Learn About Coffee

Here at Higher Grounds, we’re pretty much obsessed with quality. And while we’d like to be there for you every step of the way, your friendly neighborhood baristas unfortunately can’t join you in your kitchen every morning. So here are some instructions for making sure your daily cup is top notch, because you deserve the best possible coffee at all times.

No matter how you’re making coffee, for best results, we highly recommend buying whole beans and grinding them with a burr grinder just before brewing. For other standard brewing principles, check out the 7 Essential Elements of Brewing below.

Choose your brew method, which will likely fall into one of several categories (batch, pourover, immersion, hybrid, vacuum, espresso).

Always grind just before brewing. Appropriate grind size is roughly proportionate to the extraction time (contact between water and coffee): fine for espresso, medium for drip, coarse for press pot.

Use somewhere between a 1:14 and 1:18 ratio of coffee grounds to water, or 2 tablespoons per 6-8 oz water. Although it’s possible to extract up to 35% of the coffee bean, the best flavor development happens when 18-22% of the bean’s mass is extracted into the water. If you follow the standard recipe, you have a great start on ideal extraction.

Brewed coffee is nearly 99% water. Use filtered water whenever possible for best possible taste and to protect your equipment. For optimal extraction, temperature should be 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit, or slightly off the boil.

Your approach will vary depending upon the chosen method, but above all, be engaged and pay attention. An attentive barista is a successful barista. Brewing variables can be barista-controlled or equipment-controlled depending upon your method (water contact time, temperature, turbulence). Turbulence, the mixing action that optimizes extraction, is impacted in manual brewing by agitation/stirring, brew water velocity, filter medium, and bubbling.

Filter medium:         
Depending upon method and equipment, you’ll need some kind of filter. Sometimes you have a choice (paper, gold, metal mesh, cloth); other times you don’t (French press always uses metal mesh, which results in a fuller-bodied brew). If you have a reusable filter, keep it clean and free of clogs.

Keep brewed coffee in insulated pots for a maximum of two hours, and never add fresh coffee to stale coffee in an airpot. Always rinse carafes/airpots before refilling. Coffee should never sit on a warmer/burner.

Cold Coffee Two Ways

1. Cold brew / full immersion

Steeping coarsely-ground coffee for several hours in cold water replaces heat with time as the main driver of flavor extraction. Using hot water to extract flavor from coffee—the usual approach—facilitates the extraction of some not-so-nice flavor qualities that come from certain oils and fatty acids only soluble at high temperatures, making it essential to pay close attention to total brew time, grind size and other brewing variables. But cold water pulls out the most delicious flavor elements and leaves behind much of that bitterness, and the long steep time results in a smooth, balanced, mellow cup of cold coffee. There are plenty of excellent gadgets you can buy to make cold brew, including the Filtron, Toddy, and Hario, but you can easily replicate the process with items you already have at home.

You’ll need:

4-8 oz (60-120 g) whole bean coffee
burr grinder
Mason jar or other quart-sized vessel (32-oz French press works well)
cold, filtered water
mesh strainer
paper filter

  1. Measure your whole bean coffee and grind to a coarse consistency (like kosher salt).

  2. Place the ground coffee in your jar or carafe.

  3. Fill with fresh, cold water.

  4. Cover and place in a cool area (or refrigerate).

  5. Shake or stir every few hours if possible.

  6. After 12-16 hours, strain twice: once through a metal mesh filter/strainer, then through a paper filter.

  7. Enjoy over ice. Dilute with water or milk as desired.


2. Japanese iced / flash brew

If you only want a cup or two, or if you’d like to preserve more of the delicate nuances in your coffee, flash chilled coffee is another excellent choice. We like to use a Chemex for an extremely clean cup with sparkling clarity, particularly nice for lighter- and medium-roasted coffees, though the same method also works with any pour-over method. Melting ice contributes to the total volume of water used without watering down the finished brew; the flash chilling effect captures delicate aromatics and flavors, locking them into the resulting cup.

