The journey of a fair trade coffee bean

The journey of a fair trade coffee bean

Ah coffee... If I'm being honest, I swing between my love for coffee and tea but I'm quite particular. If we Brits are married to our cups of tea, then coffee is our secret love affair. Recent figures revealed by the British Coffee Association (BSA) paint Britain less as a nation of tea-drinkers and more as coffee connoisseurs, with our coffee consumption increasing from 70 millions cups a day in 2008 to 95 million cups a day in 2018.

Obviously coffee beans don't grow in the UK, and it took a lot of manpower to get you your morning pick-me-up!

And, if, like me, you’re a fan of drinking fair trade coffee, that journey is all the more wonderful and varied. You see, the journey of a coffee bean depends on which farm it came from, the grower of the bean, and how it was processed.

Obviously, a large-scale coffee plantation will operate a lot differently from a simple (and much smaller) fair trade coffee farm. Sure, you know about the ethics surrounding fair trade coffee, the issues of pay and the treatment of workers, but it goes far beyond that. The number of workers, the use of waste water, the difference in fair trade coffee production can't be understated. The process is more eco-friendly and more worker friendly!

As an example, CIPAC's fair trade honey and coffee co-operative in Guatemala has in excess of 140 members working for them. It may be a remote area, but it's a fantastic area to grow coffee all the same.

Numerous farmers here are performing a trade inherited from many family generations. There’s lots for CIPAC’s farmers to do before the beans are ready to be made into the delicious coffee we know and love. So what exactly happens on the journey from bush to mug? Let’s follow some of CIPAC’s fair trade coffee growers to find out…

Harvesting coffee beans

Winter is typically coffee-harvesting season for many farmers. On family-owned farms, the whole family might get involved. Coffee ripens at a slightly different time within this period, depending on the climate, the altitude, the type of soil and the variety of coffee. Some farmers even live in areas with their own microclimate, which means the coffee they produce has its own particular and quality flavour!

Throughout the season, the same coffee plant can be harvested up to two or three times over. This is because only the ripe cherries are hand-plucked from the bush to guarantee a high quality coffee. On large coffee farms, the harvesters must travel up steep hills and down into valleys to collect the cherries in a basket — which can be exhausting.

The de-pulping process

Once the coffee has been harvested, it is moved on to the farmers. This involves the harvesters often having to travel up and down hills and across rickety bridges to reach the end destination, where the cherries are de-pulped within 24 hours.

While large-scale plantations use heavy machinery to quickly take off the coffee-cherry skins, farmers at CIPAC either use a small electric de-pulping machine (where the cherries are poured in the top and emerge de-pulped from the bottom) or their own energy. The coffee beans are closely inspected as they’re poured into the machine, and any beans that don’t look quite ripe enough or are too ripe are taken out.

Cleaning the cherries

Once the coffee cherries are de-pulped, they are submerged in unique water pools for a full day in order clean them and remove any remaining layers. Some beans will float in the water and these beans are always removed. After washing, the leftover water will contain some toxic elements that means it can’t just be thrown onto the plants in their backyard. But farmers at CIPAC know what to do – they re-use the dirty water and skins to make an eco-friendly compost to use around their coffee plants!

Drying each coffee bean

After cleaning, the beans are laid out to allow the sun to dry them naturally. The farmer chooses an area that’s wide, flat, and clean, and spreads the beans out with a rake. They turn the beans with this rake while the sun shines, and then hurry to cover them with a huge sheet if there’s a hint of rain or moisture about. As well as this, they also cover the beans every night, to keep off the dew. This process can take several days, or much longer if there’s rain!

Transporting the beans

Once the coffee has dried, parchment beans are formed. The farmers take the sacks of parchment beans to the nearest road, where they’ll be a collected by a van sent by the coffee co-operative. Farmers in the most remote areas must make their way along dangerous winding mountain paths and encounter huge cliff drops. Can you imagine having to walk along a cliff-edge while carrying a 30kg bag of coffee beans?

