January 2021

Happy New Year!

And what a hangover 2020 has dealt to us all.

When the pandemic really got going and country after country began to close their borders and lock down, coffee, like all crops and harvests, continued to grow and work needed to get done. There is a saying in coffee growing (probably all farming) that it waits for no one. And so regardless of closed borders or otherwise, the crop had to be harvested and processed.

With rapid changes in coffee consumption around the world (less lattes out and about and more coffee at home) the first challenge was figuring out the adjustments in contracts and where the coffee was heading! Attention then turned to the next harvests (being picked right now in Central America) and thoughts about how to control them given the uncertainty in the situation. Most coffee is harvested by a large and mobile group of seasonal workers and with borders closed and travel restricted in-country, farmers came up with a variety of ways of dealing with the challenges. Some decided to prune heavily and restrict the quantity of the coming crop. The reduction in quantity would mean less labour would be needed and the harvest could be picked and processed by family and friends. Growers with farms too big for that to be a realistic option pruned as heavily as they could as well as contracting more locally for labour. There are several businesses who don’t have work during the pandemic and there is now a new, local, labour force looking for work. Strategic harvesting has also been important; coffee is graded differently for the many markets it goes into and many farmers have doubled down on their efforts to take the most care of the coffee that commands a higher premium, guaranteeing their places in contracts.

COVID precautions in coffee farms. Workers wearing masks and having temperatures checked.

In some areas in South America the crop was about to be harvested by the time things were getting tricky and in Bolivia especially it was particularly difficult. Schools closed early in Bolivia and there weren’t many opportunities for children to continue their learning online or at home, so the school year was effectively cancelled, with families facing the challenge of working their farms while also having their children with them. Neighbours, friends, and extended families worked together to both look after the children and keep coffee and income coming in. Having the children at home brought some benefits tho! They have taught their parents how to use their smart-phones and this has been great for everyone. Some of the older and adult children who have had to return home have also seen there is security and continuity in farming and there will be many more who will farm in the future rather than moving to the larger towns and cities.

We expect the next crops arriving this year to have some difficulties along the way. With a vaccine roll-out far from world-wide there will be restrictions on travel and so many farms will seek to keep their production manageable. We are assuming there will be delays outbound and inbound at the ports as well due to the shipping lines being busy and the backlogs as goods get moving again.

But with all of that we have some great coffees coming in this year from all our favourites and a few new farms too. First in we have coffee from El Pastoral, Nicaragua followed closely by the new crops from Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala. We’ll also have a new decaffeinated coffee, more of which later.

Hopefully everyone enjoyed some festive goodness, and we are ready for 2021 with our social distancing skills all shiny and ready to go!

Monmouth