22. 6. 2016

THE CREW Interview // Emmanuelle // Bwindi Coffee

source: storyous.cz

"I am from France, North-West close to Normandie and Brittany, on the river Loire. Before „falling into coffee“ I graduated in chemical engineering and worked for 10 years in the petrochemical industry in Research and Development and technical support to customers. During my last job I was advising customers doing plastic closures for the beverage industry and an important aspect of it was the organoleptic properties of the plastic – so already about taste and smell. During that time I had the chance to travel and work in US, China, and western Europe. I enjoyed it. However it was time for me to focus on my family. I also felt the need to get a job more connected with people. I left Brussels where I was based after the birth of my first child to move here, and started to be more and more involved in the ugandan project of my partner, Bwindi Orphans. During my maternity leave I started roasting on a Gene roaster to have freshly roasted coffee to offer during Bwindi Orphans events. During that time I also met Honza as he was roasting at Gill’s, I had a second baby and I keep learning about coffee and the other goodies we are sourcing in Uganda!"

Who came up with the idea of including local people?

The idea of „including local people“ was there long time ago when we started a non-profit organisation to help the poor families and their children in 2006 in the region of Uganda called Bwindi.

How did you accomplish it all? Why Uganda?

There was no question where. The children we were helping are in Uganda and that is what we are dealing with. And there is very good coffee in Uganda. In order to finance the organisation, we started the coffee business and later added other quality products from Uganda – dried fruits, cocoa beans, ground nuts and vanilla.

Have you ever visited Uganda and met the local people yourself? (if yes - did it change your attitude to the whole project?) 

We travel to Uganda several times a year to work with the children. It is an experience which changes your whole attitude towards life. You are involved in their lives and they become part of yours.

What criteria do you have for choosing the harvested coffee beans? How do you choose the coffee?

The slopes of Mount Elgon, an extinguished volcano bordering Kenya, is one of the best area where arabica is grown in Uganda. Katherine was coming there for years to climb the mountain and got to know the people. So we started to buy coffee from small farmers we knew or families our friends knew. Overall we are aiming for higher altitude coffee. Every year we buy from several farmers, some farmers we already bought from and some new. Slowly – but surely! – we are developing relationships with farmers who are interested to improve the quality of their farming, and see the longer term benefit.

Do farmers know what happens to their coffee after it is the exported? Can they taste it after roasting? Have they ever drunk an espresso made from specialty coffee?
The farmers we buy from know what happens to their coffee thanks to our discussions mostly. However they can only imagine what it means. They often never left their district – or even village. Sometimes they went to Kampala, the main city. But for sure our life-style and our attitude to coffee is an abstract concept to them.

Drinking coffee is not part of their culture even though they can roast on a pan over the fire. For sure they never drank an espresso. I brought samples during my last trip to show them the roast we are aiming for (a lot lighter than what is done loacally), show them what the defects look like after roasting, what it means for the quality of the coffee, have them taste it – however this is work in progress!

What is the amount of coffee exported to Czech Republic?
We are small. The quantity of good green coffee we are able to buy is small. We buy only the coffee we like and are happy with.

What does your work mean for farmers in fact?
Our work with the farmers is the same as our work with the children. It is about learning, working hard to be better, have a better life. But that is a long term goal and not everybody is able to think that way. Poor people are mostly looking only at the next day – as they often have no choice! We are for sure giving a good price for their coffee and we are not even sure how good is the coffee when we pay the money. But we keep telling them – if your coffee comes out well, we will come back to buy from you again and we are willing to give you extra money. This can change their lives, bring some stability.
What I personally found interesting is the feeling of recognition it brings them. „Someone is interested in my work! Someone is talking about my coffee and coming back to buy from me!“. I will always remember one farmer, Rogers, laughing of joy when he recognized Katherine as she came back a year after to buy more coffee from him! Altough she did say that if we like the coffee we will come back but those were only words. In their lives – looking at the politics ... Promises are made all the time but never delivered. However there is still a lot to do in this sense. You dont change the way of thinking overnight.
The other very important thing for us is that we give work to women in the village. Mostly single mothers who have to provide for their children. We employ them for sorting the coffee. They love it: they get paid and are sitting together, chatting as they work, their children playing and babies sleeping next to them on a blanket.

Michal has already told me, that you look after coordination between Rebelbean and Bwindi coffee. As Rebels don´t have their own roastery, what exactly is this coordination about?
Can you see some advantages and disadvantages?
We are roasting Rebels‘ coffee, so we need to communicate often to organize our work: roasting, packing, profiling new coffee, discussing different things about the coffee world. It is great to work with people who like what they do and know what they are doing. We exchange a lot of experiences.
What is the plan for the future? In your opinion, is it still the optimal solution? Or should Rebels find another roastery, maybe their own?
Wouldn´t you miss them?

It is no secret that Rebels want to have their own roastery in the future. So in a way we have the ungrateful job of doing their pre-marketing. It is fine with me, things are very open between us, I would say that we trust each other fully and it is a good feeling in the business world!
Honza and Michal are great people to work with and it matters to me a lot. I think they appreciate what we do, both Bwindi Orphans for the children and Bwindi Coffee with the people growing coffee. So we are definetely looking at possibilities to continue working together in the future!
If they get their own roastery, good for them but we would definetelly miss them. Our work is a lot about people and we were lucky to meet Honza and later Michal and have the chance to work together.

//Johana Vinšová//