If there are no co-operatives to sell their products to, farmers often have to make longer, more dangerous journeys to find a trader. Once the beans reach the co-operative storage site safely, they’re then weighed, checked for quality, and stored.

Transforming the beans

Once the parchment beans arrive at a fair trade cooperative, they are then turned into green beans. This is the most important quality milestone yet, and involves the beans being judged by their weight and appearance, to make sure they’re of the best quality. Finally, the beans are ‘polished’, which removes the last layer of skin covering the coffee beans.

The beans are then sampled by buyers for quality in a process known as ‘coffee cupping’, which involves them slurping coffee in an attempt to accurately taste all the subtle flavours of the coffee, especially for the special varieties grown in areas with their own microclimates. These samples are sent to the co-operative, so they can easily vouch for the quality of the coffee to buyers! Finally, the finished beans are bagged, and sold to an exporter.

CIPAC sells the coffee beans to Cafesca, a fair trade operator based in Mexico. From there, some of the beans are sent to another Mexican fair trade operator, Descamex, who are the only facility in the world to use the Mountain Water Method to produce decaf coffee. Descamex send the decaffeinated beans back to Cafesca, who transform all the coffee beans into instant coffee and instant decaf. Once the finished coffee is sealed in jars, they’re loaded onto a container, then onto a ship, and then transported to the UK to be sold by retailers such as Traidcraft

The journey of a fair trade coffee bean

The journey has now reached its conclusion and it’s clear to see that coffee beans go on quite the adventure before making it into your mug! And while the huge coffee plantations use lots of workers and modern equipment, the fair trade farmers at CIPAC like to keep it simple. Family-run farms. Hand-picking only the ripest cherries. Drying the beans naturally under the heat of the sun. Fewer chemicals, and far more character.

Photo credits

The One Time I Was A Run Director At Parkrun

The One Time I Was A Run Director At Parkrun - group photo of Blackburn Road Runners as volunteers at Hyndburn parkrun

A couple of months ago I noticed a request on our running club newsletter to organise a "club takeover" for a local parkrun so I thought I'd give it a whirl.  Hyndburn parkrun is a fairly new parkrun course (this was their 46th event), it's one of our nearby parkrun courses and is one that I really enjoy running. So I was put in touch with their Run Director, we chose a takeover date and I was given a list of jobs roles that I needed to fill on the day.

Our club members really enjoy parkrun and we have at least 12 courses within an hours drive from our central point in Blackburn. This year we have a couple of challenges available to encourage you to get out of bed on a Saturday morning; there's a "12 in 12" challenge where we can be awarded a badge for visiting twelve different locations during the year and we have a volunteers badge available for rocking up and helping out on at least 10 occasions in a year. 

One thing I do love about our running club is that we have a very supportive core membership who are readily available to step up to the occasion, whether that be supporting at races, organising club events (running and social) and getting involved in one-off requests such as this. I had to have a minimum of 23 volunteers for the "takeover" to be effective and, boy, did our club step up to the challenge. 

Fifty club members arrived en masse at Hyndburn with children, dogs, cow bells, foam hands and even a drum(!) and were sent out across the course to the regular marshalling points. We had extra hands on deck for timekeeping, barcode scanning, funnel management and photography and I nominated myself as Run Director for the day.

I was very nervous because, even though we had guidance from the regular team, I really wanted to ensure that the event went without a hitch and that our club was well represented.  I didn't need to worry on either score because, on the surface, everything ran smoothly and any little hiccups were ironed out with support from the regular Run Directors who were there to keep an eye on things.

The One Time I Was A Run Director At Parkrun - parkrun logo

One amazing achievement that was celebrated on the day was from regular parkrunner, Karen Shackleton. This was Karen's 322nd parkrun and her husband, Barry, had worked out that when she hit 1.69 miles on the course, she would have run 1000 - yes, one thousand - parkrun miles!  It was an honour to have cheered Karen on her acomplishment! 

