Famicafé: Changing Colombian Families through Education

When we setup our first trade relationship in 1997, small-scale coffee farmers in Colombia told us that education of their children was a top priority. In response, Famicafé was founded to fund education for small-scale farmers’ children.

How does it all work?

Level Ground Trading pays a Community Premium to Famicafé each time we purchase coffee from Colombia which funds student scholarships and classroom resources.  

Beyond student scholarships, there are other key factors which may not immediately come to mind such as: repairing washed out roads which must be in place for students to attend school, breakfast programs that ensure the students have adequate nutrition before they start their day, replacing leaky roofs or installing gutters on schools so that the learning environment is comfortable etc

One of the more significant challenges for rural farm kids is that their home is too far from school to be able to commute to and from daily. Famicafé has run a boarding house where each year from 3-14 students have lived during the week, with a ‘dorm mom’ to care for them.

Famicafé has been personal, caring and ultimately successful in accomplishing the goal of providing education for small-scale farmers’ children! Some students have gone on to earn post secondary degrees and are active in serving their community as medical professionals and agronomists.

A student displays his welcome poster for Level Ground staff on a school visit.

A student displays his welcome poster for Level Ground staff on a school visit.

Elizabeth and Bibiana stand against the incredible steep slopes of coffee.

Elizabeth and Bibiana stand against the incredible steep slopes of coffee.

The students at Brazo Seco were thrilled to receive their new Famicafé backpack!

The students at Brazo Seco were thrilled to receive their new Famicafé backpack!

Meet Gobin.

MEET GOBIN.

Gobin is a small-scale tea grower in Assam, India. He is a heart-felt organic enthusiast. He has devised a way of making his  signature tea, Smoked Tea, using equipment traditionally used to pound rice and a wok over a fire.

Travel to Gobin's village involves crossing the mighty Brahmaputra river on a long narrow wooden ferry.  

In honour of his mother and father Gobin has named his backyard garden, the Meen Mohan Tea Garden.   It is a beautiful garden backing onto the specular mountains of Bhutan.

Despite our challenging language barrier, we always appreciate the enthusiastic discussion with the workers at Gobin's garden and the heartfelt sharing of his poems.   

The workers at Gobin's garden have allocated their Fair Trade Premiums towards livestock, hand looms and roofing supplies.

 

Laurie (co-owner) and Gobin meet in Assam in 2012.

Laurie (co-owner) and Gobin meet in Assam in 2012.

River Ferry on our way to Gobin's home.

River Ferry on our way to Gobin's home.

Meet Gobin. Smoked Tea Grower

Cupping Notes: Ethiopia + Tanzania

The following entry is cupping notes from the journal of Josh del Sol, Roastmaster, as written to Schluter, our African exporting partner. This is a SCQ cupping: a sample to confirm quality. When we SCQ cup, we sample 350g of coffee that represent a 40,000 lb container! The note is brief, but hopefully it can convey how excited we are about these samples!

Warning: There is a lot of nerdy coffee language below. Check out the glossary sidebar to understand some of the lingo! 

Level Ground Trading - Skimming during coffee cupping

July 29th, 2016.

ETHiopia 32 & 33:

We performed an in-house SCQ cupping and I must say that these two shipments are excellent.  ETH-32 was a bit more biscuity and variable than ETH-33, but this variance is really only slight.  I didn’t perform a full evaluation but I would estimate the ETH-32 at 85.5 and ETH-33 at 86 points. The balance was excellent, with pronounced fruit, extreme clarity and cleanliness throughout both cups, with the mouthfeel and finish of 33 pulling ahead of 32.  I am looking forward to working with these lots this year. I really do feel that Fero Co-operative needs to know that the wash grade 2 we’re sourcing from them is wonderful

TANzania, entirety:  

So far, so good! The Ileje coffee that we are receiving this year really does rival the original lots from 2008-9 that pushed me to add it into our espresso. The coffee continues to press forward with a dominant navel-orange acidity, round mouthfeel, and subtle dark chocolate. We are still experiencing the occasional conflictive cup, but if you were to compare this year’s home process coffee to the CPU coffee during the “tough” years, I would say there’s very little difference.  That isn’t to say that there still isn’t work to be done! The CPU coffee is quite consistent, but the home process coffee is more than drinkable… it’s darn good.  I am so pleased and relieved to taste the development in these cups. I endeavour to communicate further as the coffee ages.