You’ll need:

30 grams of freshly-roasted coffee
gram scale
burr grinder
Chemex or other pour-over (or even an auto drip brewer)
paper filter
250 grams hot water (about 200 degrees)
250 grams ice

  1. Rinse your filter (with cold water to avoid warming your carafe), then discard the rinse water.

  2. Weigh the ice directly into the empty carafe.

  3. Weigh out 30 grams of whole bean coffee.

  4. Grind to a medium-coarse setting (adjust grind setting to taste if you prefer).

  5. Add ground coffee to the filter and level out the surface with a gentle shake. Tare your scale to zero.

  6. Pour 50 grams of water over the coffee to saturate the grounds. After about 30 seconds, slowly pour the remaining 200 grams of water.

  7. When the coffee finishes dripping through, discard the spent coffee/filter and swirl the carafe. Most of the ice should be melted.

  8. Pour and enjoy!

While lighter, nuanced coffees are our favorite to prepare this way, any coffee can be enjoyed in the Japanese iced style.

You’ll need:

whole bean coffee (see recipes below for quantity)
automatic drip brewer
water source
grinder (burr grinder recommended)
scale (gram measurement recommended)

We recommend a 16:1 ratio as a starting point for auto drip brewing. Feel free adjust to your taste preference:

24 oz (710 g/ml) water: 6-9 T (44 g) coffee
36 oz (1065 g/ml) water: 9-13 T (66 g) coffee
48 oz (1420 g/ml) water: 12-17 T (88 g) coffee
60 oz (1775 g/ml) water: 15-20 T (110 g) coffee

  1. Measure your water and pour into your brewer’s water reservoir.

  2. Weigh your whole bean coffee and grind to a medium-fine setting (like fine beach sand) for a cone-shaped filter or a medium setting (like table salt) for a flat-bottomed filter.

  3. Place the filter in the filter basket and rinse (optional) with hot water from your tap.

  4. Add the ground coffee to the filter basket.

  5. Place the basket in the correct position for brewing.

  6. Start the brew cycle.

  7. When the brewing is complete, immediately remove the spent filter and grounds from the basket. Leaving it to continue dripping slowly will result in a bitter, over-extracted brew.

  8. Pour and enjoy!

You’ll need:

whole bean coffee (see recipes below for quantity)
French press
utensil for stirring (wooden recommended)
grinder (burr grinder recommended)
scale (gram measurement recommended)

These recipes use a 15:1 ratio of water:coffee and an 8-oz “cup.” Please use them as a starting point and adjust to your taste preference:

4-cup (32 oz or 430 g/ml water): 28 g coffee
8-cup (64 oz or 860 g/ml water): 56 g coffee

1. Heat your water to 205 degrees: bring it to a boil, then let it rest for 30 seconds, or use a temperature-controlled electric kettle.

2. Pre-heat your French press by rinsing it with a small amount of hot water.

3. Weigh out your whole bean coffee (see recipes above).

4. Grind coffee to a coarse, grainy consistency.

5. Add coffee to the pot, then pour in the water.

6. After one minute, stir to ensure all particles are wet, then place the plunger carefully on the pot to retain heat, resting the filter screen just on the surface of the coffee.

7. After 3 more minutes (4 minutes total brew time), face the spout away from you, and slowly press down the plunger.

8. Pour into your favorite mug, and enjoy.

You’ll need:

whole bean coffee (see recipes below for quantity)
Chemex coffee pot
Chemex filter
kettle (gooseneck recommended)
grinder (burr grinder recommended)
scale (gram measurement recommended)

These recipes use a 17:1 ratio of water:coffee and about a (very small) 3 ½ ounce “cup.” Please use them as a starting point and adjust to your taste preference:

3-cup (10 oz/300 g/ml water): 18 g coffee
6-cup (20 oz/600 g/ml water: 36 g coffee
8-cup (30 oz/700 g/ml water): 42 g coffee

1. Heat your water to 205 degrees: bring it to a boil, then let it rest for 30 seconds, or use a temperature-controlled electric kettle.

2. Fold the Chemex filter and insert in the top of the brewer, making sure the 3-layered side of the filter is lined up with the pouring spout.

3. Pre-heat your Chemex by rinsing it (through the filter) with a small amount of hot water.

4. Weigh out your whole bean coffee (see recipes above).

5. Grind coffee to a coarse, grainy consistency.

6. Add coffee to the filter cone (see recipes above).

7. Pour a small amount of hot water over the grounds to saturate them (about twice your coffee weight; for example, 72 grams of water for a 6-cup Chemex). Allow the coffee to “bloom” (bubble and expand, then settle) for 30 seconds.

