When you choose a brew of certified organic and Fairtrade wake-up juice, you also contribute to the creation of many jobs, strong communities, and actively help sustain the planet.
Ensconced in the Taranaki port city of New Plymouth, IncaFé Organic Coffee has won multiple awards in the (now defunct) NZ Coffee Awards, and boasts several firsts. They were New Zealand’s first certified organic coffee roaster, produced the first fully certified organic coffee, and were the first carboNZero certified roaster.
The Peruvian connection
Most of IncaFé’s organically grown green coffee beans (85%) are sourced from Chanchamayo District in central Peru, where the Andes tumble down into the Amazon jungle east of Lima.
The coffee growers here live in forests thought to have been where the last Inca king took refuge from the Spanish Conquistadors. In 1870 the English established a coffee processing plant there. This historic facility had been in continual use in its original form until IncaFé contributed significantly to its recent major upgrade for local co-operative partner coffee producers, Coopchebi.
Joop Verbeek arrived in Lima on an engineering contract in 1996. There he met his wife, Carmen Castro, one of whose in-laws grew up on a coffee plantation. Through him Joop was introduced to coffee growing.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Joop saw first-hand the chemical-dominant agriculture that burgeoned in the 1970s, resulting in a deafening silence in canals previously loud with frog life. Now he saw how ideal a crop coffee was for organic growing.
Shade-grown organic coffee for resilience
The coffee bush is naturally a shade lover, and thrives beneath a medium-dense tree canopy. In the tropical wet season in Peru, copious rain rushes down the hillsides and valleys. Where there are no trees – with natural terracing around their roots to reduce the impact of the rain – the water takes everything with it, sometimes entire hillsides, but also recently applied chemicals.
“Organically grown forested coffee plantation trees develop deeper roots, which facilitate a more consistent water uptake and range of nutrients,” says Joop, “and they’re healthier and more sustainable.”
The nutrients are maintained through healthy soils with lots of biomass supplied mostly by leaf litter from companion crops, and waste product from coffee processing. When forested plantations connect over large areas, they create microclimates which produce more stable growing conditions and reduce the effects of drought, heat, heavy rainfall, strong winds, and frost.
Contrast this with many non-organic monocultural coffee-growing areas, where the erosion and compaction of topsoil necessitates the ever-increasing use of fertilisers, which further destroys soils and affects coffee flavour.
“Coffee cherries ripen quicker in direct sun or high heat, though they are smaller, with under-developed flavour,” says Joop. “Under the shade of preferably native trees, growth bursts are less intense and more robustly flavoured beans steadily develop. Native trees support native fauna and curb the massive erosion problems typical of tropical mountain areas where coffee is normally grown.”
Benefits of biodiversity
However, chickens and small domestic animals roam freely in the plantations, contributing their manure, and being cheaply fed. Along with chickens, wild birds keep insect populations in balance. Taking this into account, and the produce from companion plantings of fruits, nuts, firewood and building materials, plus the cost of chemicals, the yield per hectare soon supersedes that of a monocultural plantation. It’s just not all from the same crop.
Also, jobs are created at the rate of four to one compared with mechanical plantations. There’s work nearly year-round and families can stay together, so communities thrive.
Another critical advantage of forested organic growing, particularly in developing countries, is the clean drinking water the ecosystem provides. Water is naturally retained in the soil, small streams and ponds, with little risk of groundwater pollution.
Working with coffee growers
When Joop and Carmen met the family-based Coopchebi Co-operative, they felt they had met their ideal growers and began working with them in 2006. Coopchebi’s 200 members each have a plantation of five to fifteen hectares in Chanchamayo District. Their social and environmental principles are the basis for their organic growing methods and strong communities. The majority of their plantations comply with Bird Friendly standards (nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/bird-friendly-farm-criteria). Today they produce high calibre 100% Arabica varieties including the sought-after Geisha specialty coffees.
IncaFé encourages indigenous Indian growers and other local groups to contribute their harvests so a wider range of high quality coffees is available to connoisseurs. Also, the growers get better returns for specialty coffees, rather than selling them as bulk commodities through traders who contribute their distinctive beans to a large homogenous mass.
“Low coffee prices worldwide have seen many Peruvian co-operatives struggle,” says Joop. “By working closely with Coopchebi we’ve enabled innovative development and value-added plantations which produce the specialty coffees ideal for manual small-scale growing. We pay a premium above Fairtrade prices so growers can be profitable without resorting to chopping too many companion trees down for wood sales – a side effect of low coffee prices. We supplied Coopchebi with a roaster so they can produce and sell their own coffees, some of which have won awards in Peru. Next year we’ll set up a bigger roastery with them.”
Every year Joop and Carmen visit Coopchebi. “That way we get the pick of the harvest and a great cup of coffee for you, but it also means we can nurture strong relationships, share insights about current market trends, and assist with infrastructure for growers.
“All our coffee is Fairtrade certified since we feel it sets the bar highest. It’s the only formal way we can demonstrate our commitment to ensuring living wages are paid to the hundreds of growers and workers involved in producing our coffee.”
Fourteen years of co-operation with Coopchebi, selling and marketing their green beans in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, has enabled IncaFé to give substantial support to local schools, and to educate local people about the value of growing organically.
CarboNZero and compostable packaging
IncaFé was founded in the belief that a business should be sustainable across the board without trammelling the environment, which ultimately costs us all.
“In 2008 we were the first roaster in New Zealand to become CarboNZero certified before climate change became a mainstream theme. It was logical and I think all businesses should be offsetting their emissions. Currently our KPI of kgCO2e per kg coffee sold is 0.65. We’ve planted the equivalent of 14333 native trees over the years.”
IncaFé uses home compostable packaging and promotes the use of their co-developed, double-hulled reusable 4evercup. Development is constant and focuses on organic, cleaner, more sustainable ways of achieving their goals. They have implemented water-minimising coffee processing equipment and methods, home compostable cups, and continually evaluate power-saving technologies in their roastery and processes.
“Changing to compostable packaging is visible to the public,” says Joop, “but supporting organics is by far the biggest contribution we can make to sustainability, especially since it has such a massive impact in coffee growing areas.”
IncaFé at a glance
- Founded 2003; launched 2006 as a coffee company
- Location: New Plymouth
- Number of staff: 8 full-time
- Certifications: BioGro (organic), CarbonZero, Fairtrade
- Coffee beans imported from Peru (85%), Sumatra and Ethiopia
- Export and domestic sales