On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Amelia Nierenberg of The New York Times joins Matt Swenson, Director of Coffee at Chameleon Cold-Brew, to talk about the future of sustainable coffee. “The standard coffee is not sustainable. Mainstream coffee isn’t always paying the farmer a sustainable price,” says Swenson. “But we’re able to invest in our partners and empower our producers all throughout the globe, while still building a healthy business.”
You can listen to “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” on Apple iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, Spotify, or wherever you consume your podcasts. While you’re listening, subscribe, rate, and review the show; it would mean the world to us to have your feedback.
Chameleon Cold-Brew paid voluntary premiums—additional charges for organically produced coffee—on 89 percent of their coffee in 2018, according to Swenson. “We started initiating relationship-based coffee and adding voluntary premiums to most of our contracts,” says Swenson. “It all starts with having a values-led organization: clearly defining values as employees and as a business, finding our north start to where we want to go and how we want to impact the world as a business.”
Beyond financially investing in coffee producers in Colombia, Indonesia, Guatemala, Myanmar, and Peru by paying more for their coffee, Chameleon Cold-Brew also provides technologies and tools to their communities. “We want to make sure we’re partnering our producers with the right tools,” says Swenson. In Guatemala, Chameleon Cold-Brew is equipping farmers with tools they may need to fight pests and stay resilient against climate change—this also includes food security projects like building organic gardens in their communities. “We’re not just focusing on producing more coffee to buy more coffee; we’re taking a look at the health of the coffee producers in a holistic vision to create a more healthy landscape for them,” says Swenson.
And Chameleon Cold-Brew’s new Cenfrocafe Coffee Quality Lab in San Ignacio, Peru brings equipment and sensors to rural communities, allowing trained specialists to evaluate coffee quality and provide feedback to farmers in real-time. “In year one, we were able to increase capacity by 125 tons (250,000 pounds) of coffee,” says Swenson, “But the added benefit isn’t just our return on investment, its the value of that to the community. We added about USD$30,000 of additional quality premiums, in the first year, in this community.”
“By installing this lab, all of a sudden it’s making coffee cool again in this rural area and the youth of the area are getting engaged by doing innovative processing experiments on the farm: and hopefully setting us up for the next level for sustainable coffee,” says Swenson. In each country that hosts Chameleon Cold-Brew’s coffee farmers, the organic coffee-maker’s programs vary according to the community’s needs—from supporting women-run organic cooperatives to guaranteeing farmers that they will buy their first year of harvest. “These projects are mutually beneficial and that is incredibly important to us to continue to grow that way,” says Swenson.