What Road Do You Choose?
Semilla was founded by Brendan Adams in 2019 on the principles of support and advocacy — to represent specific groups, for better or worse, in finding a market for their coffee. Through many years of working as a green buyer and coffee roaster, gaps in specialty buying became increasingly clear -- in broad strokes, a pattern of competing for top lots produced by well resourced, trained and educated producers became evident while communities seeking access were often overlooked.
For Semilla, coffee is more than the seed of a tropical fruit that can be transformed into a delicious beverage with proper care along all stages. It's a material that connects history, society, politics, culture, international policy, philosophy, and more. It contains years and year of hard work, and it directly affects the livelihoods of millions the world over. So, the question becomes, how do we maximize the specialty market so that we can make the biggest impact on the most amount of people, while also brining forth a high quality product to the end consumer?
In our small part, we can commit to specific communities who have the energy and passion to connect to the specialty market and we can broaden and deepen our commitment to them rather than buying only the top lots. We can speak about coffees as the product of people rather than only for its sensory attributes. And we can work in close collaboration with these groups to listen to what they need to succeed - from meeting the prices they request, to investing in a physical and intellectual infrastructure that will allow them to thrive in this market.
In short, we commit to the slow and steady work of buying solid coffees from producers without access, and seeking to see the rising tide float all boats.
This isn’t common, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better, but we choose our paths for a reason — what’s yours?
HOW IT WORKS
Semilla is slightly different than your average importer in that we seek to get roasters engaged in the early stages of the harvest cycle and we always aim to keep roasters connected and working with the same producers in order to develop deeper relationships that offer not only stability and security, but also the ability to collectively construct deeper connections that allow for meaningful, authentic sourcing.
For those seeking to get started with a relationship via Semilla, we hold spot coffees in Montreal, New Jersey, and Seattle. All prices are by default in USD, but can be arranged in CAD for Canadian buyers. Semilla is also more than willing to assist with freight quotation and arrangements, and to handle customs brokerage when necessary.
Please visit our Spot and Pre-Booking page for more info on available lots.
BAHO COFFEE - RWANDA
Baho Coffee is a unique and exciting project run by Emmanuel Rusatira out of Kigali. With 15 years experience managing washing stations all over the country, and having been instrumental in the pioneering of honey and natural processes in the country, it is only a matter of time until his work is known around the world. Semilla's mandate in this project is to lend a platform to one of the only Rwandese exporters working in the country, and to support the growth of Rwandese coffee globally.
LOS RAMIREZ - HONDURAS
The community of San Miguel de Selguapa is hidden amongst the highest crevices of the Comayagua mountain range, and here they have been growing beautiful heirloom coffees for thirty years. Only in the last two has the true exceptional quality of these coffees become known, and with that knowledge has come not only a renewed sense of pride and conviction in their work, but has led to a reduction in a widespread pattern of dangerous emigration in search of better opportunity. Semilla serves as no more than a means to an end -- a conduit to the continued access of roasters to this group.
CAFE COLIS RESISTENCIA - GUATEMALA
Outside Mataquescuintla looms the Escobal silver mine, owned and operated by the Canadian-based Pan-American Silver. It was built without the consent of the local Indigenous Xinca population and their consistent resistance has led to the temporary suspension of its license. These Xinca peoples who fight this battle are also coffee producers who gather under the moniker Cafe Colis Resistencia. Semilla is proud to stand beside this group as they wage their struggle, and we seek to do them justice in the ways they've asked -- to tell their story, and to share their coffee.
HISTORY WILL BE ON OUR SIDE
Coffee producing countries are full to the brim with growers, exporters, roasters, cuppers, and other professionals with a depth of skill and knowledge that deserves serious respect. Yet, despite these abilities, one’s position in the Global South, in a community of colour, can be incredibly limiting.
Gate-keeping exists all across the specialty coffee world, and too often the burden of proof is on the same members in the value stream who take the most risk. Not only do we expect producers and exporters to understand our market and our needs, we also require that they provide impeccable quality in a timely fashion, and often, that they speak our language and meet our social customs.
Nowadays, one can purchase coffee by travelling to a producing country or simply by ordering samples from importers. In either case, the buyer is given the opportunity to choose the absolute best, and leave the rest behind. We can tell ourselves that paying a higher price for these coffees than they would receive on the commodity market is the good work we do. We can potentially buy again, if the quality stays up to snuff the next year. This, indeed, is Specialty Coffee Buying 101.
But what is the end game of this? Is our buying centred around the producer or the washing station manager? Or is it centred around our needs, defined by ourselves as coffee consuming members of the Global North? If it is the latter, what is the impact we’re making on coffee in each province, department, country we buy from? Are we improving anything?
Semilla wants to do things differently. And not in the way where we all say we’re doing things differently. The goal here is to share in risk and to put our neck out. We don't just want to buy, we want to see a market develop, and an infrastructure emerge that ensures the ability to participate in the specialty market and continued success.
What does this difference look like?
We want to stand beside people who are doing good work, but need to be given the visibility necessary to succeed. We do that by purchasing their coffee, offering our support, and advocating to our peers that these people are worth support and investment.
It means putting less priority on a score on a sheet and more on the human and social value of coffees. It's recognizing that quality is a long term game, and that finding 85+ cups of coffee from generational producers without market access is an actual miracle that should be cherished.
It means working in collaboration, as partners, not as privileged members of the global economy, to create a business relationship that makes sense for all partners. It's collaborating to reach prices that are not only good but requested and required. It's working on investing in this partnership through skill building or physical infrastructure. It's getting out of the way -- reducing the focus on our role as buyers and importers, and reorienting this towards those who make it all possible.
It's, in short, showing respect.
What We Do:
Work with a select groups who lack market access, or are working in under recognized areas, but have a quality product.
Strive to match these groups - transparently and honestly - with a reliable client base they can grow with.
Believe in a future where our role won't be completely necessary, as client relationships develop.
Have future development goals for each project, and know they can only be realized via real, committed support in the present.
Buy from people we care about, and will not turn our back on them because of a point score.