Simran Sethi’s love letter to coffee

Simran Sethi is a sustainability celebrity.  She has appeared on Ellen, Martha Stewart and Oprah as a sustainability expert and lectured on environmental issues in classrooms and conferences all over the planet.  The Independent of London named her an “eco-hero,” Vanity Fair called her “The Messenger” in its Green Issue, and her agenda for environmental change was considered by the editors of Variety as worthy of publication as those of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sheryl Crow and Laurie David, among others.

She is a gifted communicator and award-winning journalist who has reported on environmental issues for MTV, NBC, PBS and others.

She is an unrepentant activist who communicates around sustainability issues with the explicit intent of moving readers, viewers and listeners to action.

And she is the author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, which was named one of the best food books of 2016 by Smithsonian Magazine.  The book is about the decline of agrobiodiversity in our food systems — hardly the sexy stuff of talk shows and glossy magazines.  And it is exhaustively researched and thoroughly footnoted — attributes we generally do not associate with readability, relevance or commercial success.  But this book is all three of those because it applies a lesson Simran learned the hard way over many years as a journalist.

In order to give her reporting on environmental issues the credibility she felt it needed to move people to act, she crammed it with ecological and economic data.  She even earned an MBA to make the business case for sustainability more effectively.  And all that effort failed to move the needle.  Why?  “We were doing it wrong,” she says.

Psychologists and behavioral economists, Simran says, have shown that people have a “finite pool of worry” — we can only care deeply about a limited number of things.  As a journalist, she used data and analysis to try to expand their finite pools of worry to include the issues that were important to her, but it didn’t work.  So with BWC, Simran takes another tack, instead attaching the complex and urgent issue of agrobiodiversity to things already in people’s narrow frames of reference.  Things we may be able to live without, but things without which life would be a little less worth living: bread, wine, chocolate, beer and, yes, coffee.  (Even though coffee doesn’t make the title, it occupies an entire section of Simran’s book, a sacred space in her morning routine and a privileged place in her finite pool of worry about the future of the planet.)

This time, she doesn’t do it wrong.  The book succeeds in bringing issues of agrobiodiversity to a broader audience because it is first and foremost the intimate travelogue of a food pilgrim who visits the places where her favorite foods are produced and celebrates the people who make them delicious.  (More than a few readers have called it Eat, Pray, Love for food.)  It is only secondarily an urgent and convincing warning that those foods are endangered by the accelerated narrowing of the genetic base on which they rest.

In the latest episode of the Intelli Sourcing Sessions, we talk with Simran about the book and about coffee — what it means to the cultures and ecologies of the countries where it is grown and the societies where it is consumed, what its loss might mean for all of us, whether it is most like wine, beer or chocolate, and how we can communicate around coffee to make more people care more about it.

You can listen to our conversation with Simran Sethi here.

Read an excerpt of the coffee section of her book Bread, Wine, Chocolate here.

For more from Simran, check out The Slow Melt, her new podcast about chocolate.  The first episode doesn’t air on Kansas Public Radio on January 27, but you can subscribe now.

And if you haven’t subscribed yet to the Intelli Sourcing Sessions podcast, do it now on iTunes or Soundcloud so you don’t miss more conversations like this one.



Rwanda: Begin at the beginning

I sat down recently with my colleague Geoff Watts in our makeshift studio here in Chicago to record introductions of our two current Rwanda offerings: the single-farm Gaspard lot and the Zirikana lot from Buf Coffee’s Nyarusiza washing station.  Geoff is nothing if not thorough in his communications, and he began the conversation, as he tends to do, at the beginning.  We soon realized that before we tell the stories behind our current crop Rwanda coffees, we need to tell the story of the Rwanda itself, and how a country that didn’t have a specialty coffee sector 20 years ago has come to be such a reliable source of such delicious coffees.

In telling that story, we lean heavily on Geoff.  After all, he was present at the creation, and he did make some mighty contributions to the process over a period of many years.

