Juanjo works with green coffee in Uganda
What happens when Juanjo, a green coffee expert located in Uganda, comes to work for a coffee roastery in Finland?
One day I grabbed Juanjo’s, one of the sourcing trainees’ (more about the sourcing trainee program on the end of this blog!) arm during a coffee break asking if I could interview him. Earlier, I had given him a course on different brewing methods and their effect on the final result in the cup. We also talked about water quality and roasting - subjects that are not commonly discussed in the origins, as I heard from Juanjo. He was happy to talk more about coffee with me and here are the results!
"Cupping has been part of my daily life and I thought the coffee is what we make out of it farming, harvesting and processing it. --- Now I know that a barista can change a whole lot of things in coffee by different grinding levels and brewing methods. Knowing all this I am eager to learn even more and tell everything about this in Uganda! "
Who are you?
My name is Juan Jose Suelves, or Juanjo. I am originally from Spain but I leave currently in Uganda where I have already stayed for 3 years. I work for Kyagalanyi, Volcafe subsidiary in Uganda and we export green coffee.
"Volcafe (est. 1851) has developed a farmer support organization to provide direct technical assistance to farmers, helping them to improve their coffee quality, farm productivity and cost of production. The work is done directly with producers and investments are directed to the communities. This sustainable sourcing strategy is called Volcafe Way. It is now active in Africa, Asia and Latin America".
What brings you to work as a trainee at Paulig and for how long will your visit to Finland be?
Volcafe is one of the strategic green coffee suppliers to Paulig and we have worked together for a long time. We have created a very exciting exchange program trying to learn more from each another. We share our information about the origin we represent and you guys teach us about the world of roasting and brewing.
My training is 8 weeks in total, same as for the other four trainees from Volcafe who have been working at Paulig.
What has kept you busy at Paulig?
For example, I give weekly updates to the sourcing team about the actions we have took in the origins. I also help the quality assurance team preparing the daily cupping sessions. But in the upper level, this is about us sharing information and understanding each other better.
Your learnings from Paulig?
I have learned a lot! It has been a totally new experience for me to be at the other end of the service chain.
How exciting it was when we received some containers of green coffee from Uganda. I have been there myself pulping and drying that particular coffee. And now I am here to see it roasted and even prepare it myself in different brewing methods. That coffee is like my baby and now I can enjoy it like never before! It is great to see in real life how the quality team takes samples and analyses the batch at the arrival and feel the whole atmosphere around it.
Also, having so many different departments in a company is very new to me. It is very impressive how sourcing, quality control, new product development, marketing and sales are interacting while trying to provide great coffee moments to the customers. It is clear that communication is the key and the main challenge, especially for a company this size. I also think that atmosphere in the company is very important. Having lots of passion and enthusiasm makes the days enjoyable for the staff.
Interesting coffee fact, you have learnt at Paulig and you want to share
I knew nothing about baristas before working at Paulig and the whole thing blew my mind! For the last 6 years I have been focusing on green coffee. Cupping has been part of my daily life and I thought the coffee is what we make out of it farming, harvesting and processing it. Of course I knew about the effect of roasting on the coffee, too. Now I know that a barista can change a whole lot of things in coffee by different grinding levels and brewing methods. Not to mention the effect of brewing water and the clean equipment. Knowing all this I am eager to learn even more and tell everything about this in Uganda!
Interesting coffee fact from Uganda
Other countries might not have known that Uganda might have most potential among East African countries. It is the biggest exporter in East Africa in terms of volume. Although 75% of the volume is Robusta, but the remaining 25% makes around 1 million bags which is already more than what Tanzania and Kenya export in total.
Uganda is generally undermined by its Robusta outlook but it shares mountains with Kenya, Congo and Rwanda and has great quality Arabica. Uganda is the great unknown but surely will become popular in the coming years.
What sustainability means for you in coffee?
Basically yields and quality. In Uganda, there are no big plantations. The land is owned by small size farmers growing several other products, too, for their living. If we want keep them farming coffee, it needs to be profitable for them.
The two main things that will help them get consistently more money are yields and quality. Yields in Uganda are among the lowest in the world due to lack of good agricultural practices – mainly concerning fertilizing and pruning. Certifications such as UTZ and 4C are great tools that have helped us a lot. However they are sometimes only tools to start something good. Once a farmer produces at a high level of quality and yield, they no longer need a certification to get a great price. And if the good results are gained by co-operation with for example roasteries, that leads to successful long-term relationships. We don’t want the farmers to depend on external factors that are vulnerable to trends and demands as certificates might be.
Your favourite coffee origin and processing method?
I would say Ethiopia. It is a gifted country and they have unique flavours. I like the cleanliness of their fully washed coffees although I know naturals are becoming trendy.
What is your favourite brewing method?
Hario V60 and Aeropress blew my mind when I attended a barista training. They are very different from each other and I enjoyed them both showcasing the personality of the coffee I brewed in kind of opposite ways.
Is there a café that you love and return to over and over again?
Endiro Coffee in Mbale, Uganda. And not only for it’s coffee but also it’s vision. It is “to be a company that partners with others to end child vulnerability globally through coffee and its people, related products, profits, services, spaces and stories.”
Your opinion about coffee served in Finland?
Stunning! Quality-wise I guess among the best countries in the world.
Do you have a dream regarding coffee?
I think we are already living a dream. Coffee has become very popular, it is dragging a lot of attention and investments. People from all over the world have become interested in high quality coffee and also sustainability is in very important role. I hope we can keep moving in the same direction.
We probably agree that going to places and really seeing everything with your own eyes is a great way to learn about things. With this in mind, Paulig decided to send some of our sourcing people to live in the origins; work at the farms and along the whole supply chain in the origin, truly understand the challenges of the coffee farms and how we can work together for the bright future of coffee”. To make the most out of it, this was an exchange program meaning Paulig also got the pleasure of hosting five people in total from different origins and learning from them, too. All this resulted in improving understanding and knowledge and through that being better partners. I am sure this creates more value to everyone involved!