Kenya Ndaroini

Sep 04, 2019

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Stumptown, we're releasing three limited edition coffees that each exemplify a different aspect of our sourcing practices - all honoring transparency and direct relationships. Our first offering is Kenya Ndaroini, a juicy, rich cup tasting of blood orange and dark chocolate. It showcases everything we love about Kenyan coffee while illuminating the powers of buying directly from producers.

Early this year, our importer partners at Trabocca signed a deal with a group of smallholder farmers that set in motion a transformative approach to sourcing Kenyan coffee. Instead of selling their coffee into a national auction system that has traditionally been a smallholder's only route to market, the Ndaroini group could be paid up front for their coffee crop, at prices that allow families to invest in their households. Aside from the incredibly special flavor profile of this cup, we were excited to throw our support behind this new sourcing model from our long-term partners at Trabocca, with whom we share an unwavering trust in best practices.

We chatted with Menno Simons, founder of Trabocca and trailblazer in the ethical sourcing industry, to hear his first-hand account of this revolutionary process.

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Stumptown Coffee Roasters: Tell us about your origins in coffee.

Menno Simons: I founded Trabocca in 2003, but started an Ethiopian coffee department in 2000 at a trading house I used to work for. I would roast coffee in a pan and experience the changes in smell and color that you can only get from fresh coffee. I was captivated! It was then that my passion was sparked to explore, create and improve the coffee supply chain, while sharing the experience and knowledge gained along the way. Soon {after founding} we brought the first certified organic Ethiopian coffee to market.

SCR: How does this tie in to being named Amsterdam’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018?

MS: I’m very curious, always. How does something work, why do we do it like this, is this really the best way? It’s important to be aware of how people, markets and the world are changing. Whether it’s food, wine, beer, motorcycles, cooking knives, etc., thoughtfulness in choices inspires me. If I can add value, I will! I have a law degree, but think I got my entrepreneurial drive from my dad. I love to explore, take risks, create and make people happy while enjoying myself along the way.

SCR: We’re excited to share our first lot of Kenya Ndaroini because it exemplifies such a significant shift in how coffee buying is practiced in Kenya . You've been able to circumvent the auction system and buy directly from the producers. Could you tell us more about this experience, and how you accomplished it?

MS: We started the preparations for this new innovative transparency model in Kenya two years ago. To us, it was proven to be clear that the current Kenyan coffee sourcing practices were far from transparent and demotivating the farmers. Nyeri coffee farmers have actually been pulling out coffee trees and planting maize in their place in order to feed their families, and Kenyan export volumes downgraded significantly in the last decade - all while the average export prices are the highest in the world?! We felt responsible as Trabocca, with our knowledge, experience and goals, to act and improve the conditions in Nyeri. I travel 4 times per year to Kenya to personally gather all the facts on true pricing, milling reports and real costs and real costs of production versus the export prices received. The current supply chain has been dominated by big corporations for many decades. My results were simply shocking.

In short, our concept is: make a fully transparent supply/price model. This includes serious investments in agronomy, research, wet mill station upgrading, processing techniques, cost efficient logistics and financing, and several social projects, where we invite our roaster buyers to participate. Trabocca facilitates the dynamic between farmer and roaster, using our 19 years of knowledge to mindfully select the right partners, upgrade the supply chains, and make a difference, all the while delivering the promise of quality.

Another important factor to us is engaging the local youth. We are actively involved with them to help build interest in coffee cultivation. If we lose another generation, we will all lose the great Kenya Nyeri coffee, which we consider to be one of the coffee “Champagne” regions in this world. It almost feels a bit like watching the last rhinos on earth get killed and not jumping in to help. We choose to act.

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SCR: How did the circumstances and regulations change in Kenya to allow for this to happen? From your perspective, why is this significant in Kenya, and to the coffee world?

MS: There has been a secondary window allowing us to bypass the auction system for several years, but the market is totally dominated by what the locals call “cartels” -- the largest coffee traders in the world. They aggressively try to maintain their monopoly and play their own game. Nothing positive happened... corruption is involved, and there were even people from these “cartels” threatening Ndaroini farmers, attempting to bribe them and stop us from activating this new process. These large corporations were responsible for that. Now, finally, we feel that the total project, setup, and approach is so clean, direct and results driven, that it could become a blueprint for our other origins.

SCR: Can you tell us about the farmers’ union?

MS: We helped Ndaroini, comprised of 1200 farmers, to break free from the corrupt cooperative which they were part of. We helped them to start an organization where all farmers are the only shareholders. Ndaroini has strong management thanks to their board of directors - comprised of men, women, and even one youth member, to whom we just gifted a guitar. Together, they’re a beautiful group of motivated farmers on the slopes of Mount Kenya, with potentially one of the best coffees in the world. With the right help they will continue to produce exceptional coffee, build infrastructure, and have a much better future.

SCR: What is encouraging to you about the future of this project? How do you see it evolving or expanding?

MS: Good question! We took a great risk by buying these coffees in advance at double the market price to the farmers, just to make this project happen. Now we need to be successful in selling it without losing too much money in the first year. From there, we need to continue to expand, and add more supply chains to our concept and link roasters to it, so we can build volume. We have been approached by over 100 other washing stations and groups that wish to join us. Due to the nature of this endeavor, we have to manage expectations, especially in Kenya, so please feel how great and important Stumptown’s support is here. Café Libre from Korea also committed to a nice sized purchasing volume to support us and said to me “Menno, let us share this responsibility.’’ I think those are great words to use when pointing out where the market should evolve in the future; honest partners, who support each other in the good and bad times, who stay results driven. Bring the supply-chain to the next level and actually add measurable value. No bullshit!

SCR: What are you most proud of with this coffee?

MS: Hands down, seeing the effect it has on the community. I will always remember standing in front of 500+ farmers, cheering, some in tears of joy and appreciation. Sharing hugs during our first intense meetings, the fire in their eyes; one said, ‘Menno you have switched on the light, we have been kept in the dark for decades!’. During the last meeting 750+ farmers showed up within 45 minutes! These meetings used to be described as being full of shouting and fighting -- feeling very negative -- but since we came it is all joy, sharing knowledge and making plans for the future.

SCR: What is your favorite memory related to coffee - either drinking it, sourcing it, or an experience associated with it?

MS: It’s holistic - I think getting spontaneous recognition and appreciation from large groups of farmers really touches me and proves our DNA is right at Trabocca. It’s the whole reason I started this business 20 years ago. But let us not forget, the honest appreciation from dedicated roasters, who understand what we do and why we do it - this touches me and all of us at Trabocca a lot. It is a great support and stimulant for our team.