8. After the bloom settles, continuously pour more hot water in a slow, steady stream. Rotate the stream in concentric circles from the center, completely soaking the grounds while keeping the water level below the top rim. Do not pour down the sides of the filter.

9. When you have poured the entire weight of water, wait for it all to drip through. The total brew time should be 3 ½- 4 ½ minutes. If it finishes dripping sooner, try a finer grind next time; if it takes longer, try a coarser grind.

10. Remove the filter and spent grounds to the nearest compost bucket, pour into your favorite mug, and enjoy.

You’ll need:

whole bean coffee (see recipes below for quantity)
Hario V60 dripper
Hario V60 paper filter
kettle (gooseneck recommended)
grinder (burr grinder recommended)
scale (gram measurement recommended)

Please use this recipe as a starting point and adjust to your taste preference:

1 serving (10 oz/295 g/ml water): 18 g coffee
2 servings (16 oz/475 g/ml water): 30 g coffee

1. Heat your water to 205 degrees: bring it to a boil, then let it rest for 30 seconds, or use a temperature-controlled electric kettle.

2. Place the filter in the cone and set atop a small pitcher or carafe.

3. Pre-heat your V60 and serving vessel by rinsing it (through the filter) with a small amount of hot water.

4. Weigh out your whole bean coffee (see recipes above).

5. Grind coffee to a medium-fine consistency.

6. Add coffee to the filter cone (see recipes above).

7. Pour a small amount of hot water over the grounds to saturate them (about twice your coffee weight; for example, 36 grams of water for a single serving brew. Allow the coffee to “bloom” (bubble and expand, then settle) for 30 seconds.

8. After the bloom settles, continuously pour more hot water in a slow, steady stream. Rotate the stream in concentric circles from the center, completely soaking the grounds while keeping the water level below the top rim. Do not pour down the sides of the filter.

9. When you have poured the entire weight of water, wait for it all to drip through. The total brew time should be 2 ½-3 minutes. If it finishes dripping sooner, try a finer grind next time; if it takes longer, try a coarser grind.

10. Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy.

Though we usually refer to coffee as a bean, it’s actually the seed of a fruit that grows on a coffee tree. When that fruit--which we call “cherries”--are at peak ripeness, here’s what happens:

1. Harvest. Ideally done by hand to ensure the selection of best-quality fruit, coffee harvesting is a bit like berry-picking: you can’t strip all the fruit from an entire plant at once and expect a good result. Farmers return to their coffee trees several times throughout the harvest season, selecting only the ripest cherries each time.

2. Depulp. The same day the cherries are picked, their outer skin is removed to expose the pulp, a sticky layer between the skin and the seed. This process can happen at either the farm level or at a central processing facility run by a cooperative.

3. Ferment. The still-sticky beans are moved to large tanks with water, and after 12-36 hours of fermentation, the pulp is gently washed away.

4. Dry. Now the beans must be dried to a moisture level that makes them more stable for storage and transport. Drying can take place on cement patios, raised wooden platforms, or in mechanical driers, depending on the resources and facilities available to a farmer. After the bean is completely dry, they’re sent to a mill where they’re sorted by size, and any remaining skin is mechanically removed.

The vast majority of specialty coffee is processed this way, commonly referred to as “washed” processing, though a few variations exist as well:

Instead of being depulped right away, “dry” or “natural” process coffee goes through the fermentation and drying stages while still in its whole fruit, only being removed from the fruit at the end. The result is often a sweeter, fruitier coffee, due to the seed being in contact with the fruit for so much longer.

“Honey” processing is a hybrid of sorts, in which some of the fruit is removed right away, but some is left on the seed through the fermentation stage. While there is no actual honey used, the resulting cup often exhibits a syrupy-sweet, honey-like flavor.

There are many myths surrounding the historical origins of coffee. Here’s what we know for almost-certain:

The earliest evidence of coffee plants comes from Ethiopia, where legend has it that a goat herder named Kaldi discovered his goats eating the fruit from a certain tree, after which they gained tremendous energy and resisted sleep. Kaldi brought the fruit to his local monastery, where the monks used it to make a drink that kept them energized through long nights of prayer. The drink gained popularity and spread throughout the region and across the Red Sea into the Arabian Peninsula. When the Ottoman Empire conquered the Arabian Peninsula in the 16th century, coffee began to travel all over the world.

