FEATURE: The Details Behind an Award-Nominated Coffee in Missoula
The 2024 Good Food Awards recognized several Montana coffee shops recently, with three shops winning awards and two shops recognized as finalists.
Drum Coffee in Missoula, which was recognized as a finalist for its Rwandan Sholi coffee, initially shared some of the coffee's origin on its social media account, but Director of Coffee and Head Roaster Ben Gaude explained more about how a coffee shop in Missoula is connected to coffee growers across the globe.
Supporting Ethical and Sustainable Practices
"The very basic fundamentals of good coffee begin with the farmers who grow coffee, harvesters who pick ripe coffee cherries, and skilled coffee mills where the coffee is processed. Most of that effort and dedication are invisible to the average coffee drinker, to us, it's a simple cup of joe... to the coffee producers; it's their way of life and livelihood," Gaude said.
Keeping the spectrum of coffee production in mind, Drum Coffee has favored farms with transparent harvesting practices. "We want to invest in farms directly, in a consistent way to help build community, both in Missoula and in the origins from which our coffee comes," Gaude said.
Drum Coffee partners with Atlas Coffee Importers, a trading company based in Seattle that helps small coffee roasters like Drum Coffee connect with coffee farms.
One of those farms is the Sholi Cooperative, which makes the Rwandan Sholi, the blend that was a finalist for the 2024 Good Food Awards. According to Atlas Importers, "Sholi has continued to invest in its long-term agriculture, planting 18,000 trees in 2016 and 30,000 additional trees by the end of 2017." Sholi also has Fairtrade certification, Rainforest Alliance certification, and Organic certification. About Half of Sholi's members are also women, as well as two of their board members.
Another farm that Drum Coffe is connected with is the Costa Rica Santa Elena Estate.
"Our friend Luz Marina Trujillo grew up in a family of coffee producers and talks happily about spending her childhood playing with coffee beans instead of dolls," Gaude said. "Now, she produces one of the finest coffees available on her estate Santa Elena in the highlands of Costa Rica’s most famous coffee-growing region, Tarrazú."
Gaude explains that Trujillo's coffee is grown in shade, a practice that, according to the sustainable living company Eartheasy, is a healthy and sustainable alternative to traditional coffee growing practices. The practice can also enhance flavor.
"Additional care is given to her coffee in the 'reposo' stage, resting in parchment for at least 30 days after drying before being milled and shipped to Atlas," Gaude said. "Like many of our favorite growers, Luz Marina takes a holistic approach to sustainability, minimizing synthetic inputs and utilizing a closed-loop fertilizing system that composts discarded coffee pulp using wiggler worms. Her water treatment system meets the Costa Rican government’s high environmental standards and preserves the river’s cleanliness that flows through the estate."
From Across the World to Missoula
Gaude also said that Trujillo has visited Missoula to work with Drum Coffee staff. "She was mesmerizing with her energy and enthusiasm. The stories she shared spoke deeply to her commitment to the Santa Elena Community."
Drum Coffee mirrors the positive impact of its growers in the practice of selling, too. "I am always impressed at how good it feels to be at Drum," Gaude says, "because everyone wants to be here and wants to share in that goodness. We love coffee and we love community."
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Gallery Credit: Ashley Warren