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‘One cup at a time’

The cold chain may not come to mind when one thinks of a hot cup of coffee, but for Andrés Londoño and Santiago Londoño, third- and fourth-generation farmers of Colombian Exotic Coffee, this is the key to unlocking the critical tastes of coffee drinkers in the Middle East, which is a region known for its love of the brew.

Andrés Londoño and Santiago Londoño

“Our goal is to change people’s view on coffee, one cup at a time,” Andrés says, adding that the family has been farming in Colombia for nearly 100 years and selling the beans to different parts of the world. His cousin, Santiago adds that although the company is new to the Middle East market, it is confident about the appeal of its products, given its history. “Our main goal is to introduce our unique varieties, as these have never been seen before,” he says. “We take immense care of our product from start to finish, we feel that it is just as important for the end user to understand the great work that goes into it, and that is why we plan on educating the Middle Eastern market on what the procedure is.”

Every step of the way

Andrés Londoño

There are different factors that must be considered in green coffee quality, Andrés says, and names variables such as flavour profiles or scores, physical preparation, shelf life and safety for the consumer as the most crucial. “All these are carefully considered in our farming practices,” he says, “but we have also noticed from different research and our own experiments that the storage conditions afterwards affect all these factors of quality – temperature being one of the most important variables for these changes.” Santiago, in agreement, adds that this was an important realization, considering traditionally, only moisture content has been the indicator for the preservation of coffee. “We have been researching and experimenting in our farms and warehouses and found out that when the three variables – water activity, moisture content and temperature – are not controlled, the sensory and physical quality can decrease substantially. In coffee, a slight decrease in flavour and physical quality is problematic.”

This also has ramifications in terms of safety, Santiago adds. “Not many people know that these fungi produce a toxin called Ochratoxin-A, which is resistant to temperature, which means it cannot be degraded in the roasting process or preparation of the beverage, and when drunk, the human body is not capable of liberating it, accumulating in it for long periods. Ochratoxin-A has also been associated with cancer development,” he says. “For this reason, assuring the proper conditions for storage and transportation not only helps us maintain the cup and physical quality but also helps prevents moulds and fungus to develop inside the bean, which, in terms of food safety, is very important.”

Santiago Londoño

Andrés points out: “The benefit behind the mentioned features is that there is full transparency through unfiltered and untampered data, which will also allow us to provide feedback and request corrective actions, if necessary in real time or in future shipping. Once the product arrives at the DMCC warehouse, we will locate a data logger to record both variables. These will be checked periodically; deviations will be notified to the coffee centre, and corrective actions will be requested.”

Investment in quality solutions

Santiago also highlights the investment in data, adding that presently, the farms utilise a private software that was developed for the coffee industry and the different parts of its value chain. “It has a specific tool for each step of the value chain with accurate sample registration, monitors drying and storage conditions, green grading, sample roasting and cupping,” he says. “This data is useful to control and monitor our process and take corrective actions, if necessary. It can be easily shared with customers, as well. The idea in the near future is to integrate the last part of our value chain, which is the transit from Colombia and the storage and commercialisation here in the Emirates and even add the feedback of our customers; this way, we can really ensure quality of the whole coffee chain.”

A long-term outlook

The cost of implementing and maintaining a process cannot be avoided. However, for Santiago, it is more important to think of the benefits that such investment offers. “Specialty coffee quality is measured within Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) standards, which are between 80 and 100 points,” he explains. “If you produce at the farm a coffee that is at 89 points grade and is a complex exotic variety, like Geisha, you can sell it up to USD 70 per kg. We have calculated that during the 2-3 months transit between Colombia and the UAE, this coffee could lose 2-3 points in grade, because temperature and humidity degrades quality, so an 89-score coffee becomes an 86, which would be sold for USD 35 per kg, which means a loss of USD 35 per kg. If you bring 1.000 kg of this single exotic coffee in a container, it means you would lose USD 35,000 in this single lot. Keeping a complete cold chain from Colombia to UAE for a single container can cost about USD 20.000. It means a return of about 175% in terms of quality preservation.”

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