Throughout Turkey and the rest of the Ottoman Empire, coffee became quite popular due to the Muslim religion’s prohibition of alcohol. It was given the name kahve: “wine of Arabia.” The world’s first documented coffee house opened in Istanbul (then Constantinople) in 1554, though there were likely others before then across neighboring regions.

Venetian merchants brought coffee into Christian Europe in the early 17th century, where it quickly permeated the culture. France and Holland attempted to grow their own but soon realized their climates were less than ideal (we now know that coffee grows best in the tropics). But the Dutch were determined, obtaining coffee plants and establishing a coffee plantation on their colony of Java (Indonesia) in the 18th century. The result was Mocha Java, cultivated from a handful of plants they obtained from merchants in the Yemenite port of Mocha and first shipped to Europe in 1719.

The Dutch continued their coffee production on the islands of Sumatra and Ceylon, and they gifted a plant bred in a special garden in Amsterdam to the French king as part of a military agreement. France soon transported a seedling from that plant--now referred to as “the Noble Tree”--to the island of Martinique, where the tropical conditions proved ideal for coffee growing, and cultivation spread throughout Central and South America. Eventually, coffee spread all over the world, including back to its historical origin in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa.

While Ethiopia boasts hundreds of native coffee varietals (both wild and cultivated), the coffee grown elsewhere in the world represents only a few dozen varietals that share one parent: the Noble Tree. [Learn more about coffee varietals.]

Coffee is cultivated in tropical regions, roughly 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee, exporting over a third of the global supply.

70% of all coffee is produced by small family farmers who have fewer than 25 acres of land. Many of those, such as farmers in Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries, have fewer than five acres, and it’s common for a farmer’s land to be several miles from his home.

The vast majority of coffee (90%) is grown in developing countries. In these remote regions, farmers get little, if any, support or services from their government. They may not have roads, schools, or direct access to potable water. The average coffee farmer earns just $300/year from coffee production, making it very difficult (if not impossible) to survive without additional sources of income.

But when a farmer belongs to a fair trade cooperative, there are many benefits. Cooperatives often provide resources the government does not. The Cecocafen coop in Nicaragua has built schools and roads in coffee-growing areas, amenities that benefit entire communities, not just the coffee farmers. The farmers of Maya Vinic in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico are able to run a cafe to highlight their coffee locally. Membership in a coop means farmers can export their coffee themselves, substantially increasing their revenue, and their entire villages experience an increase in quality of life because of the support provided by the coop.

Higher Grounds believes that we cannot do good business without it being good—both beneficial and sustainable—for the farmers, without whom we would have no coffee to roast. That’s why we purchase from coffee cooperatives that provide resources and support to their members, ensuring healthier, more resilient farming communities.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you belong in the 50% of the adult U.S. population who drinks coffee every day. Some of us drink coffee at home, some purchase coffee by the cup elsewhere, and many of us do both. In the U.S., independent coffee shops generate $12 billion in sales each year, and that number is increasing all the time. That’s big business: coffee is the world’s second-most traded commodity next to oil. On average, Americans spend $160 per year on coffee, which is more than half of what the average coffee farmer earns from growing coffee annually.

Coffee culture has evolved in three distinct waves over the past several decades, starting in the 1950s with the emergence of coffee, packaged in tins, on grocery store shelves. Companies like Maxwell House and Folgers led the first wave, making what was previously a big-city luxury available to households in rural areas as well. You could now purchase pre-ground coffee and brew it at home; the focus of coffee back then was convenience and mass production.

The second wave rolled in when Starbucks, which started as a small roasting company in Berkeley, California, began opening coffee shops in the 1980s. Coffee prepared by someone else became something you could consume away from home, something you could schedule a date for and enjoy as a specialty product. What’s more, coffee was not simply a beverage but an ingredient in more complicated drinks that included milk and flavored syrups.

