Starbucks Reserve® coffee buyer Matt Perry recently returned from Rwanda, where he had the opportunity to taste the first of this year's coffee bean crop cultivated by the farmers of Sholi, a woman-founded coffee cooperative in the central part of the country.
The visit held special meaning for another reason: He also brought back this year’s Starbucks Reserve® Rwanda Sholi in its finished package to the very farmers who grew and produced this special blend known for producing a high-quality, flavorful cup.
“To be able to present a farmer with their coffee is incredibly fulfilling and highlights the fact that coffee is about human interaction and real people behind real agriculture products,” Matt says.
Sholi focuses on eco-friendly growing methods and strengthening the community around it through building a regional medical clinic, a support program for young mothers, nutritional education and a community centre.
“It’s great to see producers using income to improve the community, and it’s reinforcing the need for trusted suppliers and suppliers that share Starbucks’ philosophy and goals: to make coffee communities stronger, more resilient, and able to produce great, ethically sourced coffee.”
Whilst tasting this year's first harvest from Sholi, Matt was able to take part in a rare practice that only happens a few times every year.
“It’s a great way to get a sense of where the crop is heading, quality-wise,” he says. "Meeting face to face with suppliers and producers – and especially being able to cup with them – is extremely helpful for calibration, and much more impactful than discussing over the phone. The human connection and interaction is still vitally important.”
Starbucks is an important buyer of Sholi coffee. The cooperative produces over eight containers of coffee (each container houses 320 burlap bags, each containing 60kg) and last year, Starbucks purchased multiple containers.
The benefits to being part of the cooperative include being able to train in coffee tree development, which includes help with renovation, knowledge around best practices and replacing older trees with new, free seedlings. There is also access to financing to allow farmers to invest back into their farms. Ultimately, through being a community of collective farms, coffee quality increases as the cooperative supports each other with production.
Sholi is also the home of a veteran farmer, Joel, who shares and educates others about C.A.F.E Practices. He has the second largest farm in the cooperative with 2100 trees.
While Matt handed out packages of this year's Starbucks Reserve® Rwanda Sholi, he showed a group of farmers the ability to trace their coffee by scanning the batch code on each bag with the Digital Traceability tool. The tool usually features a human story of someone who has played a role in the seed-to-cup story.
Marthe manages a C.A.F.E. practice-verified farm as part of Sholi. What she loves most is getting together with her community to share knowledge and experiences. As she scanned her bag of coffee, she was overjoyed to see her story pop up and to know that she represents the 528 producers who make Rwanda Sholi possible.