SUSIE GHARIB: From philanthropy at the world’s biggest coffee house chain
to a small coffee importer, it’s cashing in on the premium coffee craze in
a unique way. Diane Eastabrook shows us how Crop to Cup is making money by
empowering coffee farmers.
DIANE EASTABROOK: There are coffee hounds and then there are coffee
connoisseurs. They flock to Ipsento on Chicago’s northwest side where
coffee is roasted on site, then served up with steamed milk or without.
JACOB ELSTER, CO-FOUNDER, CROP TO CUP: Wow, it’s big, it’s different,
it’s unique. This is an espresso.
EASTABROOK: Coffee is 30-year- old Jacob Elster’s life. He co-
founded Crop to Cup four years ago after working on social projects with
coffee farmers in Africa. The company buys coffee directly from growers in
Uganda and Burundi who practice sustainable farming. It then sells the
product directly to coffee houses like Ipsento and to consumers over its
website. Videos let consumers see who’s behind their coffee. And that
personal relationship helps the farmers command higher prices for their
crops. The concept is called traceable or relationship coffee and Elster
says it’s a win-win for everyone.
ELSTER: Not only does that allow us to get coffee profiles that are
more in tune with what the market wants, but the process is very engaging
and it highlights some of the differences of what we provide versus the
commodity coffee importer.
EASTABROOK: The United States imports over 130,000 tons of coffee a
month. It comes from roughly 60 nations and most of it is traded like any
other commodity And by the time a cup of coffee like this gets to a
consumer like me, it’s hard to say tell it came from.
NEIL BALKCOM, QUALITY CONTROL, CROP TO CUP: With this coffee, we’re
getting just tons of chocolate.
EASTABROOK: Neil Balkcom is sort of a coffee sommelier. He sniffs
and slurps the coffee Crop to Cup buys, looking for unsavory beans. If he
finds any he’ll trace them back to the growers and help them identify
potential problems. In one case the beans weren’t to blame, but a washing
BALKCOM: There was a piece of machinery there that needed to be
calibrated and it wasn’t being calibrated. Therefore it was letting through
EASTABROOK: Elster says that kind of information is critical to
farmers. To him Crop to Cup is as much about empowering rural Africa as it
about selling coffee.
ELSTER: Working with and living with the communities I worked with in
Uganda, I came to realize that they really wanted jobs and good jobs as a
first starter. And with that came a lot of pride, a lot of dignity and a
lot of ability for them to take care of themselves.
EASTABROOK: Recently Crop to Cup brought that philosophy home to
Chicago. It’s paying developmentally disabled adults at the Misericordia
home to package coffee. Assistant Executive Director Lois Gates says the
jobs have made a big difference in the lives of the workers.
LOIS GATES, ASST. EXEC. DIR., MISERICORDIA HOME: They like to have a
reason to get up in the morning. They like to accomplish and they like to
be proud of what they do.
EASTABROOK: This year Crop to Cup will turn a profit for the first
time. Elster admits that’s a big accomplishment for him and the company.
But an even bigger goal is becoming a model for other businesses at home
ELSTER: I’ll consider Crop to Cup successful if we can get people to
copy us, if we can help grow the market for traceable coffees, if we can
really reintroduce a new way of dealing with the people who provide all of
EASTABROOK: Diane Eastabrook, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, Chicago.