In the early 2000s, consumers started responding to the second wave with an interest in both higher quality coffee and information about how coffee was produced. Instead of convenience or experience being the focus, the coffee itself moved to center stage. Coffee drinkers started caring more about intricate nuances present in their beverage as well as the details of who grew it, where, and how. Attributes like elevation, varietal, processing method, and even individual farmers’ names began finding a home on coffee labels and in marketing campaigns. The third wave has brought increased transparency about the world of specialty coffee as well as attention to the fine points of quality coffee preparation, leading to many cafes offering brewed-to-order cups and baristas who can tell you far more about their coffee than simply what roast level it is.

So have we reached a new wave of coffee yet? Some say the fourth wave is about sustainability; others say we haven’t reached a fourth wave but have named these days the New Wave instead. There are plenty of people with opinions, but our hope is that whatever wave we’re in, consumers will vote with their dollars, choosing products from companies who practice what they preach when it comes to sustainability and producer relations.

Just as there is an apple and then there are apples (think Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Cortland); there is coffee and then there are coffee varietals--hundreds of strains, both wild and cultivated, that make our favorite beverage so diverse and full of potential.

Similar to the world of wine, in which the word terroir is deployed to reference how a plant’s origin and growing conditions can impact an ultimate flavor profile, we can apply this concept to coffee as well. The distinct characteristics of coffees from different origins can, at least in part, be attributed to the particular plant varietal(s) grown in those regions. Here are some of the most common:

In the early 1700s, the French planted coffee on Reunion Island (then called Bourbon) in the middle of the Indian Ocean. These prolific plants (20-30% more productive than Typica varieties) came from the same stock as those given to them by the Dutch. After some subtle mutations, the Bourbon varietal was planted in Brazil in the next century and spread throughout Latin America.

A high-yielding but attention-demanding hybrid of Mundo Novo and Caturra, Catuai was bred in Brazil in the late 1940s. Its fruit holds stubbornly to the branch, which helps protect it from losing yield to high winds or rain.

A mutation of the Bourbon variety, Caturra was found near the town of Caturra, Brazil in the 1930s. It produces a higher yield than Bourbon, and this is generally due to the plant being shorter, higher yielding, and with smaller distance between the branches. A relatively recently selected botanical variety of Arabica that generally matures more quickly, Caturra produces more coffee and is more resistant to disease than older, traditional varieties.

Colombia, Castillo
Developed by the Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation, Variedad Colombia is a hybrid of the Canephora (Robusta) and Arabica species. It is the result of an ongoing project to combat blights, while increasing yields. Over the last four decades, the Federation has developed a number of Variedad Colombias, including Castillo, known for its better cup quality and resistance to leaf rust.

Ethiopian Heirloom
Southwestern Ethiopia is coffee’s original homeland, and it remains a place where some of the original coffee varietals thrive. Each village has its own unique variety, passed down from generation to generation and impacted by the distinct terroir--soil, elevation, and climate--of Ethiopia’s subregions.

Mundo Novo
A natural hybrid of Typica and Bourbon, the disease-resistant and high-yielding Mundo Novo plant was first found in Brazil.

Timor is a hybrid of Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (also called Robusta). Found on the island of Timor around the 1940s, it was cultivated because of its resistance to leaf rust (which most arabica coffee is susceptible to). In the Americas, it’s referred to as Hybrido de Timor; in Indonesia, Tim Tim or Bor Bor.

Originated from Yemeni stock, Typica was first brought to Malabar, India, and later to Indonesia by way of the Dutch. It later made its way to the West Indies to the French colony at Martinique. Typica has genetically evolved to produce new characteristics, often considered new varietals: Criollo (South America), Arabigo (Americas), Kona (Hawaii), Pluma Hidalgo (Mexico), Garundang (Sumatra), Jamaica Blue Mountain (Jamaica), San Bernado and San Ramon (Brazil), Kents and Chickumalgu (India). Typica is sweet and clean with a full body.

Three main processing methods dominate in the world of specialty coffee:

Washed coffees, representing the majority of the world’s specialty coffee, are depulped (removed from the fruit) and then fermented in large tanks, a process that breaks down the mucilage before the beans are dried and milled.

Dry processed coffees remain inside the fruit (coffee cherry) throughout the fermentation and drying process, only being broken out when the fruit is completely dry. This variation moves up the drying step to much earlier in the process—just after picking—and eliminates the washing/soaking completely, so that the coffee bean is in contact with its fruity cherry throughout the fermentation stage, ultimately much longer than traditionally-processed coffee.

