U.S. coffee roasters try growing the beans they sell

Tue Dec 2, 2008 12:08pm EST
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By Brian Harris

RIO NEGRO, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Some U.S. gourmet coffee roasters have come up with a new solution to the problem of guaranteeing consistent quality in beans they sell to top-end restaurants and coffee bars: buy the farm.

Coffee connoisseurs pay attention to where and how coffee is grown, just as lovers of fine wines look to certain grape-growing regions.

Brooke McDonnell, owner of the Equator Coffee company which imports, sells and roasts gourmet coffee, began to worry a few years ago about the supply of the rare "geisha" trees found in Panama's highlands near the border with Costa Rica.

The geisha's sweet jasmine flavors are prized internationally but only a few farmers grow the variety, which can fetch more than $100 a pound at online auctions.

Instead of scrambling with competitors to scoop up enough beans to keep her customers happy, McDonnell decided to grow them herself.

Now she travels regularly from California to Panama to check on the harvest at a farm she bought a little over a year ago.

"It's a hands-on business," McDonnell told Reuters. "We view this as a combination labor of love and business venture."

Traditionally, coffee farmers and drinkers have been separated by a complex nexus of intermediaries, with coffee passing from growers, to local buyers, to exporters, to roasters, to cafe owners.   Continued...