Perfect Strangers: A Sourcing Story

Posted on May 2nd, 2018

Every stranger might be the friend you haven’t met yet, and in coffee, the way we meet each other is sometimes simply a matter of pure chance and in unusual circumstances.

We love to tell the stories of producers when we meet-cute, and Cafe Imports senior green-coffee buyer Piero Cristiani tends to have the best and most uncanny luck when it comes to running into the right people at the right—if often weird—time. (Ask him about the time in Costa Rica when his rental blew a tire and he hitched a ride with a friendly passing stranger who turned out not only to be handy in fixing a flat but also one of the top producers of Natural coffees in the area.)

While there’s romance and a great story behind those types of magical random encounters, there’s also something to be said about the relationships that form and blossom in ways there are totally predictable, totally designed, and perhaps from the outset seem a little, well, almost boring.

Our relationship with Roger Dominguez from Marcala, Honduras, started just like that, in a totally nondescript way that is surprising if only because of how totally unsurprising it was.

“I met him at SCAA once, maybe three or four years ago,” says Piero. “It was one of those things where he just dropped a sample off.”

That’s right: A partnership that began with a totally conventional cold call. So conventional that it actually happened at a convention, which is an environment most green-coffee buyers will probably admit is too chaotic to really be effective in making sourcing connections. At the end of every Expo, however, our green team really does round up all the samples from the weekend, and they really do cup every single one.

Most of the time the coffees are good but there aren’t many that stand out. In Roger’s case, however, Piero put down his spoon and took notice.

He laughs: “One in a hundred, it works!”

Roger is a young producer who inherited his father’s midsize farms, which came into the family in the early 1990s. He has three parcels of land in Marcala, all between 3–5 hectares, at good altitude for the region, above 1,300 meters. He grows a small variety of heirloom types, mostly Bourbon, Catuai, and Caturra, and he’s specific about his wet-milling and drying. After the morning harvest, cherry is depulped the same day, fermented dry for about 18 hours before washing three or four times, and then laid on raised beds to dry for upward of two weeks.

One of the things Piero is most excited about when it comes to Roger’s coffees is their consistency in quality—not only year to year (this is our third buying from Roger), but also simply in terms of the longevity of current crop in the warehouse. Coffees from Honduras have historically been somewhat unstable, falling off quickly between pre-ship and arrival sample, and more aggressively the longer they sit spot. Not Roger’s, though.

“The coffees cupped out really good off the bat,” Piero says, “but the cool thing was that the arrivals were really good as well, like right on point, basically.”

While we were sorry not to see Roger at Expo again this year, he and Piero have been happily working together and staying in touch between visits. Through their developing partnership, we are able to buy more of not only Roger’s coffees, but also lots that he is buying in cherry from nearby smallholders, which are blended by cup quality and profile to create a sort of “community coffee” offering from Marcala. “We went from one to three containers from him this year,” Piero says, with plans to expand as Roger continues to grow his own production and the quality of coffee he is sourcing from his neighbors.

If there’s a moral to this story, it might be a piece of gentle advice to go through life expecting every stranger you encounter to become a friend, and to stay open-minded every time a new person (or a new sample) crosses your path. You may never know when you’ll need help fixing a flat or filling a container, and you never know where you might meet just the right stranger for the job.