We also reach out to the guy who started it all, Tim Schilling.  Coffee people of a certain generation may know Tim only as the CEO of World Coffee Research.  What they may not know is that Tim got his start in coffee in Rwanda, leading a project called PEARL that has become a reference point for every other coffee project ever implemented since — a benchmark, an aspiration, an inspiration.  But PEARL wasn’t designed to be a coffee project at all.

When Tim, a Mississippi-born peanut breeder, took the reins of the project, he had never worked in coffee and didn’t plan to start in Rwanda.  His task was simply to devise and implement a rural development project that would benefit as many people in Rwanda’s countryside as possible.  When he and his team fanned out in the field to identify crops with potential to deliver on the project’s mandate, one word echoed louder than all the rest that rose from the country’s thousand hills: coffee.

The Rwanda specialty coffee sector represents one of the industry’s greatest success stories — in little more than a decade, the country didn’t just put itself on the specialty coffee map.  It became a star — a reliable source of distinctive coffees and a seasonal mainstay on the menus of even the most discriminating coffee roasters.

The PEARL project, funded by USAID, joined by industry leaders like Geoff, and led indelibly by Tim, was a catalyst and central player.  Tim was honored in a special ceremony last year by Rwanda’s government for his role in the process.  Tim says he was touched by the gesture, but in the characteristic humility that has made Tim such an effective and beloved leader, he is quick to shift the credit to the Rwandans who have done all the heavy lifting.

Geoff echoes that sentiment in his commentary on our partners in Rwanda and the roles they played in the country’s coffee resurgence.  His account includes a very personal and emotional reflection on what it was like to work in a country shattered by genocide.  It comes in response to a question I ask, reluctantly and gingerly, about his personal motivations in Rwanda.

I am not sorry I asked the question, but I am still not sure it was the right thing to do.

The story of the country’s genocide isn’t really an essential part of the story of the country’s coffee sector.  Rwanda’s coffee is exceptional.  It is worthy to stand on its own without reference to the context out of which the country’s coffee sector emerged — you would buy it again and again just based on how it tastes, without the story of where it came from.  The risk in referencing that context is that it distracts from the coffee’s intrinsic quality.  That by refracting the story through the lens of our own perspectives, we rob Rwandans of the opportunity to tell their own story on their own terms.  Worst of all, there is the risk that the conversation will be seen as trafficking in other people’s suffering for our own purposes.

On the other hand, the story of the country’s genocide really is prelude to the story of the country’s coffee sector.  As Tim explains, the PEARL project was designed precisely to help foster the reconstruction of the rural economy and accelerate the country’s recovery from the unspeakable losses sustained in the genocide.  As Geoff explains, the long shadow the genocide cast over every aspect of life in Rwanda was an explicit source of motivation for him in his work.  While there may be some risk in referring to the genocide in this context, it seems that not acknowledging it is endlessly worse — oblivious to culture and context, insufficient to any appropriate appreciation of the coffees we source from Rwanda, and callous to the painful experiences of our supply chain partners and friends in Rwanda.  I hope you agree.

Listen to the Intelligentsia Buyer’s Notebook for Rwanda here.

To add the podcast to your feed, subscribe on iTunes or Soundcloud.

ECW: A ride on the magic bus

The Extraordinary Coffee Workshop is the annual gathering of our Direct Trade network.  It has become the anchor of our sourcing program and the most important event on our calendar every year.  But it wasn’t always that way.

Before 2009, our sprawling Direct Trade network was held together mostly by the heroic efforts and tireless travel of my colleague Geoff Watts, who for many years was the James Brown of specialty coffee — the hardest-working man in the business, on the road 250 nights a year, bringing it day after day.  He still finds the energy to grind at origin like people half his age, but for the last eight years, he has leaned a little on ECW.