Now, anyone who runs regularly at parkrun will be very appreciative of the High Viz Heroes who line the course week after week, pointing them in the right direction, shouting out encouragement and ensuring that everyone is well looked after on their Saturday morning run.  What you may not realise is that there is a whole world of responsibility going on behind the scenes. Run Directors and their support team turn up at 8am to set up the course signage and finish funnel, and to ensure that they have enough hands on deck for the event to run safely and effectively. They then hang around afterwards to sometimes provide refreshments and process the results, sorting out any anomalies so that runners can receive their times and positions as quickly as possible - it can be 10.30am, or even later, before your results are accurately processed. Then there's the recharging of all the equipment and the washing of the volunteer's only then that the volunteer team can officially stand down.   

The One Time I Was A Run Director At Parkrun - getting jumping and posing tips from Rowena!

Many parkrun events struggle to maintain a bank of regular volunteers week on week and I wanted our runners to appreciate the effort that goes on to organise a parkrun instead of turning up a 8.50am, chasing a PB around the 5km course, having a slice of cake and going home to continue their weekend. As a club, we're received some amazing feedback from regular Hyndburn parkrun attendees and tourists alike but going forwards, I have a new found respect for parkrun Run Directors and their team and I will definitely strive to have more of a volunteer/run balance.

The One Time I Was Run Director At Parkrun : I organised a Blackburn Road Runners takeover at Hyndburn parkrun and was Run Director for the day!


Summer Training Recap : Keeping The Miles In My Legs

I can't decide if I'm suitably embarrassed or completely proud of this "official" photo from my most recent race (more on that in a bit). Sometimes I think I need to bloody grow up or maybe I'm just having the BEST year EVER, taking on challenges to help me become a better person all round and listening to advice from my peers. I'm never going to win prizes or stand on a podium again so I might as well have a bit of fun whilst doing something I'm learning to love. 

Summer Training Recap : Keeping The Miles In My Legs - leaping photo from Ribble Way 10k Trail Run
Photo courtesy of Ribble Way Run

After my second half marathon I decided that I needed to try and maintain a 'running for pleasure' attitude seeing as though I was enjoying running so much. Our running club had a fantastic summer calendar planned and I thought I'd try and join in with a couple of the events where I could.

The first one was a Grand Prix where the rules were far too complicated to explain but as long as the members organising it could work out the results then I was happy with that!  The idea was that you ran in teams to checkpoints around Blackburn, found the answer to a clue to prove you'd visited that checkpoint and the winning team was the ones who ran their chosen amount of checkpoints in the shortest distance and the fastest time (I think... see what I mean?!).  Anyway, this was three days after the Southport Half Marathon and my legs wouldn't tackle the hills properly but my team mates propped me up and helped me out.  And we won "Best Team Name" with WE'VE GOT THE RUNS. In fact, I think our prize of a bottle of wine is still in the boot of Anna's car!

Team "WE'VE GOT THE RUNS" - BRR Grand Prix - July 2018

Even though I wasn't training for anything I did want to keep the miles in my legs just in case. There was a group going out for training runs on a Friday night so I tagged along with them for a few weeks and I gave off-roading a go - some short but challenging runs, totally working out the body in a different way to normal road running. I also started going to parkrun more regularly. I knew that I could run on my own just as well as I could run in a group and hitting a 5k personal best felt very much achievable, moreso because I was concentrating on course times and not an overall PB.

Then I lost my friend, Kate.  She didn't live close by but we spoke almost every day via message or social media. She had her personal ups and downs but always radiated positivity - or managed to put a humorous spin on a negative outcome.  She always asked how my run had gone and she was very supportive when I was pulling together my Fitbitches Movement project last year. I realised, there and then, that I needed to put more of an effort into something that I was enjoying.  I needed to be more positive and forward thinking with my approach to running.

