By: Jasmine Cox
By: Jasmine Cox
America is for the dreamers, the opinionated, the connoisseurs, the hard-workers, the entrepreneurs and most importantly, the underdogs. Our culture favors them time and time again, and we can see that in our art, movies, news, and nearly every other social aspect. If you’re disadvantaged, behind, or put out in the cold, America will make room for you in their hearts. If you portray a virtuous trait, like perseverance, determination, or resilience we love you because that is who we are.
We were once the underdog and we value those who overcome tragedy, repression, or hardships of any kind. Although the end to America’s rise-to-the-top has yet to be written, history holds our place as the Alpha nation and for that, we must honor all of those who have fought the same wars for freedom. The story behind 1804 Coffee Company began in 1804…
In 1804 Haiti gained independence from France, only a short time after America’s very own English shackles were taken off. France’s loss was a costly one because at the time, Haiti had been supplying half of the world with coffee. However, it was not as easy to maintain healthy crops or grow the coffee, let alone transport it globally. Eventually the quality of coffee declined as technology and mass production became available. Haiti’s trade industry eventually got trumped by our species’ growing need for a pick-me-up.
Americans live fast-paced lives and when we hit the daily grind, many of us forget what it is like to enjoy the little things in life, like coffee. Without it, the hustle and bustle would be much slower before 10:00 AM, and for most of us, it’s all the same. Caffeine is caffeine right? WRONG. Coffee is so much more than caffeine, it is an art. A very much undervalued art.
I have recently tasted the art created by modern day Haitians, who can produce the very same coffee drank by our founding fathers and as a middle school English teacher, was all about the quantity. Drinking the pure Haitian Typica Arabica was an experience I am not likely to forget. Now in fact, when I pour my morning cuppa Joe, I think about what I am missing out on and that is quality. I often find myself drinking two or three cups to get through a tiring morning, but the only reason I drank three cups of Pine Fore was because of the taste. I was instantly alert, no jitters or headaches from the caffeine, and I didn’t get tired again like usual, I just felt great all day. So it really got me thinking about how much the quality of what I drink, or eat for that matter, really is important to me.
The company 1804 Coffee has employed Haitian farmers to bring this wonderful taste of history and a truly great coffee to your home. I interviewed the mastermind behind the business, Eric English and here is what he had to say.
Tell us about the Haitian farmers; what is their life like?
“Haitian farmers live a subsistence based lifestyle. The average household income in Haiti is $500 per year. Farming is done by hand, on hillsides and in small gardens, normally about 2.5 acres to acres. They do not have faming equipment and it is not an industrialized process like in the USA. In fact many farmers use coffee like currency in the mountains. They store it and trade it for things they need in local markets, or sell it to “coyotes,” illegal Dominican exporters. Farmers do not have running water, or electricity. They have cisterns, collect rain water. It’s a primitive lifestyle.
Some economic studies show that the greatest positive impact people experience economically is between $500 and $10,000 per year. Our long term aim is to help farmers increase crop production through farm plant rehabilitation. Coffee plants may produce coffee for 20 to 25 years, but then they must be replaced, or farmers have to cut down plants and turned them into charcoal to sell in local markets during times of desperation. Those plants need to be replaced and volume increased for Haitian farmers to make a good living. There is more to it than just paying a fair price per pound and that only goes so far. The real gains are found in increasing production wisely.”
How much has this company influenced the lives of the Haitian farmers (or any of the people who work for 1804 Coffee in Haiti), and in what ways?
“Although I have been involved in Haiti with various humanitarian projects for 15 years, 1804 Coffee is a new venture. In 2016 we paid twice, “fair trade pricing” for our coffee, which helps farmers.
However, we hope 2017 will see us expand into our first farm regeneration project. We are building relationships now, which takes time in Haiti.”
You advertise that your product is “the finest, rarest, and purest in the world,” how do you keep the product fresh as it travels from Haiti to America without compromising the product’s authenticity and quality?