Nerdy Coffee Terms Glossary

CPU coffee - Central Processing Unit: Centralized facility that takes coffee cherries, strips the fruit off, and then sets it to ferment. Aids in cup quality as a homogenous cup can be achieved easier. 

Home processed coffee: Coffee that has been turned from cherry into parchment at the farmer's home rather than a CPU - the equipment involved can vary considerably!

Parchment coffee: Named for the papery husk that’s on the outside of the coffee once the fruit has been stripped off, the seed has been fermented, washed, and then sun-dried. This is the way coffee comes to the mill before we order it.

Washed coffee: Coffee that has been run through a de-mucilage machine, soaked in a water bath, and then raked through water troughs before sun-drying.

Vanilla Update

After months of anticipation, Vanilla Beans are back in stock!

They're packaged in a new, bright purple pouch package. The vanilla still comes from the same small-scale producers in Western Uganda, but there is one significant difference you'll notice. Now there are five beans in each package, instead of ten beans in the previous package. Here's why:

Over the past two years, prices paid to producers for ripe vanilla beans has more than doubled. A number of unique market demands have contributed to this sudden price spike. Added to this, the value of our Canadian currency has plummeted against the US dollar. So, while the market is favouring the farmers and putting more money in their pockets, the vanilla beans were no longer financially viable for us in the ten pack format. We had also heard from customers that the ten pack seemed like too many beans. As a result, we opted to switch to the five pack and trust that works out better for all of us. 

We're committed to transparency and we welcome your feedback on the new look! 

Harvest Season in the Philippines

Harvest season for our heirloom rice is underway in the Philippines!

The heirloom rice of the Philippines is grown by indigenous farmers who are hard working and extremely friendly. Amidst the Filipino Cordilleran provinces, exist the 3 provinces where our grown: Mountain Province, Kalinga and Ifugao. 

These are ancient grains, grown organically in stone-walled terraces. Field work and harvest are all done by hand. The terraces are often remote and jaw-droppingly magnificent.

Harvest is the culmination of 5 - 7 months of rhythmic tending to the terraces. The time span from planting to harvest varies with the elevation; the higher the elevation, the longer time for rice to mature.

Often farmers' homes are distant from the land being work. After harvest, they trek home with their heavy, 50kg rice sacks! 

Thank you to the farmers for preserving a heritage and respecting the environment. For so many, 'rice is life'.

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HOW TO: French Press

Level Ground Trading - How to use a French Press

METHOD #1: LEVEL GROUND'S FAVOURITE METHOD

We love the french press so much, we made a video detailing how to use it. Watch here (instructions below):

Recipe: 55g coarse grind coffee, 1L of water

Method:

  1. Add ground coffee into press
  2. Add water, just off the boil. Pour water in with lots of turbulence, saturating the grounds
  3. Stir with a non-metalic spoon
  4. Place the lid on, and press just below level
  5. Let stand for 4 minutes
  6. Press. Pour. Enjoy!

 

Level Ground Trading - How to use a French Press
Level Ground Trading - How to use a French Press

METHOD #2: SCAA RECOMMENDATION

Recipe: 40g medium-coarse grind coffee, 672g (mL) of water

Method:

  1. Preheat your french press with hot water
  2. Place freshly ground coffee in press
  3. Start the timer & begin pouring hot water into the press
  4. Completely saturate the grounds with all the water. Stir.
  5. Place the lid with the plunger up on the press
  6. When the timer is at 2 minutes, remove the lid & stir the coffee again
  7. Using two spoons, skim the oils & remaining floating grounds off the top of the brew. This will produce a cleaner cup & will stop the coffee from extracting
  8. Place the plunger back on top & press down slowly
  9. Decant into your favourite mug.

 

The far-reaching benefits of organic & tea

The words 'wellness' and 'tea' are often used in the same sentence and usually are followed by terms like antioxidants and flavanoids etc. As a tea-drinker, the feelings of well-being that tea brings me are immediately obvious but another understanding of wellness is surfacing in my awareness. This awareness is the wider effect of trading in tea ... the promotion of wellness in the tea-producing community. 