Somewhere along the way, Geoff had an epiphany.  More like lots of little epiphanies that led to one Big Idea.  He would travel from country to country, farm to farm, mill to mill furiously snapping photos and scribbling notes that he would drill into his laptop every evening.  At each stop, he would crack open the laptop and try, with varying degrees of success, to use the images and words he had stored there to transfer insights and promising practices from one grower to another.  At some point, Geoff began to understand intellectually the limitations of the two dimensions of his computer screen as a learning tool.  He understood at a more visceral level the inefficiency of a retail approach to knowledge transfer that relied so much on his travel.  And he also appreciated the limitations of his own perspective as a coffee buyer — for all his understanding, he didn’t see things at origin the way growers did, which limited his ability to turn insights from one origin into action in another.  He started imagining, naturally, a magic bus that would carry all the growers he visited to one another’s farms so they could see what he did with their own eyes.  And ECW was born.

Today’s episode of the Intelli Sourcing Sessions is devoted to ECW. Geoff explains in more detail where the ECW idea came from and how it has evolved.  Camilo Merizalde, the enterprising Colombian grower who now operates coffee farms in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama, has participated in all eight events and hosted the inaugural ECW on his Santuario farm in Cauca.  He explains how that first event came together — and almost didn’t.  And participants in the most recent ECW in Costa Rica share their perspectives on what the event means to them.

Listen to the ECW episode of the Intelli Sourcing Sessions here.

To add the podcast to your feed, subscribe on iTunes or Soundcloud.

Why Intelligentsia

This was a big year for me.  After nine years living and working overseas for a non-profit, I moved back to the United States to work for a coffee roaster.  The move prompted lots of questions from friends and colleagues, but three were most common.  I have answered the first two of them here over the past two weeks: Why the private sector? and Why Direct Trade?  Today I answer the third: Why Intelligentsia?

To start with, there is the company itself, which has built one of the very best Direct Trade models in coffee. Its relentless pursuit of quality has driven a series of signature innovations that make it a leader in the specialty sector: think Intelligentsia Direct Trade, In Season and the Extraordinary Coffee Workshop.  The restlessness that is baked into the company’s DNA keeps it constantly tinkering and fine-tuning: we will be refreshing our Direct Trade commitments in 2017.  As I have traveled throughout the United States over the past decade, I have visited countless places that speak the language of Direct Trade and seasonality and relationships that Intelli helped introduce to the specialty lexicon.  These places offer delicious coffees with sterling pedigrees and compelling storylines served with intentionality in beautiful spaces.  But after kicking the tires a bit and taking a good look under the hood, I came to find many of them lacking in horsepower.  The gleaming exteriors are seductive, but most of them seem to be built on the same chassis.  Intelligentsia is one of a small number of roasters that stripped the model down and rebuilt it from the cylinder block up.  The engine that drives the business today is uniquely Intelligentsia’s and is powered by relationships that embody what is best and truest about the Direct Trade narrative: long-term relationships based on mutual commitment to quality, transparency, clear incentives, risk-sharing and clear, constant communication.

Then there are the people in the Intelligentsia Direct Trade network, anchored by the inimitable Geoff Watts.  Geoff isn’t just a visionary who was one of the chief intellectual and material authors of the Direct Trade model.  He is also one of the most knowledgeable coffee people in the world. Few of the pioneers who built the Direct Trade model from its origins are still grinding at source the way Geoff is.  For more than 20 years, he has been traveling to established and emerging coffee origins around the world, building lasting relationships, hungrily gathering information and generously spreading the good word when he sees something insightful, inspiring or innovative.  He does for our collective understanding of coffee what bees do for its production — he carries ideas from one coffee field to another the way bees carry pollen, cross-pollinating our origin work, bringing the best available ideas to bear in every situation and catalyzing innovation.  When I was leading the Borderlands project in Colombia, I invited Geoff and other buyers with dog-eared passports to offer their advice precisely because there is so much to learn from road-weary coffee professionals who carry insight from one coffee origin to another.  The other important thing about Geoff is this: he is kind and patient and generous in sharing what he knows, and he has has helped to build a team of coffee buyers and a network of trading partners who work with the same selfless spirit.

