in turn leads to higher and fairer prices for the farmers, which in turn increases the longevity of the farms. We feel as though our members really do understand this – that in order to improve their quality of life, they need to strive for betterment on the land.
As a result, the quality around the region is really improving. In the first year the programme was running, it was hard to find a coffee with at least 81 points, but this is no longer the case. Last year, the best coffee from the Neighbours and Friends Programme scored 87. We love sharing these results with the producers, and explaining why this coffee achieved this score.
How are you working to put local producers in contact with roasters like us to build relationships? Do you have an example of a success story?
Yes, this is one of the first missions of the Neighbours and Friends Programme. And yes, I had one particular producer who was very anxious one day to sell his coffee as quickly as he could to get paid faster. This was a producer from Itagucu, who has also won the annual FAL Quality Contest.
I encouraged him to wait, to be patient and find a better buyer. Your NZ Head Roaster Paul Newbold came here and cupped his coffee – and really loved it! Paul made an offer to purchase the coffee based on quality which was 50% higher than what this producer would have achieved had he not waited to be paid fairly and for the sale price to reflect the quality of his coffee.
Through our Neighbours and Friends Programme, we are finding that the producers understand, and are much more invested in, knowing about how their coffees are being received by buyers at the cupping table.
Tell us about the FAL Quality Contest – do you think it’s making producers work harder to achieve good coffee?
The first year we ran the contest, we had 27 samples and it was hard to find a winner! But every year, the entry numbers are higher and the quality of the entries are better too. This year we had over 200 producers enter, with 44 finalists (those who scored over 82 points) and the winning producer scored 87 points. We’ve had the same producer – Wagner Félix de Almeida – Ouro Fino farm, win two years in a row! The FAL Quality Contest has grown and we are now running it in two different locations – Sao Paulo State and Minas Gerais – with two different categories, semi-washed and naturals.