I kept on turning up to parkrun, each week knocking seconds and then minutes off my course times.  The parkrun PB I had was from three years previous on a course with only one hill in it - breaking that had felt out of my reach but, on the 21st July I managed the impossible.  A course PB by 1m17s and an overall PB by 31 seconds!! This gave me the confidence I needed and I ventured out to new parkruns (one on my own and one with my running buddies) - and it was at a completely flat course, with perfect running conditions, I got another PB. My parkrun personal best now stands at 32m17s and this is nigh on impossible to beat on the 'undulating' courses around Blackburn but I'm nearer that much-coveted 30-minute 5k. 

Another club summer event was a 5k-Trail Relay.  On any other week I would have participated but I had another long run planned for later in the week so I offered to marshal and take photographs.  The relay teams were randomly picked from pools of "fast", "medium" and "slower" paced runners and a tough course was the order of the day.  It was good to give back to the club and be on the 'other side' for a change!


And then I decided to run home from work one Friday evening.  It's a shade over 10 miles door to door and I managed to talk fellow podcast host, Rowena, into accompanying me. I'd already decided to break the distance up by videoing a little update after each mile, and by mile 3 I knew that this was definitely going to work in my favour - it was only ever going to be another 12 minutes before I could take a break and use the filming as an excuse for a breather.  Plus, Rowena is one of the best people EVER to run with - she has story after story to tell about her time in the circus (yes, really) and doesn't mind being the one to chat whilst I concentrate on just breathing in and out. She was an absolute star from start to finish because she's a much faster runner than me but has the patience of a saint.

Anyway, here's all the mini-clips mashed together - usual advisory warning about the use of adult language (but if you've ever run with me, you'll know that this is completely the norm).  And the title of this video is a play on our podcast title too.

The final major event in the club calendar was the Club 5K Handicap which I had been looking forward to for a few weeks.  There's loads of science and maths behind this but every entrant had to submit their best 5k or 10k time and then runners would set off in a specific order, with the slowest runner going first and the fastest runner going last; the theory being that it should be a blanket finish for all runners. I was second to set off so I'll let you draw your own conclusion about that...

Now, I probably had a tiny bit of an advantage because my 5k/parkrun time has improved by around 5 minutes since the Spring but it was still everyone for themselves on the day. I set off a little bit too fast, panicked on the first hill, tried my best to recover on the downhill and then reminded myself not to slow down or to walk as it was "only 5k".  I managed to take the lead just over a mile into the race but knew it probably wouldn't last - and sure enough, I was overtaken towards the end of the second mile.  But I tried to keep my pace up, didn't look at my watch or over my shoulder and was convinced that my mate, Mel, was on my shoulder all the way round.  I turned into the park for the final stretch - which was a killer - with someone overtaking me in the final 50 meters or so.  But THIRD PLACE (and second place female) and yet another 5k personal best (31m52s) - I'm so OK with that!  And what was really nice was being able to cheer in our elite runners as they finished rather than them hanging around for me to finish at the back of the field.


And finally - the most recent race I've been involved in was the Ribble Way 10k Trail Run.  I thought I'd challenge myself to something completely different and this was a local race organised by one of our own club members. There was a half marathon trail race on the same day but I managed to talk myself out of that quite early on and I'm glad I did because the 10k was tough enough as it was.  We ran over actual fields, had to stop for sheep crossing, climbed over stiles and picked our way over uneven paths. I had very bad calf pain for the first mile and it was hard work to adapt to the different paces over the unusual terrain but I can definitely say that the off-road runs over the Summer really helped. And the lead photo on this blog post is my official photo from that race.  As an aside, this was a brilliantly organised race - not too busy, fantastically marshalled and a great medal and t-shirt for all finishers! 

Trail run pace looks totally different to regular run pace!

It's been a brilliant Summer for running. I reunited with my 'running wife', Lesley, on one of her training runs for the Great North Run, I had a "first in age category" at one parkrun (there was definitely more than one person in my age cat. but that's as far as that information needs to go) and tried to keep up with the 32-minute pacer at another. I attempted another "leaping" photo when our local paper covered a Club Run Taster Session and ended up on Page 3! Also, my two lads joined me at parkrun one week - it was their first visit ever, they finished in 22 minutes and within 30 seconds of each other!  

