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From the Publisher
When we started Roast in 2004, the coffee marketplace was very different from today’s marketplace. On the upside, cafes and roasters were breaking ground at a record pace, and a critical mass of consumers was ready to embrace the idea of real quality. However, the reality for producers was about as grim as it had ever been. Green coffee was selling below what it cost to produce, resulting in very real problems of food insecurity, crop abandonment and lack of capital for investment in farms, both small and large. Everyone knew it; few knew what to do about it.
Ideas were pushed to address the problem on a large scale, but the economics of commodities always have been resistant to grand campaigns. More effective was a small group of people who figured out the right path: Connect the absolute best coffees, even in the smallest quantities, with a small cadre of roasters across the world who were working to create consumer demand for the highest quality.
Our industry, from many small family farms up to the largest of corporate roasters, owes a debt of gratitude to this handful of people who devoted their energy to making a difference, and among the most energetic and passionate of these was (and still is) Susie Spindler.
She recently retired from the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, which manages the Cup of Excellence (COE) competitions and auctions across the globe. These top-quality lot auctions, which amplify the message of quality to the world, were largely driven by her vision, tireless work and unique ability to attract and work with some of the most talented people in our business.
As Spindler stated in our May/June 2004 issue, “The coffee trade thought we were nuts. The farmers thought we were nuts.” The trade could not see how such small quantities of coffee could make any difference for farmers, and the farmers could not imagine roasters paying 10 or 20 times the C market rate for their coffees. The groundbreaking effect of the ideas Spindler and others—like George Howell, who pushed this vision—developed was not in the direct financial impact to the farms of selling these small quantities at high prices, but in the way those prices could be used to show the world that quality is worth the premium. Ten years ago, the idea of paying farmers more for higher-quality coffee was not the norm.
Our challenge today is to embrace Spindler’s way of looking at the world differently, making sure we spend our time and effort not on the easy or safe path, but on the right path. That’s Susie Spindler’s legacy.
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