I've had the privilege of meeting a number of tea growers in Assam who have chosen a different path in growing tea. They have rejected the chemical fertilizers and schedules of pesticide spraying most commonly followed on major tea estates. In many cases, their story stems from a shocking realization that the chemicals that are killing the pests are then spilling into their waterway and ultimately harming far more beings that they originally thought. The choice to go organic is an obvious step towards wellness for all who live, work and play near the gardens (never mind those of us who drink the tea leaves later on). 

Then there is yet another layer to the story of wellness and this involves the labourers who work in the tea gardens plucking leaves and rolling leaves to make tea. Organic and Fair Trade makes a significant difference in the lives of labourers; no chemicals means a healthier work environment and attention to Fair Trade has created dialogue about the well-being of workers. 

Sharing some laughs with the women who pluck tea at Pranjit's tea garden in Assam

Sharing some laughs with the women who pluck tea at Pranjit's tea garden in Assam

Dried Fruit from a Vancouverite's perspective

Guest post from Jenn Co of anythingbrilliant.com

The following is an excerpt from Jenn Co's article on her time visiting Fruandes. To read the full article, please click here. 


Having lived in Vancouver, Canada for a good chunk of my life, I would call myself extremely blessed. Immersed and surrounded by luxury and opportunity, it’s easy to forget there’s a whole other world out there. When I decided to step out of my comfort zone and embark on my first solo travel trip by heading to Colombia, I knew I was in for an adventure.

As I stood at the entrance to Fruandes, I couldn’t help but think, “This doesn’t look like a production warehouse.”  It reminded me more of the outside of a house. I turned the handle, entered in and was immediately arrested by the sweet smell of deliciousness. I peeked past the staircase and saw crates upon crates of…mangoes! This must be heaven!  I’m a mango monster, you see! I knew at that moment I was going to thoroughly enjoy this educational experience to its fullest.

Fruandes started as a dream. In 2002, the market value of coffee beans was plummeting and Level Ground saw a need to partner with small-scale rural Colombian farmers to diversify their offerings in order to survive. Fruit seemed to be the most logical solution as it grows well in Colombia’s rich tropical climate. Plus, the high altitudes and rich soil of the Andes provided the perfect conditions to high-growing fruit trees. This is how Fruandes dried fruit was born. 

Fruandes, short for Frutos de los Andes (Fruit of the Andes), is a certified B-Company. B-companies use business to solve environmental and social issues. Fruandes exports its organic fair trade mango, pineapple, dragonfruit, golden berries, and bananas to many countries in the world—Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Chile, US and the Netherlands, to name a few. What’s incredibly inspiring about this story is… when Fruandes started, Colombian dried fruit didn’t even exist, much less exported! Now there are four other competitors in the market vying for people’s taste buds and loyalty. One could say Fruandes broke the ground in this area of business.

With all that knowledge in tow, I was raring to actually experience what happens in a dried-fruit production plant. But first things first: Get into gear! Jasmine, the packing supervisor, gave me a change of clothes: a loose white V-neck top and matching elasticized pants, a hair net, face mask, rubber boots and gloves. I was so excited to jump into doing things, Jasmine literally had to stop me. “Mira,” she said, which means “Look.”  

Riiiiight. I needed to wash my hands and dip my rubber boots into a water bath. I soon discovered hand-washing was a crucial part to the entire operation.  I literally had to do this before anything and everything. Let’s just say, Fruandes takes cleanliness and hygiene as top priority. The facility is both organic and on its way to meeting international standards for their processes.

Peeling, cutting and laying mangoes on drying racks

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Once I was thoroughly clean, I walked through a plastic curtain and into the main facility. I slipped on a rubber apron and was directed to a long upright table where smiling women were peeling and cutting mangoes. A knife was handed to me and I proceeded to copy the technique of these expert cutters. It took a while to get the hang of it because the ripe mangoes kept slipping and sliding out of my hands. I was taught to distinguish which pieces were able to make it to the next round, and which needed to be separated. So anything bruised or squishy had to go. These pieces are usually given to the workers at the end of the day for them to enjoy or bring back to their families. The pieces that made the cut were then laid flat onto drying racks, after which they were popped into dehumidifying ovens where the mangoes reincarnate into their more dehydrated versions.

