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RAMACAFE 2008 – Where The Coffee Spirit Lives On… PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 27 October 2008 22:59

It was passion above anything else. Passion for the bean, passion for the trade, passion for the baristas, passion for the industry and, above all, it was passion for the coffee producer. The 2008 Ramacafe show in Nicaragua, now in its 8th year, once again managed to stroll down new roads and explore unknown territory. And even under the immense pressure by ongoing global economic turmoil felt wide and heavy in all corners of the industry, Ramacafe maintained that special spirit and soul that coffee lovers across the world cherrish as "True Coffee Spirit."

BY MAJA WALLENGREN

It has become the little show that could. Where other shows struggle in order to continue to build momentum and find new ways to reinvent their relevance to an ever growing audience of increasingly demanding coffee lovers, Ramacafe has managed to keep up with the trends in coffee.

So it was no wonder that as Ramacafe got well underway this past Sept. 1-3 in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, it was a beaming Henry Hueck that was spotted strolling down the exhibition floor in the Crown Plaza Hotel, while greeting the crowd congratulating him for yet another successful show.

 

"I think it went very well. It was different; we had new blood coming into the show this year in a lot of new presenters and we switched the focus to two areas, really trying to take a look at what we can do with the cost of production and internal consumption," Hueck told the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal in an interview.

 

"We had more stands, and we had new stands like Ecological Finance, and much more representation from Central America, Colombia and from Mexico alone we had 25 people. This year we had much more of a local and regional focus which really provide valuable insight to the producers," said Hueck.

And the numbers speak for themselves. When Ramacafe first opened its doors in 2001 it barely had 100 registered participants. But by 2004 this number had grown to some 450 and this year almost 600 people, including 175 participants from 16 countries, turned up for one of Central America‘s leading coffee events.

 

"It’s been a good show, it’s been busy, and it has held up well compared to the previous years," said Thomas Mitchell, of the consultancy group the Strategic Coffee Concepts and one of the 2008 Ramacafe speakers.

Enthusiasm was everywhere to be found. At the stands and during the fully packed conference hall. In the hallway and in the barista workshops.

 

"The energy you got at the barista worshops was just amazing. I have never seen anything like this, all these young baristas from Central America were just incredible," marveled Mireya Jones, of the Dona Mireya Estate Coffees and Finca Dos Marias, a fifth generation coffee family from Guatemala’s northern Quetzaltenango region.

 

"This is the first time I’m in a producer country and it’s been an amazing experience," said Stephen Morrissey, the 2008 World Barista Champion.

 

"We are still behind in Nicaragua, and we are still learning, but I feel we are catching up really quickly, and this is a really great event to share experiences with the other baristas," said Luis Lopez, Nicaraguan barista champion,

 

There is no denying that the mood at Ramacafe was a lot more upbeat than the mood seen at conferences four and five years ago. The coffee industry has come a long way toward recovery from the depressing state seen during the 2000-2004 coffee crisis when international prices dipped to historical lows and hundreds of children of producers starved to death from the levels of severe malnutrition brought about by the explosion of poverty across the coffee lands in South-East Asia, Africa and Latin America.

 

And while nobody are anticipating a return to such difficult times, in a year of global market turmoil and rising uncertainty over prices, economic slow-down and out-of-control cost of production for producers, this conference was no easy picnic either. Difficult questions were raised, and harsh answers were heard at Ramacafe. Yes, the cost of fertilizer may still go to even unknown new highs; and yes, we have no way to ensure that the ‘C’ price will stay in the 130-cents range. And yes, if the worst economic crisis since the great depression of the 1930s is indeed looming, then how exactly is consumption going to escape unhurt?

 

Many workshops focused on the striving efforts to raise domestic consumption in Central America, where most countries still record per capita consumption of just over 2 kilograms per person per year, compared to over 10 kilograms in the world’s top coffee consuming nations of the Scandinavian countries and Finland.

 

Cristina Lopez of the Nicaraguan coffee chain Café Latino told the audience about how they had been able to raise coffee prices 25% this year without hurting sales, and Pablo Gonzalez of Mexico’s Café El Cielo reinforced the need for quality and education going hand in hand in the experience of establishing a new brand or coffee shop.

 

And however slowly the advances may seem to newcomers to Central America, domestic coffee consumption is growing rapidly from north to south.

 

"Look at Nicaragua, just a few years ago you would barely find coffee shops at all in the shopping centers, and now you go to the mall and you will have up to seven cafes all dedicated to coffee. And we see the same everywhere in the region; in Mexico, in Guatemala, in El Salvador. Even in Honduras are we starting to see this develop," said a trader with a large exporter in the region.