“The key is getting the coffee processed, shipped and delivered in a timely manner. Since we purchase direct, our coffee doesn’t sit in an importers warehouse like many coffees do. Everyone is concerned about when coffee is roasted, and that’s proven to be vastly important, but we are also concerned with how long green coffee sits on the shelf as well. We work hard to export our coffee right after harvest processing is completed, then turn our inventory so that it’s not sitting.”
People are not familiar with your product yet because it is only available online, what advice can you give to people who are trying to decide what to buy?
“Haitian coffee is quite rare for a number of reasons. It is shade grown in Creole Gardens, and the use of pesticides is rare in Haiti because they are so costly. The plants are of the Arabica Typica variety, the same strain that has remained untouched for hundreds of years. Most other countries have converted to coffee plans that can be grown in full sun, and handle pesticides, their flavor is much different than what is found in Haiti.
Haiti was once worth more to France than the American colony was to England, because the coffee trade was so strong. Haitian coffee dominated the world in the 1700 and 1800s. Every time you drink our coffee, you are drinking the same coffee that George Washington and the founding fathers drank, because the plants, farms and farming techniques remain unchanged.”
You currently sell three different types of coffee, why only three?
“These three represent consistently high quality coffee, the processing is well controlled, and these are truly the best coffees from Haiti. We simply didn’t feel the need to offer more. We prefer to focus on quality, regardless of a limited selection.”
What kind of competition do you have right now? Why?
“Depends on what lens you are looking through. There are countless specialty coffees from around the world, and countless roasters performing different roast profiles with those coffees. Our philosophy is not to worry about what others do and just focus on what we do, and continue to improve. The coffee speaks for itself. These three coffees grade out between an 84 and an 87, which is an extremely competitive cupping score, well above the vast majority of specialty coffees on the market. They are very unique in flavor, and extremely rare to find. Those things go a long way with true coffee geeks.”
As everyone would agree, there are a lot of great coffee brands out there, why should I buy your coffee instead of the brands with more availability and recognition? On average, a twelve ounce bag of coffee costs between $7.00 and $10.00, what would you say to people who like your product and the ideas it embodies, but are unsure about regularly spending $19.95 for a twelve ounce bag?
“Well a few things… We feel like the lack of availability is a positive. These coffees are grown in micro lots on very small farms, and great coffees are known to be harder to get. Our coffee fits this category. We pay more for our coffee, and we reinvest in the farms. Those practices cost money to execute. If farmers are truly going to be paid well, then the consumer has to pay more, but most importantly, you can’t compare a $10 bottle of wine with a $100 bottle of wine. They simply aren’t the same product. There are no truly great specialty coffees selling for $7 to $10 per 12oz bag. There may be good ones, but not great ones. We aren’t marketing to the common consumer who buys average specialty coffee. We want the guy or gal who buys coffees from all over the world, owns a great espresso machine, knows how to use a gram scale and do a proper pour over. We want people who know truly great coffee and can appreciate what these farmers create. It’s the farmers that get the credit anyway, and we want them to be properly represented by our brand, and properly compensated.”
What would you say to coffee lovers who are thinking about trying your coffee, but may be unsure of making the change?
“True coffee lovers, the ones we know, don’t drink just a single coffee. They buy coffees from all over the world, just like fine wine drinkers do. There are coffees that work for different occasions, moods, and styles of preparation. Our clients probably have a variety of coffee from Africa, Central America, or Indonesia.”
In the brief time that 1804 Coffee has been available to consumers, what have you experienced or learned?
“Our coffee has been very well received, we have lots of incredibly positive feedback from our clients, which makes us feel incredible. We are very concerned about the experience of those who drink 1804 Coffee.”
Do you wish to stay an independent company, or do you plan on expanding into a physical store, or even into a large franchise?
“We are a family owned business and plan to protect our brand as an exclusive high end coffee. We have no plans for franchising, or wild expansion.”