The whole coffee cherries are dried, sometimes on raised beds and sometimes directly on the ground, and once they reach the ideal moisture level (no higher than 12%), their entire hulls are removed mechanically to reveal the green beans. This extended contact between seed and fruit results in—surprise!—a much fruitier coffee. Sometimes the fruit exhibits itself in citrusy characteristics; other times with intense berry notes.

Dry processing is often relied on in areas of the world with little or no access to water, such as Ethiopia and Brazil. What’s more, dry processing uses no water at all, in contrast to the 35-60 liters per dry parchment (dry but unhulled coffee beans) used in traditional processing. To be fair, the water used in processing only represents a portion of overall water use for producing a coffee plant, but every little bit of conservation helps. Not only is naturally-processed coffee an environmentally-friendly choice, but a delicious one as well.

Honey processed coffees are depulped and then dried with some, but not all, of the mucilage--which is sticky and honey-like--left on the parchment. These coffees are often very sweet and can also exhibit lovely, delicate fruit and floral notes.

Coffee roasting is a delicate art and a complex science, and it’s a process that we’re continually learning more about. Over the past decade plus, we’ve grown from two people using a borrowed roaster and packaging coffee in a basement into a full-blown roaster-retailer with a team of 20 who work tirelessly to share our farming partners’ exceptional coffee with the world. In the past few years, we’ve expanded our menu to include not only year-round signature offerings but seasonally-available coffees fresh from harvest. Our roasting repertoire has grown as well, now including a very wide range of roast profiles from light to dark. Currently we use a Diedrich IR-24 drum roaster.

In the beginning stages of roasting, the coffee beans lose water in the form of steam and first give off a hay-like aroma, then a more toasty smell. As they become hotter and hotter, they approach the first audible roast reaction (which sounds a bit like popcorn popping): first crack.

For our lightest roasts, the roasting process is stopped right at the end of first crack (somewhere around 380°F), at which the bean has approximately doubled in size, turned light brown, and lost about 5% of its weight. These coffees are generally characterized by a delicate body, highlighted acidity, and many origin-typical characteristics.

Our light-medium roasts are taken just beyond first crack but are cooled before reaching second crack--a time window of only about 15-30 seconds. At this point, the beans have slightly more body and a sweeter acidity, with still many origin characteristics remaining.

As the beans approach second crack, their structure begins to fracture. On the verge of second crack--which has a shallower sound, more like a snap--the beans have a slight oil sheen and softer edges. Here's some science for you: whereas first crack is the physical expansion of the coffee seed (as water and carbon dioxide split and CO2 outgassing begins), second crack is the physical fracturing of the coffee's cellulose matrix, organized cellulose that reacts to heat and not-so-organized cellulose that doesn't. Because every coffee is physically different--in size and density depending on varietal, origin, altitude--it's logical that each coffee's cell matrix behaves differently under these conditions. So second crack is a little more difficult to predict.

Most of our dark roasts are taken right to the verge of second crack. A longer, hotter roast results in a cup that exhibits more character of the roast than of the bean itself--toast, smoke, caramelization of sugars--so we aim to strike a balance that hits those notes pleasantly without sacrificing the coffee’s inherent nuances.

Our very darkest roasts are taken just into second crack. A few snaps are heard, and then the roast is stopped. Acidity and origin flavors decrease at this intense roast level, leaving a smooth, simple profile with a bittersweet, smoky finish.

What's it like to be a coffee farmer?

Every coffee-producing country is different, but most farmers face major challenges when it comes to feeding their families and balancing farm work with basic needs. A report from the Specialty Coffee Association provides a global glimpse at some of those challenges:

⧫ Most coffee growing households receive only one annual paycheck for their crop, and it’s often less than their annual spending needs.

⧫ In extreme situations, coffee producing families run out of savings and are forced to choose between food and a roof over their heads.

⧫ Coffee farmers live at the mercy of coffee price fluctuations in the global market, and thus feel an immediate and severe impact on their livelihoods when prices plummet.

⧫ Farmers face enormous agricultural risks to their coffee harvest, including unfavorable weather conditions, pests, and disease outbreaks.

But there are many deeper stories behind those bullet points. Beyond statistics, we love sharing stories from some of the farmers we’ve been fortunate to partner with for several years now, individuals who--rising above the challenges they’ve faced--express amazing resilience and commitment to their chosen craft.