Then there is the role itself: Director of Sourcing and Sustainability.  I can count on one hand the number of people I have met at coffee roasting companies who have direct responsibility for both sourcing and sustainability, and I have never met anyone who has led both functions.  Yet that is precisely the mandate for the role — to lead the buying team for one of the industry’s most iconic brands while building out a formal sustainability program.

Finally, there is the timing.  I arrived at the company less than a year after it was purchased by Peet’s.  On-boarding during an acquisition may not seem like a selling point, especially in a specialty coffee sector that embraces punk rock’s fierce anti-establishment creed, elevates all things indie, celebrates the DIY spirit, believes small is beautiful and reacts reflexively against consolidation and growth.  But the Peet’s investment and the mandate to grow one of the pioneering Direct Trade brands read like an opportunity to me — to help Intelli take its model of Direct Trade to a more meaningful scale, to test the limits of growth for a relationship-based approach to the coffee trade and to do so while getting more diligent about measuring inclusion and impact.

It all added up to a formidable challenge and an irresistible opportunity.

Why Direct Trade

Last week, I answered the first of the three questions I have fielded most frequently since I moved to Intelligentsia over the summer: Why the private sector?

Today I respond to the second: Why Direct Trade?

I was recently asked this question by a reporter, and in my response I borrowed from the wit and wisdom of Winston Churchill, who once famously said of democracy that it is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have ever been tried. Based on more than a decade of experience working with and for smallholder coffee growers in the field and in the marketplace, I feel the same way about Direct Trade: it is the worst approach to the coffee trade, except for all the others that have ever been tried.

Continue reading “Why Direct Trade”

Introducing the Buyer’s Notebook

Today we introduce a new podcast feature we are calling the Buyer’s Notebook — the stories behind our coffees in the words of the buyers who bought ’em.

The first installment is a conversation with our Ethiopia coffee buyer Geoff Watts about Gesha Village, the extraordinary undertaking of Rachel Samuel and Adam Overton in a remote wilderness in southwest Ethiopia near the center of origin of coffea Arabica.  Rachel and Adam were storytellers before they became coffee farmers, and they may have found in Gesha Village their best story yet — it is an incredible-but-true tale of how two filmmakers were seduced by coffee and came to lead an unlikely coffee revival in the forests where coffee was born.

To be honest, it might be an exaggeration to call this episode a “conversation,” since it consists entirely of Geoff’s response to one simple question: “Why are you so excited about Gesha Village?”  As it turns out out, there are lots of reasons to be excited about Gesha Village.  After an eight-minute response, Geoff sums up his excitement for Gesha Village with these words:  “It’s a coffee that is going to provide a lot of delight to a lot of people and it’s a place that I think will make a mark on the world.”

Listen to the Gesha Village 2016 Buyer’s Notebook here.

To add the podcast to your feed, subscribe on iTunes or Soundcloud.



Gesha Village has now been implicated in each of our first three podcasts.  For more information on Gesha Village, listen to the first two.

101: An Unnatural Purchase

In 2016, Geoff bought a natural-processed Original Gesha lot from Gesha Village — the first natural Intelligentsia has bought since Geoff’s provocative post to the Intelli blog nearly seven years ago calling for an end to naturals in the specialty market.  In this conversation, Geoff explains the reasons behind the shift and

102: Serendipity and Revival in Ethiopia

Rachel Samuel is a filmmaker-turned-coffee-grower who returned recently to her native Ethiopia to become co-owner and co-creator of the Gesha Village coffee farm, an audacious undertaking in the ancient forests where coffee was born. Rachel speaks with Michael Sheridan about her unlikely path from storyteller to farmer.