Once dried, the fruit goes through another round of inspection where the best of the best get sorted into big plastic bags. The bagged dried mangoes are sealed, boxed up, then brought upstairs where they are packaged and labeled.

Jasmine escorted me up a flight of stairs and directed me to the room where more ladies were busy filling and weighing small packets of dried fruit. The day I was there, they were working on dragonfruit. After washing my hands (See? What did I tell you?) and donning a fresh pair of gloves, Jasmine gave a quick explanation of how to weigh and seal the packets. Then away I went! With weighing scale on hand, I ensured each bag held the exact number of grams indicated by the packets. After doing a hundred of those (or so it seemed), I moved over to a nearby machine and ran the packets twice to ensure they were sealed entirely. The last step was combining a dozen of these small packets into a bigger bag, stuffing that into a box, taping it down, and getting it ready to be sent to the country that ordered it.

An important aspect of Fruandes is how the production process keeps more money within the country. By paying growers and producers fair trade prices and hiring Colombians to work in the factory plant, Fruandes is able to reinject finances back into the local economy. From its inception, when Fruandes director Giovanni Porras rented a small space in a low income area, the story has been about making the lives of Colombians better. 

In 2002, Giovanni installed a dehydrator and gave six marginalized women in the Cazuca refugee community work. These women along with their children were struggling to survive. Through a connection with a local NGO, the women and children now have minimum wages, access to healthcare, transport subsidies, school tuition, scholarships and materials. Today, there are more than 45 women employed by Fruandes during peak fruit processing periods. Level Ground receives around nine containers of their dried fruit and panela (cane sugar) a year. The other European and US markets receive just as much product, if not more. So even though Level Ground founded Fruandes, this dried fruit company has definitely grown beyond them!

 

- - - to read the full article, please click here - - - 

 

 

HOW TO: Chemex

Chemex is easily one of the most attractive methods of brewing coffee. From its beautiful bloom to its transparent curves, it provides the opportunity to wow your friends.

To properly brew with a Chemex, you're going to need a scale: no if's, and's, or but's about it! 

Level Ground Trading - How to use a Chemex

 

METHOD #1: LEVEL GROUND'S FAVOURITE METHOD

Recipe: 5 tbsp (35g) medium grind coffee, 600mL hot water

Method:

  1. Place filter in Chemex with the 3 layered side towards the spout.
  2. Preheat the Chemex and filter by pouring hot water through them
  3. Pour out water, replace filter & put ground coffee in filter
  4. Place chemex on scale and tare to zero
  5. Start timing, and pour about 80g (mL) of water over the coffee. Gently stir the grounds to make sure they are all saturated
  6. Wait 30 seconds while the bloom de-gases and the grounds soften in the hot water (this is how the flavour comes out!)
  7. Add 200g (mL) of water, gently stir to agitate the grounds
  8. Wait ~45 seconds
  9. Add 200g (mL) of water, gently stir to agitate the grounds
  10. Wait ~45 seconds
  11. Add remaining water, 120g (mL)
  12. When all the water has been poured over, remove the filter and compost. The entire process should take 4-5 minutes
  13. Enjoy with friends!  
Level Ground Trading - How to use a Chemex
Level Ground Trading - How to use a Chemex

 

Method #2: SCAA Recommendation. 

Recipe: 41g medium grind coffee, 672g (mL) of water

Method:

  1. Place filter in Chemex, make sure the 3 layered side of the filter is towards the spout
  2. Preheat the Chemex and filter by pouring hot water through them
  3. Pour out the water, replace filter & put ground coffee in filter
  4. Place everything on scale and tare to zero
  5. Start timing and pour 80g (mL) of water over the coffee, make sure to saturate all the grounds thoroughly
  6. Allows the bloom to de-gas for 30 seconds before adding more water
  7. Continue to periodically and slowly pour water over the coffee, keep the filter halfway filled with water during the brewing process
  8. General brew times are between 4-5 minutes
  9. When all the water has been poured over the grounds and the filter has begun to drip slowly, remove and discard the filter
  10. Give the Chemex a swirl and share with friends

 

New to our communi-tea: Tulsi blend

Tulsi Tea. Smooth, Sweet and Soothing.