Related blog archives:

The Power of Collaboration | Jose Perez Vazquez

Growing Organic Coffee in Chenalho, Chiapas, Mexico | Jose Perez Vazquez

Supporting Gender Equality in Eastern Congo | Herman Chirihimbali Lwango

In 2016, the Specialty Coffee Association published a white paper addressing the issue of gender equality within the coffee industry. Their summary of that report is a great place to start on this issue:

"Equality is a core value of our industry, but gender inequality exists within it. Research shows a significant disparity between male and female coffee producers in the developing world. Much of this is due to deeply rooted social biases that create numerous disadvantages for women compared to men. Overall, women earn less income, own less land, control fewer assets, have less access to credit and market information, greater difficulty obtaining inputs, and fewer training and leadership opportunities. These disparities create inefficiencies in the coffee value chain because women, who perform fundamental agricultural tasks, are not accessing the resources needed to maintain or improve their output. The coffee industry has a profound reach into the agricultural sector: as many as 100 million agricultural producers depend on coffee production for their livelihoods (Jha et. al, 2011). The specialty coffee industry has a tremendous opportunity to minimize the gender gap in agriculture to the benefit of our specialty coffee supply and our suppliers."

Since 2014, farmers within the Muungano coffee producing cooperative in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s South Kivu region have partnered with Higher Grounds, via our sister nonprofit On the Ground, to create gender equity programs and expand the role of women in regional coffee production.

Despite often being responsible for up to 80% of coffee farms labor in the DRC, many women never see a single Congolese Franc for their efforts. Additionally, according to a 2007 DRC Demographic and Health Survey, approximately 1.80 million women in the DRC have been raped, while another 3.37 million have suffered sexual violence at the hands of their intimate partners. However, communities partnering with OTG are working to change cultural norms through Gender Action Learning System (GALS) courses, which help men and women develop stronger, more sustainable communities through economic inclusivity and rejecting violence.

Higher Grounds partners with On the Ground to implement GALS, facilitating gender equality workshops within the Muungano cooperative and expanding the scope of their credit and savings programs. GALS courses help coffee farming families gain a better understanding of how prosperity increases when women receive fair compensation for their work in the field and are given equal authority in determining household finances. Now, many of these families are looking to teach the GALS methodology in other nearby communities, creating a positive ripple effect across the region.

Every sale of HG coffee increases our ability to continue funding these impactful workshops. Learn more about On the Ground’s Project Congo.

Work cited:
A Blueprint for Gender Equality in the Coffeelands," SCAA white paper

When we first learned about the nonprofit B Lab and their work to build a global community of like-minded organizations called “certified B Corporations” who meet “the highest standards of verified, overall social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability,” we were immediately intrigued. Higher Grounds has always been committed to those very values, and pursuing the opportunity to engage with others who shared those values seemed like a no-brainer.

Certifying as a B Corp provides us with a frame for many of the projects and initiatives that shape who we are as an organization. Since our inception, we’ve been forging relationships with people and organizations around the world in an effort to build strong, resilient communities both in our local area and far beyond. Here are some of the ways Higher Grounds has demonstrated the values of a B Corp from our very beginning:

A commitment to organic standards. We purchase only 100% certified and transitional organic coffee from small-scale farmers.

Direct, long-term relationships, transparency in our contracts with farmers, and paying above fair trade prices. Check out fairtradeproof.org to view our contracts.

Investing in producer communities via our sister nonprofit, On the Ground, which has partners and projects in five countries and enables a strong connection between growers and consumer.

Investing in the health, financial security, and community engagement of our staff via a flexible wellness program, health savings accounts, 401Ks, and paid volunteer hours.

Caring for our environment by delivering coffee by bike locally year-round, using recycled and recyclable products in-house, and composting our spent coffee grounds.

Continuing to care for our friends at origin via the Coffee Farmer Resilience Fund, through which we donate 5 cents per pound of coffee purchased from our Central American farming partners impacted by coffee leaf rust to our importing cooperative’s Roya Fund, which supports agricultural solutions for those farmers.

We’re thrilled to be a part of the growing global network of B Corps, and we love the framework it provides for us to measure our progress as we continue to seek ways to improve how we do business.