Me and my running wife, Lesley

I'll do anything for a "Flying Feet" photo


Yes, I made these two and I am of average height!

The nights are now drawing in and the high-viz bib is back on for evening club runs.  I haven't really got anything planned with regards to racing over the next couple of months even though there were two half marathons that I would liked to have had a shot at but training would not have fit in with a holiday we have planned (I'm still a definite maybe on one of them but ssshhh!).  I am looking forward to two 10k races in November that I always take part in and which are potential PB courses.

My Instagram account has almost become is a timeline of before/after weight loss comparison photos plus self-congratulatory post-run selfies. I've been micro-blogging each run on Instagram and I'm really enjoying my recent training and personal achievements. I wonder what the next few months are going to bring?

I need a new mid-run pose!


Diamonds are forever? Perhaps, not for much longer

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

I couldn't ever imagine spending £5,000 on a piece of jewellery, according to a survey completed by Insure4Retirement, a Home and Travel Insurance provider for the Over 50s it was found that 73% of people who completed a quote and listed jewellery as part of the cover required and they owned over £5,000 worth of gems and precious metals. Data from the Wealth and Assets Survey 2016 (WAS) shows that households with, what the insurance industry refers to as the largest ‘physical wealth’ were people who had reached retirement age, such as my parents, having accumulated more than £66,900 in household assets. 

The same survey also shows that those in the 16-24 age group (perhaps unsurprisingly) have the lowest ‘physical wealth’. Now maybe this is because they simply haven’t had enough time to accumulate physical assets but also because the average age for getting on the property ladder has risen to over 30 years old, seven years older than the average in 1960. Simply put, my children don’t have homes filled with stuff, because they are still living with me!! 

Despite this being a contributing factor to the huge gap in physical wealth between the younger and older generations, industry analysts realise that this is generally down to the fact that our next generation simply don’t see value in spending their cash on valuables. “Millennials gravitate toward spending money on experiences, and not things” according to Sarah Berger of Today’s younger generation are far more inclined to spend a significant amount of money travelling to locations such as Bali and Thailand – both popular destinations for under-30 Brits - than on fine jewellery.

The move toward spending a higher percentage of income on experiences isn’t isolated to the younger generation according to the Office for National Statistics. The ONS highlighted that households aged between 65 and 74 are now spending nearly a fifth (18%) of their income on recreational and cultural activities. Perhaps fuelled by the recent availability of reasonable travel insurance for older people with medical conditions. Over 65s are spending the highest percentage of their income on package holidays than they have in a long time. 

As the rising cost of living eats in to the wallets of UK households, the jewellery and retail industry are competing unsuccessfully for the attention of our young generation. The generation currently aged 18-36 typically spend around 30% of their income on rent, in comparison to the 10% their grandparents would have spent in the 1960s. Leaving them with less to splash out on luxury possessions as they opt for Instagram-worthy brunch spots in lieu.

The diamond industry has reportedly slowed as our Millennial consumers are far-less enamoured by traditional diamond jewellery than their parents. “Diamond jewellery appears to be low on the buying lists” of today’s youth according to Des Kilalea, an analyst from RBD Capital Market. A worrying situation for the jewellery industry, as the Millennial generation edge towards becoming the most active consumer group. According to Insure4Retirement, whose customer base is predominantly made up of baby-boomers, 50% of all specified items of jewellery are diamond. If the jewellery industry can’t find a way to grip the hearts of our youth, we can expect to see these figures decrease with each decade, until the once much-coveted diamond becomes yet another icon of a bygone era. 

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in the above articles are those of the author only and are for guidance purposes only. The authors disclaim any liability for reliance upon those opinions and would encourage readers to rely upon more than one source before making a decision based on the information

Blog Layout Designed by pipdig