 

But the one theme that got more attention than any other, was all centered around the cost of production and the debate of just where prices may be headed.

 

Fertilizer costs have increased three fold for most producers in the last two years and most producers are now talking about a cost of production of between 90 cents per pound and 110 c/lb depending on fertilizer use. This compares to costs of production that just two or three years ago could be found within the range of 60 c/lb to 80 c/lb.

 

"You are not seeing premiums reflecting these higher costs," said Judith Ganes-Chase, of her own Judith Ganes Consultancy. In fact, as a result of Arabica futures prices staying within the band of 130 cents to 140 cents for the majority of 2008, most producers are back in negative territory for differentials today and have to accept a discount of between 5 c/lb and 10 c/lb.

 

"The question is, does this market has room to rally further to pay for these higher costs," asked Judith Ganes. This, of course, is the million dollar question that no one knows. The New York Arabica future prices have since Ramacafe fallen below 120 cents per pound, but oil prices have fallen even more. The next few months will show whether the lower oil prices will offset the higher cost of production to a level where producers are still able to manage a cost of production below the price they receive in the market.

 

There were moments of quiet drama, like when Central American participants were reminded of the harsh reality that so many coffee producing countries deal with on a daily basis through Nicaraguan singer Keyla Rodriguez taking the stage during Ramacafe’s 2nd day’s gala dinner. Rodriguez, who with her Cuban roots is a well-established name in the Nicaraguan entertainment industry, delighted crowds with her spicy voice and sexy salsa moves, and quickly got the coffee crowd’s passion extended from obsessing about the little bean into sensual rhythms of latino dancing.

 

What only few of the international guests knew, however, was that Rodriguez earlier this year was confronted with the terrifying ordeal of losing her husband in one of the violent assaults that have become so random in Central America today. Nicaraguans, and fellow Central Americans like, were shocked when they learned how Rodriguez’ husband was shot to death point blank in his car. But the reality is that the threat of such ordeals have become part of daily life and pose a growing challenge to producers in rural communities and isolated parts of the growing regions.

 

And there were moments of somberness. As when the entire conference hall rose for a minute of applause to honor the death of the Esteli-based Prodecoop cooperative leader’s founding president.

 

And then there were the teary-eyed moments of pure nostalgia; like when the name of Franc Bendana came up in number of presentations, and participants, one after the other, from Nicaragua or from abroad, passed the stand of Don "Paco" Franc Benadana’s legacy, now captivating the heart and soul of this much loved producer in the new Nicaraguan brand "Don Paco". Here was the presentation when Don Paco was featured in the picture inspecting the new harvest at his legendary farm el Quetzal in the heartland of the Nicraguan coffee lands of Matagalpa. Here was the documentary of the legacy of Don Paco showing how history was built in that particular farm and how exemptions were never made to ensure that the quality in every coffee bean as well as every coffee human life were preserved in the chain of production.

 

"This is what my father wanted; he had everything written down in detail in his testament and now we are finally finishing the process of setting the new brand and the company "Don Paco" up in the spirit exactly according to my father‘s wishes," said Don Paco’s son Roberto Bendana. Don Franc passed away last year, but his legacy is certain to live on.

 

And this is what coffee spirit is all about: The sensation that we all belong to the same one big extended family. The real friendships that are built through years of going to conferences like Ramacafe and meeting other coffee-crazed people from across the world across producer, trade and importers relations.

 

The amazing mental caffeine boost you get feeling like you are coming home to a family reunion of loved ones the minute you enter a conference hall buzzing around with coffee people from all walks of lives.

 

By the heart of that spirit stands the producer. And even though you hear producers complain about prices, you rarely will hear coffee producers complain about the multiple challenges they face day after day, year after year, because coffee producers are essentially the world’s ultimate survivors. From natural disasters including either earthquakes, hurricanes or both on an annual basis, to rampant crime, corruption and endemic poverty, coffee producers across the world continue to get up every day. If they have to rebuild their lives from scratch, they will do so, time after time. And this, is perhaps where the most important root of true coffee spirit starts: with the growers.

 

This is what ultimately makes the coffee producers the real heroes of today’s increasingly difficult and complicated world and it’s an important reminder to the coffee industry at large to see events like Ramacafe ,that still puts the coffee producer at the center of events. Without the coffee growers, none of this amazing industry would exist. Let’s not forget to think about that, shall we?

 

ENDS © MAJA WALLENGREN, OCTOBER 2008

 

*******

Global Coffee Reporter

Researcher and Writer

Tel: +52-55-5400.9043

P.O. Box #5-257

06500 Mexico City DF

MEXICO

 

 
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