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.