How Venezuelan coffee producers are responding to the domestic need for high-quality coffee.
BY YKER VALERIO
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Raúl Martinez
From the editor: Recently, we’ve been covering the journey of domestic coffee in coffee-growing regions. After exploring the domestic desire for specialty coffee in Venezuela, we follow how the producers there are beginning to respond to those needs.
It’s impossible to understand the specialty-coffee movement in Venezuela without listening to producers.
Development economist Vera Espindola Rafael’s bold proposal to promote specialty-coffee consumption in producing countries is becoming a reality in Venezuela. It may not be at the scale or impact that one would imagine in a larger scale, but the factors and stories behind the country’s approach areful.
The Coffee Business Runs in the Family
In the case of premium coffee producers in Venezuela, family businesses are essential for the industry. This is because most specialty-coffee producers run these farms with the help of their families, and learn from each other about how to improve their offerings for local consumers.
Joel Pérez leads Cospe Café, a coffee-roasting company with two shops in Caracas; he comes from a coffee-producing family and left the fields when he was younger. When Joel moved to Maracaibo in the mid-2010s, specialty-coffee shops were bustling and he landed a job as a barista. It didn’t take him long to become a roaster and reconnect with coffee farms. In three years, Joel learned the specialty-coffee quality standards and best practices.
Raúl Martínez has a different story. Like his ancestors, Raúl of Saltamontes Coffee Roasters is proud to be a coffee producer. He’s a roaster and Q Grader too, all while advising several coffee producers, roasters, and shops on how to improve the quality of their coffee.
Another example is the premium coffee producer and roaster Trinidad Coffee Estate. Edwin Acosta and Arnoldo Briceño are running the business. Raised as cousins and grown as business partners, Edwin and Arnoldo have advanced their grandfather’s coffee business.
Defining Venezuelan Specialty Coffee
“Some businesses say that they’re selling specialty coffee, but don’t have certified Q Graders or any quality assurance process to back their claims,” says Raúl at Saltamontes.
In practical terms, the Venezuelan Commission of Industrial Standards (COVENIN) published and updated specialty-coffee standards for the local market over the past few years. These standards focus on the definition of specialty coffee, considering several valuable features like origin, variety, physical, sensory properties, roasting, and packaging.
As we said before, Venezuelan consumers appreciate the difference. Be it by following COVENIN or international standards, some roasting brands have lasted for more than six years, while others disappeared after a few months.
Raúl puts it simply: High quality requires hard work and knowledge, which aren’t readily available for coffee businesses. The country’s rural education is in severe crisis due to a lack of economic and human resources, as it has been historically. Moreover, skilled workers have been leaving the farms and the country due to the ongoing economic crisis.
Knowledge is crucial, not only to promote high-quality coffee but also to produce it. The Specialty Coffee Association’s white paper on the definition of specialty coffee is an excellent example of this. That is, adopting a definition of specialty coffee helps producers to identify and promote the most valuable attributes of their coffees.
Yet, intuitively, the premium coffee market in Venezuela has established several traits that actors focus on to stand out: traceability, post-harvest processing methods, freshness, and sustainability, which go beyond what the white paper defines as specialty coffee. As Edwin of Trinidad Coffee Estate says, “We take great care of post-harvest processing, but it isn’t only that. We must control and take care of each link in the coffee value chain through good business practices and innovation.”
Overall, each unique story shares a feature. Newer generations of coffee producers improved their craft after understanding, changing, and overseeing the value chain. In this regard, several coffee producers are taking a similar approach. The control of the entire value chain differentiates their coffees significantly. As Edwin says, “Traceability allows (us) to show the flavors and aromas of the farm in the cup.”
Post-Harvest Processing: The Competitive Advantage of Innovative Coffee Producers
Traceability has become one of the most significant features of the new generation of premium coffee businesses. Post-harvest processing is another crucial differentiator. While most people aren’t aware of the differences, we know that Venezuelan consumers are paying more attention to it.
In a previous interview, Edwin explained the importance of experimentation. “We started researching a lot about specialty coffee (…) we started honey processes, which improved the cup, but we wanted to go further and began to experiment with post-harvest processes such as anaerobic fermentation and carbonic maceration, as well as inoculation of yeasts.”
Premium Venezuelan Coffee: Our Exclusive Luxury
While exporting coffee is the dream of many coffee producers, premium coffee producers can’t compete in the global market just yet. Brazil and Colombia, Venezuela’s closest neighbors, are true powerhouses in the global coffee industry, with a well-oiled and efficient supply chain.
Competing on volume isn’t realistic because it requires a massive investment to improve the supply chain infrastructure, along with major funding for research, development, and education. Still, it helps to look at Central American producers who don’t have the land extensions or supply chain advantages of major producers. We can learn from their work and achievements.
Both local and international factors play against Venezuelan coffee exports, but local consumers are more interested in the unique offering of high-quality coffee. This month, members of the Venezuelan coffee community announced that they will have the first Venezuelan Specialty Summit in Caracas from May 5 to 7, which will be a significant milestone for the country.
In the meantime, if you want to have a sip of the best Venezuelan coffee, you are welcome to visit anytime.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Yker Valerio (he/him) is a freelance content creator. After more than 10 years of working as a management consultant, he started the blog Bon Vivant Caffè to share his passion for specialty coffee.