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Girls Who Grind Coffee & Bean Voyage: Why Producers Should Match Your Values

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The idea of customer acquisition based on rare coffees is getting outdated. This is why the UK female roastery Girls Who Grind Coffee built a brand with values that consumers want to support. And they can’t do that without the help of matching suppliers like Bean Voyage.

Girls Who Grind Coffee Sourcing Green Coffee Beans on Algrano

Casey LaLonde is not afraid to bring the producer's character to the cupping table (Photo: GWGC)

Cuppings: not even remotely blind

Blind cuppings are still the norm in the coffee industry. Roasters receive samples and taste them without knowing who produced those coffees. 

The idea is that nothing should muddle the flavour experience so that the only thing that dictates buying decisions is quality. 

Though many roasters are not yet ready to abandon the ancient practice, there is one female roastery in the South West of England that preaches cupping with eyes wide open.

Girls Who Grind Coffee is an all-female specialty roastery run by friends Casey LaLonde, Head of Coffee, and Fi O'Brien, Creative Director.

Before cupping a coffee, Casey always wants to know who produced it. And more: she wants it to be a part of the experience.

“When you know what kind of person they [the producers] are, it does influence how the coffee tastes”, she says in reference to the three micro-lots sourced last year from Aracelly Robles, a smallholder in Costa Rica.

Values are just as critical as samples

Aracelly - or Doña Ara for those in the know - is the second female producer to feature GWGC’s selection through Bean Voyage, a feminist non-profit enterprise that aims to end the gender gap in coffee through education and market access. 

For Casey, whose relationship with Bean Voyage started three years ago, their mission and work are so valuable that she won’t even cup the coffees this year. 

“We don’t need samples. I had a discussion with SungHee [Tark, BV’s co-founder] and we’ll just go off their cupping notes. I know the coffee is good quality and I trust their QC”, Casey says. 

It must be emphasised that a great deal of trust was built between these women over the years. The coffees sourced through Bean Voyage have been a success and helped Casey build her brand. 

In fact, the roaster believes that it is their very brand that keeps customers coming back. Good coffee is important, of course, but the story that glues that coffee to GWGC’s brand is equally critical. 

Doña Ara is the star of a three-part retail collection, each one showcasing a different processing method (Photos: Bean Voyage & GWGC)

Value-base customer acquisition: the new way of thinking

“Product-led acquisition is an old way of thinking in the industry”, Casey starts. “A lot of people still look for top-quality exclusive coffees and, yeah, if that is your angle then there is a customer base for that.” 

However, the roaster says that consumers are changing and want to know that the roastery’s model is sustainable. “Our customer base is not just about cup quality. People buy from us to support what we are doing. It’s because of our brand.”

Casey is a strong believer that the producer’s story has a positive impact on the coffee experience. “We really loved the role she plays in the community and within Bean Voyage, being the oldest member of the team and so invested”, she says about Doña Ara. 

“She is full of wisdom and wants to pass it along. She messages everyone at night. I could feel that coming through her coffee.” She can also feel the notes of fudge, apricot and peach and says Aracelly’s honey is a huge hit on espresso.

Centro Agricola Cantonal de Frailes, the mill that processes Aracelly's coffees (Photos: Nayarith Calderón Martines)

Possibly romantic, definitely badass

It’s impossible to dismiss the weight of a producer’s character when looking at the different offers on GWG’s selection. 

Aracelly is painted onto the packaging with the roastery’s typical bold colours and an aura of Marilyn Monroe turned coffee farmer. It’s fun. 

Now an elderly lady and her family’s matriarch, Aracelly found the box with her picture on it to be “very impressive” indeed. “I had never seen such a thing. It was very beautiful but I don’t have the words to explain how I felt”, she recalls, adding that her friends and family were thrilled to share her happiness. 

“The information that we were sent about Aracelly reads like a fairy tale, and since we've got three different coffees on offer from Aracelly, we thought we'd treat you to a little story time split over three parts spread across each listing for each lot available. 

(...) As she walks down the street, locals honk, run, and slam on their brakes just to say good morning. It’s clear why she is such a trusted soul in her community - from volunteering her time to kick-starting fundraisers in Frailes, she gives back to her neighbours generously…" 

This is how GWGC introduce Doña Ara’s coffee to their customers. They flirt with a romantic description of the farmer, nestling her small plot on top of “lush and foggy” hills where she is the “brightest” of many friendly faces.

Yet, they manage to capture Doña Ara’s dignity and leadership spirit. The same spirit that makes her the poster girl for Bean Voyage and a symbol of their values.

“What we do is to get people that have a mentality of quality over quantity. Doña Ara is like that. Her selective picking has been very good since the beginning. Her Brix levels are always above 20, making her coffee great for natural process”, explains Nayarith Calderón Martines of the Centro Agricola Cantonal de Frailes.

The Frailes mill, nestled on top of lush and foggy hills (top) and Aracelly (bottom photo) taking notes during a training session (Photos: Nayarith & Bean Voyage)

This is the mill that processes Aracelly’s coffee and facilitates the work of Bean Voyage in the region. “She is an example for other women and one of the first to trust Bean Voyage’s project. She was brave and walked into it blindly, without knowing how it would turn up. Now, if I want to engage new producers I always invite Aracelly to speak to them.”  

With GWGC, producers get paid for their stories

Whilst Doña Ara is happy to find a buyer that pays her above the price offered by most local mills and that she feels she can trust, SungHee of Bean Voyage tries to be a multiplier of what she deems to be a model partnership. 

“They [GWGC] really put their dollars where their mouth is, setting an example for what conscious coffee sourcing can look like! They are super considerate and consistent when it comes to buying the same coffee from the same farmers that they work with,

and maintain the relationships beyond just the sales point”, she says with enthusiasm.

Just as Casey promotes Bean Voyage to other roasters, (she was, in fact, the one who introduced them to Algrano) SungHee is an advertiser for GWGC’s Cheek to Cheek initiative.

The program is the roastery’s response to roasteries “setting up” projects in producing countries despite their lack of expertise.

Cheek to Cheek directs 10% of the sale price of retail bags back to producers to repay them for the use of their stories without prescribing how that money has to be used. 

SungHee tell us that “we always share [the program] with our network of buyers as an excellent example of how storytelling can create concrete benefits for everyone in the value chain!”

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