Cute Coffee: Fair Trade Coffee from Farm to Cup

Cute Coffee are makers of craft, fair trade small batch roasted coffees, working directly with farmers, farm managers, pickers, and mill managers to carry on the heart and soul of women and their families. Run by Bianka Alloyn and Sabreen Naimah out of Oakland, CA, Cute Coffee procure the best green coffee beans from around the world, eliminating the middlemen and standing in the gap to ensure fair compensation and treatment for all. They then roast in limited editions for the most dynamic, beautiful and delicious coffee, from farm to cup. They are a new addition to our Ethical Pantry. Read on to learn more.

Cute Coffee selects farms based on the heart and soul of women and their families. They reach out to farms all over the world and invite them to answer questions that help get the ball rolling. Once connected, an interview commences, starting with a good conversation that can last for hours. Farms follow up by sending samples for Cute Coffee to test. Cute Coffee then roasts, cups, and tastes it to see if the coffee is as good as their conversation. If it is, then orders are placed and delivery logistics handled. That's the short of it. But there's more to this story. 

Zalmari Estate Grown Fair Trade Coffee in Costa Rica

Sometimes in the industry direct trade is not always direct trade. You have roasters that buy coffee from importers saying it’s direct trade, but they have never even spoken to the producer of that coffee. Cute Coffee is all about connection.

Cute Coffee digs in and creates one to one relationships with their farmers. Their mission is to consider everyone involved. "How can we get more money to the farms, the farm manager, the mill manager, the pickers, and the families involved?" Cute Coffee asks. "The coffee would not be here without them. It’s about cutting out the middlemen who do not believe in the humanity of the exchange." 

Cute Coffee tells us that what nudged them to move in this direction was seeing that everything about the industry was backwards and built on unfair business practices. “The list of issues is ridiculous,” they said. Women in the coffee farming industry are known to be paid lower wages than men. Cute Coffee stands in the gap to ensure that these women get paid equally. 

Monte Sión Cielito Lindo SHG Honey

"There is lots of racism and violence. All hands that cultivated the coffee are brown and they are the poorest. This makes no sense to us. It is literally slavery, slave wages, and selfish people getting rich off of something they did not even sweat for themselves. We wanted to be a part of changing that and do something completely different than what the 'norms’ are. Most times it costs us more, but it’s worth it because it’s not about money for us. It’s about uplifting each other, building an extended family, and new business practices that benefit everyone involved in the coffee supply chain," Bianka and Sabreen explain.

Cute Coffee have been exclusively seeking to work with farms that are run by women and their families. "Men still are present on most of the farms, but the women are running the show so to speak. In some cases we have been able to find farms that are solely run by women in every step of the supply chain," they tell us.

One example is the Catracha Coffee Farm, run by a woman named Mayra Orellana Powell. Mayra started a project to help producers in her area learn how to harvest and process their coffee to get the best value of their product possible. In the beginning, she was advising a handful of farmers and that work has grown now to nearly 90 farmers in the area. Mayra has played an integral role in helping Cute Coffee launch their business as well. She has become a life long friend and advisor to Bianka and Sabreen.

As of this writing, the current coffee procured by Cute Coffee is owned and operated by Ceci Genis and her mother Marigold Murray. Since founding the Zalmari Coffee Estate in the 1920s, the Murray family have woven their values into their work: protect the environment with sustainable business practices, support the Cachí community, empower women and farm top-quality coffee. These women are there from beginning to end with the process, but they have help from women and men working on the farm. Many of these farm workers have typically come from Nicaragua and Panama. This year however, they did not have as many helping hands to pick the coffee due to COVID. So, Ceci, Marigold and other family members have had to do a lot of the picking by themselves. 

There’s a couple of organizations doing amazing things for small farm holders that Cute Coffee plans to purchase through in the future because they have the desire to truly help farmers build more equity in their coffee business.

These organizations also act as a connector for Cute Coffee to build a relationship with the growers. Many producers don’t know the value of their product and have been taken advantage of over the years because they didn’t know there was a whole industry making billions of dollars off of their backs. The organizations Cute Coffee works with build awareness around industry standards, provide education on all the stages of coffee production from fertilizing, harvesting, various wash processes, drying, milling, getting necessary loans to expand their capabilities, and in some cases they even provide roasting and barista education so that folks can know coffee from farm to cup.

It starts with cupping. Like wine tasting, coffee shares similar techniques and endless flavor notes. The more you experience cupping, the better your palate will be able to identify the subtle differences. In the simplest terms, cupping involves a good sniff of the dry roasted beans. Then, pouring hot water over freshly roasted and ground beans and letting it seep to pull the oils and flavors forward. Sniffing the saturated coffee for fragrance profiles comes next so you can smell the difference between the dry coffee fragrance versus the aroma now present from the cupping. Next comes breaking the crust so you can get to the tasting... slurping, using special spoons with a wide or deep bowl. Multiple roasts are typically taste tested at one time.

Cute Coffee Cupping Taste Test Brewing Coffee

Many people don’t know coffee is green once it’s been picked, pulped, washed, and dried. Cute Coffee was trained in roasting by Jen Apodaca, one of the best in the industry (roaster for Intelligentsia, Blue Bottle, The Crown with Royal Coffee; Vice Chair the Coffee Roasters Guild; certified Q Grader; and 2019 US Cup Tasters Champion). They roast the green coffee and make it brown by pulling the sweetness to the surface.

Cute Coffee describes coffee as 'dynamic, beautiful, and delicious' telling us, "we notice that those who do not like coffee have never actually had coffee with care and love put into it. It truly makes a difference. Every time we roast, we roast with care, intention, and love to extract that deliciousness inside."

Cute Coffee Fair Trade Small Batch Roasted Coffee

Coffee is seasonal like many types food. Different regions have different harvest times and exporting times. In brief, coffees produced in the northern hemisphere are at their peak flavor from early summer into fall. Coffees grown in the southern hemisphere generally taste best from early winter into spring. Cute Coffee works closely with their farms to time the delivery of container shipments in order to achieve the most optimal exporting windows during a season. Because of their close relationships with growers, they are sometimes able to get some bags of coffee onto a container and piggy back on shipments in a way that makes bringing their selections home more efficient. A lot of effort, details and coordinating goes in to this process!

Cute Coffee believe in providing everyone with the freshest coffee possible. They roast in small batches every Monday and keep track of minimum quantities so they never roast too little or too much to keep coffee from going stale.

Many people don’t realize that coffee actually goes stale. This is one thing that makes Cute Coffee different than many store bought coffees. If you look at the roast date on store bought coffee (if there is one listed!) one will find that the coffee could be 3-6 months or even later from the roast date... and you are being charged full price for the coffee as if it is fresh.

Freshly roasted coffee is best enjoyed 2-3 weeks from the roast date. The first week of the coffee is actually a time of CO2 off gassing from the roast. This CO2 traps flavors that have not been released. Cute Coffee always wait a few days to try their new roast. One way they like to tell people about this is the analogy of coffee being like a soda. You open the soda put it back in the fridge. You drink a little bit more, put it back in the fridge again. Next thing you know you’ve done this 5 times and the soda is nowhere near as good as the first few times you opened it because air is getting into the bottle from the outside world and it’s oxidizing and becoming flat. Same thing happens for coffee. So, this is a reason to keep your coffee in a dry area concealed from air. It doesn’t need to be in the fridge or freezer. Coffee is best kept in a container or bag that has a degassing valve for the CO2, which allows the CO2 to leave and not let oxygen in.

Ready for a cup? Order your Cute Coffee from Poet and/the Bench

Cute Coffee Founders and Roasters Sabreen and Bianka