The great Isadora Duncan was once asked after a performance to describe the meaning one of her dance sequences.  Her response was one for the annals: “If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it.”

What does it have to do with Gesha Village?

Gesha Village is a farm that inspires plenty of superlatives.  Between our blog posts and our podcasts, we have devoted a lot of conversation to Gesha Village.   All our words are important to put the farm, its mission, its setting and its coffees into context.  But if we could tell you everything that is in those coffees, there would be no point in drinking them.  And drinking them, of course, is the whole point.

But if you want to try the coffee to see what all the fuss is about, you will need to hurry.  Geoff bought four different lots from Gesha Village this year, but only one remains: this Special Selection lot, a day lot of washed Original Gesha whose notes of black plum, fig and cardamom made it one of our cupping team’s favorites.

Why the private sector

A few days after I started at Intelligentsia in August, my new colleagues published this post to mark my arrival.  Although the move was one I had been eyeing for a while, the timing and nature of the transition caught some old friends and longtime collaborators by surprise.  Over the coming days, I answer the three questions that have arisen most often in my conversations related to my new role, starting today with the first one: Why would someone who has focused for so long on smallholder welfare go over to the private sector?

Continue reading “Why the private sector”

Gesha Village Day at Intelligentsia

A few months ago, we broke with years of conspicuously public opposition to natural-processed coffees and bought a natural for the first time in a decade — a stunning Original Gesha variety natural from the Gesha Village farm in western Ethiopia.  It was a small purchase by volume — a day lot that weighed in under 100 pounds — but a mighty big step for us.  So big, in fact, that we decided to make it the topic for the inaugural episode of the Intelli Sourcing Sessions, our occasional podcast exploring coffee’s origins.

When we released that coffee last month, we paired it in a Special Collection with the very best washed Original Gesha day lot that Gesha Village could produce.  The Big Ideas of that collection were to deliver a high-resolution sensory experience, to demonstrate the impact that processing can have on flavor, and to show what is possible when quality-obsessed growers combine pedigreed varieties, ideal growing conditions and experimental post-harvest processing.

The good news?  The coffees were amazing.

The bad news?  The collection sold out online in a matter of days, meaning that very few of our customers had the opportunity to participate in the return of natural-processed coffees to the Intelligentsia lineup.

We did, however, set aside a small amount of the natural for our retail customers.  We will be brewing it this weekend only at Intelligentsia Coffeebars nationwide.

Before you come in to try it, listen to the first two episodes of the Intelli podcast, and stay tuned for the release of a third early next week.

The first is a conversation with Intelli VP for Coffee Geoff Watts that explores naturals, their role in specialty, and their return to the Intelli menu.  The second features a conversation with Rachel Samuel, the Ethopian-born filmmaker who created Gesha Village with her husband Adam Overton.  And the forthcoming third episode is another conversation with Geoff, this one the first installment in our Buyer’s Notebook series — stories about our coffees from the buyers themselves.

Subscribe to the Intelli Sourcing Session at Soundcloud or on iTunes.

ECW Day Four: Expansion and Experimentation

Today is the final day of our 8th annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop.

Our hosts–our friends at Coopedota, and everyone we have engaged with in Costa Rica for that matter–have been gracious at every turn, generous to a fault and filled with insight, a big part of the E in this year’s ECW.

Parting is always such sweet sorrow, but we have a few more items on the agenda today before we say goodbye to our friends.

This morning, we visit Coopedota’s sleek, gleaming and newly opened Café Privilegios. If the original location, attached to its mill Santa María de Dota, is quaint middle America, the new one is full-on Nordic.

In the afternoon, we visit the Costa Rican coffee research institute Cicafé to see its work with somatic embryogenesis (a fancy term for in-vitro fertilization) and centrifugal demuciligination visit its varietal garden and biodigestor (which produces energy from coffee pulp), and hear a presentation on its future research directions.

