Sustainable Harvest - Changing the way coffee business gets done

Whenever you buy something, it is easy to forget that your transaction goes beyond the store where you purchased it. Whether you think about it or not, what you choose to buy affects other peoples’ lives, and these purchase decisions have economic, social and environmental consequences.

The coffee we buy, for example, is at the end of a long and complicated supply chain that begins in some very remote places. There are over 25 million coffee growers in the world, many of whom have very small plots of coffee trees. Trying to make a living off a small coffee farm is very difficult, especially if the companies purchasing the coffee are solely motivated by profits.

To learn more about how the system works, I visited Sustainable Harvest, a green coffee importer based in Portland. Dane Loraas, a Quality Control Manager for the company and Katie Gilmer, a Relationship Coffee Manager, were my hosts when I visited the company at its Pearl District headquarters. They spent an hour with me explaining the company’s business model and answering my questions.

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Coffee in Pictures: Tree to Cup

As someone who grew up in agriculture, I realize how little we know about some of the foods and drinks we consume. For me, it's always fun to find out where foods come from and how they are produced, so I thought I'd share with you some pictures that give you a better idea of how coffee travels from tree to cup.


Coffee trees growing in Panama. Photo by Gilian on Flickr.

The coffee tree produces a delicate white flower that has a jasmine or orange-like smell.

Coffee flowers in Indonesia. Photo by Deepak Bhatia on Flickr.

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Soaked on Mississippi

After leaving Ristretto, I headed back towards Interstate Ave to hop on the MAX. About two minutes after I left the café, the pleasant drizzle that had been falling turned into a steady downpour. Naturally, I didn’t have an umbrella with me (my native Eastern Washingtonian habits are hard to shake). When I got to Mississippi, I ducked into Mr. Green Beans to check out what they had to offer and to escape the rain for a minute. After reading the Oregonian’s article on DIY coffee roasting two weeks ago, I had been thinking about trying it out. An acquaintance of mine swears by roasting at home. He says that it is the only way to go when it comes to making coffee. “You’ll never have a better cup,” he repeatedly claims.

I’m a little bit skeptical by nature, so when someone tells me that I’ll never have a better cup, I tend to not believe him. Still, I’m open to trying new things, so I plan to try roasting a batch or two for myself someday. Since Mr. Green Beans is where he gets his beans, and since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to stop in at the store and ask a few questions about roasting at home.

A short conversation with the owner, Mr. Green Bean himself (Trevin Miller), convinced me that I wasn’t quite ready to try roasting my own coffee. I asked him if it was a good idea to roast coffee if you don’t have a vent hood in your kitchen. He said probably not and told me that a better place to roast is outside (using a popcorn popper and an extension cord), because roasting creates a lot of smoke. There are home roasters that have built-in smoke reducers, but those are pretty expensive if you’re not convinced home-roasted coffee is the best ever. Since our kitchen has no vent fan and we don’t really have a good outside space either, I decided to wait until we move to another place before trying the DIY roasting. Being responsible for a barrage of Portland Fire Department trucks descending upon our apartment building is not something I want.

I thanked Mr. Green Bean for his advice and left, hoping that my stop in the store would give the rain time to pass. Nope. It was raining even harder when I left the store in route to my train. As you can imagine, when I finally got to the train station, I looked like a wet dog. Water was running off my head and down over my eyes. The rain had soaked through my jacket and I was starting to shiver from the cold. I was grateful that PDX has a good public transportation system. It saved me from a long, miserable walk home.