 

Adding to our lineup of loose leaf teas is Tulsi Tea from Assam, India. This ayurvedic blend features Tulsi, which is also known as "Holy Basil". It is revered for its antiseptic and healing properties. 

Meet Someswar, green tea grower.

Someswar is an officially recognized trainer in organic tea growing and processing. He's been growing tea since 1976 and was the first small tea grower in Assam, India!

For best results, use 1 heaping teaspoon of tea and steep for 5 - 7 minutes. The longer time allows the green tea and Tulsi to balance the cup. 

 

 

HOW TO: Aeropress

It's a modular tube, delivering exceptional taste. But one looming question always follows the Aeropress wherever it goes: "How do I use it?".

Level Ground Trading - How to use an Aeropress

Fear no more, we've got two recipes for ways to enjoy the Aeropress.

Method #1: Level Ground's Favourite Method

Warning: we use the inverted method. There is no reason to be afraid of it. Let's conquer that fear together! 

Recipe: 1 1/2 scoops ground coffee, enough water to fill the aeropress

Method:

  1. Put the top chamber inside the bottom chamber, and turn over. (It should look like the photo above.)
  2. Add 1 1/2 aeropress scoops of ground coffee (or 3 tbsp) *it's a really, really good idea to use the funnel to add the coffee. If grinds get into the top, step 6 might get tricky!
  3. Fill with water to just above the #1 and just below the rim.
  4. Wait 30 seconds, then stir.
  5. Fill with water again up to #1. Set timer.
  6. Screw lid (with pre-wet filter in it) to the top chamber. (*We hope you used the funnel in step 2, or this could get awkward.)
  7. When timer reaches 2 minutes, turn over* and press. 

*Turning over is really just like pouring from a regular spout. Turn it confidently, and you will have no problem.  

Level Ground Trading - How to use an Aeropress
Level Ground Trading - How to use an Aeropress

 

Method #2: SCAA Recommendation. 

Recipe: 33g fine grind coffee, 113g (mL) of water

Method:

  1. Place filter in Aeropress & preheat by pouring hot water through it.
  2. Add coffee to bottom chamber of Aeropress & place on scale; tare scale to zero with cup underneath the Aeropress.
  3. Start timer and add 113g (mL) of water.
  4. When all the water has been added, stir the slurry (coffee & water mixture).
  5. When timer reaches 1 minute, stir slurry, add top chamber and press like mad.

This will produce a concentrated drink that can be enjoyed on its own or can be diluted with equal parts hot water to produce a more American-like beverage. 

Level Ground Trading - How to use an Aeropress
Level Ground Trading - How to use an Aeropress

STAFF SATURDAY: Meet Reg

Meet Reg, one of our Operations Managers.

If you were to put MacGyver, Red Green, Batman, and Survivor man into a blender, the resulting concoction would be very close to Reg’s brain. He’s a paradoxical mix of special forces and handyman with an ever-present smile and contagious giggle.

If it breaks, he can fix it. If it needs a machine, he can build it. If it needs to be said, he’ll listen.

Fresh Spices from Sri Lanka

Flying into Colombo, I started to wonder, what does a spice farm look like?
Turns out, these spice farms looking nothing like what you might picture as a garden or a farm... it's more like jungle where the spices hide.
We hiked through these tiny farms and the spices were hard to spot. Moddy of Ethical Inspirations and the Coop Agronomist opened our eyes to the surrounding bounty by urging us to taste leaves and open strange looking seed pods to find the most amazing smells and flavours... like scratch 'n sniff. Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg & pepper...sensory overload!

In the year since that jungle adventure, the coop of spice farmers has worked hard to grow, process and bottle the spices for us. Now they are available to you! Ceylon Cinnamon (the real stuff), Nutmeg, Ginger, Cloves, Tumeric, Cardamon, White & Black Peppercorns. All small-scale grown on biodynamic farms, traded fairly and directly and so fresh it will knock your socks off.

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