After that we part ways, and our friends begin their journeys back to the 14 different countries from which they came. Stay tuned for an ECW wrap-up in the days ahead–a blog post here and a podcast as part of our new series, the Intelli Sourcing Sessions.

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Follow @IntelliSourcing on Instagram and Twitter for live coverage of Intelligentsia’s 8th annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, taking place this week in Costa Rica.

Subscribe to our Intelligentsia Sourcing Sessions podcast on your iTunes feed or Soundcloud.

ECW Day Three: The Lab and The Field

It is Day 3 of ECW 8 in Costa Rica.

Our day begins in the Coopedota lab, where we will spend the morning cupping with our partners. This morning’s exercise will highlight the impact of high moisture content on cup quality to reinforce one of the quality control priorities for the 2017 crop year: dialing in the drying process to achieve low and narrower moisture ranges for our coffees. Besides, you can never do too much calibration with your supply chain partners.

The afternoon takes us back to the field to visit the farms of three Coopedota members. We want to learn more about their farm management practices in general, and showcase some specific practices Coopedota is promoting, including farm design strategies, renovation approaches, coffee leaf rust mitigation plans, varietal experiments and composting practices.

To close the final full day of ECW, the Coopedota Board of Directors hosts the entire ECW gathering for a very special dinner.

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Follow @IntelliSourcing on Instagram and Twitter for live coverage of Intelligentsia’s 8th annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, taking place this week in Costa Rica.

ECW Day Two: The Mill + The Model

On Day Two of our eighth annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, we will narrow the focus of our agenda to just two items: the mill and the model.

Sure, there will be lots of activity on the fringes of the event. Members of the Intelli team will continue to brew and serve to our Direct Trade partners the amazing coffees they produced. Growers will meet with buyers to discuss plans for the upcoming harvest. And we will interview some of our Direct Trade partners for upcoming episodes of our Intelli Sourcing Sessions podcast. But most of the day will be devoted to what happens at the coffee mill and discussion of our sourcing model.

The host for today’s activities is Coopedota, the cooperative that anchors our Direct Trade program in Costa Rica; the one that my colleagues call one of the most progressive and professional cooperatives in the world; the one that produces the Flecha Roja coffee that is one of the perennial favorites of our customers. We will spend the morning touring the mill and discussing its work in recent seasons to drive increases cup quality through improvements in its separation, sorting, fermentation and drying processes.

In the afternoon, we welcome two special guests who will narrow our focus even further. Lucia Solis is a fermentation expert at Scott Laboratories who is working tirelessly to make an old practice new again: the use of yeasts in the fermentation process has been a standard practice in the wine and beer industries for a century but is still in its infancy in coffee. We will roll up our sleeves with Lucia and our partners at the Coopedota mill to begin to understand what we have been missing out on all these years, and what coffee stands to gain by taking a play from wine’s playbook. Carlos Fernández Morera is the grower behind the famous “cinnamon coffee” that was a Costa Rica Cup of Excellence finalist last year: his “anaerobic fermentation” process has consistently produced unmistakable cinnamon notes in his coffees. He will break down his process for participants in ECW 8. And Coopedota will share the results of its ongoing fermentation experiments.

Between our morning and afternoon sessions at the mill, we will focus on the Intelligentsia model. Our President James McLaughlin will give a “State of Intelli” update: where the company has been over the past year and what we envision for the year ahead. Our VP for Coffee Geoff Watts will facilitate a similar discussion focused on coffee quality and operations that examines our performance over the past year and lays out ambitious targets for 2017. And to close out that portion of the agenda, I will start a conversation with our Direct Trade partners about our trading model that will continue throughout 2017; a conversation that revolves around this question: how do we ensure that the next 15 years of our Direct Trade model are as innovative, influential and impactful as the first 15?

To close, we break bread again with our partners and rest before pushing into the second half of ECW on Day Three.

