Cooperative Coffees

Local Libations Winter 2010 Issue

Cooperative Coffees

By Shannon Henry Kleiber | Photos By Jim Klousia 0

How Two Wisconsin Roasters Promote Fair Trade

In an industrial building in downtown Madison in early fall, about 40 of the leading-edge coffee roasters around the United States and Canada gathered to talk about flavors, prices, and methods to make more delicious—and fair—coffee this year. In what’s known as a “cupping,” they stirred, slurped loudly and occasionally spit to taste test the new coffees that might be offered soon. At this cupping, much like a wine tasting, about two dozen small white cups were set out with freshly brewed offerings as tasters circled a long table to sample and debate the beans. The results? Brassy, nutty, fruity, grainy and woody; a few unpleasant, several delightful and some in between.

Roasters came from around the U.S.—Boulder, Louisville, Austin, Minneapolis and many more—as well as Canada—Montreal and the Yukon—for the annual meeting of Cooperative Coffees, a 23-member cooperative that promotes fair trade and is co-owned by the coffee roasters. Through Cooperative Coffees, the roasting businesses collectively choose and purchase “green” unroasted coffee beans from countries around the world (currently they buy from 18 farming groups in nine countries). Members of the group travel to coffee-producing countries to meet farmers and decide what the group should buy. And as equal owners, they promise to adhere to practices of fair trade: doing business in a way that supports small farmers around the world. Working together, the small businesses are stronger as a whole. Because they are pooling their resources, these coffee roasters can have much better buying and selecting power. Though co-op members jointly purchase the unroasted beans, each member has his or her own style of roasting, which is what allows them to engage in this unique partnership among competitors.

Two of southern Wisconsin’s top coffee roasters, Kickapoo Coffee in Viroqua and Just Coffee in Madison, are members of Cooperative Coffees (Just Coffee’s Mike Moon is secretary of the co-op’s board of directors), and they helped host this meeting—the first ever in Madison—from arranging bike rentals for transportation around the city to holding the cupping at Just Coffee’s headquarters. Housed in a former train depot in Viroqua, Kickapoo Coffee has made a name as artisanal roasters since its founding in 2005. They were named Micro Roaster of the Year in 2010 by Roast Magazine, and hold public cuppings at least once a month to let locals test the coffee and check out their vintage 1930s roaster.

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