Hope you all are loving the new harvest of Eder’s coffee, we both brewed some while writing this note to you.
espy TURNS 3!
It blows me away to realize that next week is the 3 year anniversary of when we launched the espy version of our coffee project. For those that don’t know, we've been doing this coffee thing for a long time, and espy is the version that stuck around.
We’ve changed a lot, but our horizon has stayed remarkably consistent over time. Informed by perspectives formed across the service industry, we started working together firstly to improve our lives and also what we saw as structural inequities. We thought we could be nicer, smarter, and more intentional, and that our will to make our relationships as equitable as possible would solve the problems we were starting to identify.
OUR ORIGINAL “WHY”
We saw the global coffee industry as an example, or reflection, of the many economies globally. Like a scale, with workers on one side of the world carrying all the weight, and those on the other side benefiting in turn. What if we intentionally redistribute that weight, directly and indirectly? What if we pay coffee growers as much as they need and pay ourselves as much as we need, scaling the business plan and production accordingly?
We hoped that we could be big enough, efficient enough to sell coffee to people for a price that paid for all of it, while still not being completely unaffordable. We iterated a lot (re: the decade of coffee projects we’ve worked on prior to espy), and experimented with logistics solutions, innovative equipment and workflow improvements. Better locations, fewer higher trained workers, streamlined offerings and smarter pricing. Should we do retail or wholesale, drip or pour over, pre-ground or ground to order? Zero waste, carbon negative, on and on and on and on.
All of these ideas were well intended, and some of them are still very relevant! But as we’ll talk about here, we’ve since learned that we were missing essential context and a theoretical framework. There is a foundational issue that would always hold us back from building an equitable coffee business, one we couldn’t solve by ourselves.
The first coffee we purchased as espy was a multi-producer peaberry blend from Cafe Colis Resistencia, a group of indigenous Xincan coffee farmers and activists. This marked a turning point for us, in terms of refining our approach to sourcing coffee and eventually led us to fully commit to Semilla’s importing projects. Now in our third year of purchasing from the group, we are continually looking to this project as the model for the type of coffee buying we believe in.
On the boxes of coffee you all received this month, we wrote: “It’d be easy to say that buying or drinking Eder’s coffee represents a more sustainable coffee industry, but it doesn’t”.
Let’s go a little deeper on this. We absolutely know that on a micro level, Eder’s family is materially impacted by their coffee sales (of which espy is half). With Semilla’s above market payments, they’re able to make a profit that allows them to pursue legal action against Pan American Silver. We’re equal parts proud and honored to support them in any ways we can, and will continue to try and grow our commitment to their project.
But we also know that this solution, roasters paying higher and higher prices for green coffee, can never be universalized. While the details are always hazy, those in specialty coffee (especially roasters) love to position themselves as the model for a mythical future of traceable microlots, a horizon where the axes of ethics (read: price?) and high cup scores converge. Experience has taught us to be deeply skeptical of even our own previously held convictions. Status quo specialty coffee, for all of its language about supporting producers, advances an ideology completely consistent with the very economic system that accelerates crises around the globe.
As an example, Eder received many times the market price for coffee this year and still barely profited. Long term, there is no price high enough to indefinitely outmatch the rising costs of production. When we say Eder’s situation doesn’t represent a more sustainable coffee industry, it’s because the real solution doesn’t exist within the current system. We, meaning all of us, have almost no control over the economies that determine our survival (never mind thrive-al).
OUT OF CONTROL
We don't control the cost of rent or property, transportation or energy. We don’t control the costs of selling, or the costs of exporting, importing, packaging and shipping. We don’t control the costs of sustenance and water, medicine and education. We don’t even control who has access to these markets or the ability to buy and sell. In the modern world, almost all of this power, necessarily, is held by large financial firms and the corrupt state and superstate organizations that serve their interests.
The current economy is defined by an ever accelerating consolidation of capital, power and resources at the top. This is fueled by bottomless debt and the financialization of every aspect of daily life. The more money pools upward, the less connected to the concrete value of real produced things it becomes. And as we’ve seen epitomized in the coffee industry, what was once a highly lucrative tool of imperial extraction is now increasingly destabilized by a forced decline in profitability. The market, leveraged and abstracted as it is, does rely on production to continue. As wealth and resources are extracted from people and land across the globe, and the workers performing these tasks do them for less money than the costs of the same resources, people will suffer, die, and become unable to maintain the system that generates this upward flow of money. Cancerous growth inhibits the host’s ability to sustain life, and in a similar way, we see that monopoly capitalism accelerates the conditions for its own demise!
Two options are possible when breaking points are reached. The first is an uncivilized barbarism in which people struggle to survive amidst a backsliding erosion of the system now holding up the ruling class. The second option is one in which people intentionally and collectively rise up in resistencia, organizing themselves to act in a revolutionary way.
Hopefully, it’s clear which strategy we’re championing. We have limitless optimism for the future, and we believe endlessly in our potential to reorganize society to advance our collective interests. A better, more beautiful world is possible. More to come on that :)
If you have any questions about what we’ve written here, or if you wanna chat more about something, email us back! Drop us a DM! We’d really truly like to talk to ya
Love ya all,