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Follow @IntelliSourcing on Instagram and Twitter for live coverage of Intelligentsia’s 8th annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, taking place this week in Costa Rica.

ECW Day One: It’s On

Today our 8th annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop gets underway in Costa Rica.

We aren’t storming into coffee fields, wading into washing tanks or mounting an ambitious cupping exercise to inaugurate this year’s ECW. Instead, we are sharing some great coffee with old friends and settling in for thought-provoking presentations by three experts from World Coffee Research.

In an era of accelerated climate change and declining suitability of some of the world’s most celebrated coffee origins for coffee production, WCR is beacon of hope: an industry-led effort to alleviate constraints on the growth of the specialty market by delivering new coffee varieties, genetic resources and other technologies to coffee growers around the world. Currently, WCR is working throughout Central America with funding from USAID on an ambitious range of activities being led out of the Costa Rica-based research center CATIE. The leaders of three of those initiatives join us to start this year’s ECW.

Sara Bogantes is a coffee grower and researcher who leads WCR’s on-farm demonstration trial. The OFDT involves growers across Central America who have each set aside a half-hectare for varietal research. On these plots, OFDT will determine how leading resistant varieties perform on a range of metrics (productivity, resistance to drought and disease, cup quality, etc.) under different management regimes, in different production systems and across a range of agroecological zones. Sara will explain the OFDT design, advances to date, early insights and future directions, embedding this initiative in the broader context of WCR’s work.

William Solano has worked for more than 20 years as a coffee breeder. He is leading WCR’s breeding program at CATIE, which houses the largest public collection of coffee germplasm in the Americas. In its quest for the Holy Grail of coffee breeding–varieties that simultaneous deliver complex and mouthwateringly delicious coffee to consumers and robust resistance to disease and drought to growers –WCR has identified 100 accessions of coffee from the CATIE collection that represent about 90 percent of the known genetic diversity of the coffea Arabica species. It is crossing these accessions with leading resistant varieties to develop new coffee varieties that help coffee growers confront growing challenges in the field and seize new opportunities in the marketplace for quality coffees.

Jacques Avelino is a senior researcher at the French research institute CIRAD who has been studying coffee leaf rust for longer than many of my colleagues at Intelligentsia have been alive. He will focus on WCR-funded research he is leading in Central America into what he calls “the rust machine.” I first saw Jacques present this concept in Guatemala back in 2013 during the First International Coffee Rust Summit. The rust machine considers the dynamic interactions between 18 different variables that influence the coffee leaf rust life cycle to model the way they impact the incidence and virulence of CLR. These include shade, wind speed, precipitation, fruit load, planting distances, timing and dose of fungicide application, etc. At the time I saw the 2013 presentation, certain relationships embedded in the machine were based on hypotheses; in his current research, Dr. Avelino is testing those hypotheses directly. A moderated discussion involving all three panelists closes the morning session.

Next, we head to Finca Tres Milagros, a Costa Rican farm owned by Camilo Merizalde, a grower whose name will be familiar to Intelligentsia loyalists. His Santuario farm in Colombia, which was planned for more than three years and featured more than a dozen different varieties when it was established, broke new ground in specialty coffee. (The Sanutario Red Bourbon, on our menu now, has been a perennial favorite of Intelligentsia customers.) Camilo produced his two outrageously flavorful Eugenioides lots (one washed, one natural, also on our menu now) on his Inmaculada estate. After being Camilo’s guests for lunch on his farm here in Costa Rica, we will tour Finca Tres Milagros to see Camilo doing more of what he does best: varietal diversification and innovation for quality. The tour will end on a high note: a coffee service in the coffee fields.

We finish the day with meetings between growers and buyers and dinner together before getting some rest in advance of Day Two.

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Follow @IntelliSourcing on Instagram and Twitter for live coverage of Intelligentsia’s 8th annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, taking place this week in Costa Rica.