The reparative possibilities of coffee

We source coffee with some trepidation. Much of the coffee grown outside of the Ethiopia/Sudan region was initially planted by colonial regimes or imperial powers, then exported in a global trade scheme set up to give western consumers cheap commodities at the expense of developing countries.

To buy coffee, then, comes with a whole set of questions about the best way to repair a massive imbalance of power. We’re working on all sorts of approaches, from individual relationships to structural activism, and one of our favourite coffees of the moment offers a glimpse of positive repair.

The Inga community of Aponte grows our current honey process coffee. They are descendants of ancient, pre-hispanic Incas. During the period of colonial conquest in Colombia, they remained isolated high in the mountains, a natural refuge. The community did not resume significant contact with the rest of Colombia until the second half of the nineteenth century. By the 1990s, this contact was mostly criminal, and the Ingas’ refuge became a place of cruelty. Under the influence of guerrilla groups, drug traffickers and paramilitaries, the tribe was forcibly drawn into poppy and heroin production as the once-peaceful mountains teemed with illegal plantations and violence. The Ingas were trapped in this dynamic until as recently as fifteen years ago.

In the last decade, the mountains have again become a safer zone for the Inga tribe, with illegal crops eradicated as coffee takes their place. The Caturra variety has been planted widely in this territory, on smallholder properties in the Resguardo Inga Aponte, at an average of 2,150 meters above sea level. This elevation, combined with the Galeras Volcano constantly shedding nutrient-rich ash, makes for an exceptionally complex and sweet coffee.

Our roaster, Micah, has worked with the Ingas directly himself in an earlier job, and we sourced this coffee through our friends at Ally Coffee, who have helped the community sell larger quantities of their coffee at a premium. At the moment, we’re loving the character of papaya, mango, and tropical juices and drink it nearly every day.

As much as this type of commerce can help bring wellness back to a community, we think there’s more work to be done to ensure that groups like the Ingas have more power over their own income and culture — and this may involve giving up some of our own. Stay tuned.

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