Specialty Coffee: The Way Ahead. Is It Really?

Specialty Coffee: The Way Ahead. This was the title of the AFCA conference in Mombasa, Kenya, in January 2020. But the question is: Is It Really?

About fifteen years ago entering the coffee industry as a brand new coffee establishment roaster principal partner, in Saudi Arabia, I attended my first AFCA conference which was in Arusha, Tanzania.

The reasoning behind my decision back then was to meet my coffee suppliers. It is there where I met my first Ethiopian coffee supplier, my dearest and respected friend, Mr. Abdullah Bagersh. I met with him to educate myself on the coffee industry and on food science as a whole, having the privilege to cup with a world profound coffee scientist. After all, our business slogan is “Genuine Coffee Habitat”, hence why it’s our proclamation to know and consult the individuals behind this great industry to help better ourselves and our company in the process: The farmer—BONNON COFFEE true partner.

It was an astounding journey, one filled with numerous memories I won’t forget. One of the experiences I underwent on my trip to Ethiopia was witnessing the hardships one of the farmers had to endure to help support his family. He would harvest the coffee groves, while his household members would pinch pick any undesired objects in the coffee beans and harvest them under a direct source of sunlight for long hours. They were very hard at work and did not stop until they would achieve satisfactory results.

The conference, on the other hand, was extremely prestigious, and high-class. There were sophisticated men and women all around who gave various speeches on different topics mainly broaching to improve the livelihood of farmers, their work ethic, and the coffee industry as a whole, to which they all had major, and divergent solutions for each issue. One of these significant topics, at the time, was adopting and promoting a new trend: Specialty Coffee.

Everyone in the coffee industry from seed to cup was riding the new wave and for the next five years like many others, our coffee supplier, one of Ethiopia’s most profound, green coffee producers, Bagersh transferred all of his coffee estates into “certified” specialty coffee farms.

Unfortunately, due to this decision, he suffered tremendously, due to the expected wave being nothing more than a mere tide. Only in the last five years did he start to recover what he had lost, but with the prices being so low, he mainly had to deal with commercial coffees.

Spending a couple of days in Mombasa early this year I attended the AFCA conference and felt as if I went through a full circle, starting right back where I left about 10 years ago! Specialty Coffee: The Way Ahead!

I kept to myself until next day conference I heard the speech by Mr. Geoff Watts of Intelligencia Coffee. Hearing him ask real, applicable questions that we’re addressing some of the main issues in the coffee industry, which when the conference concluded filled me with relief, as it proved to me that there truly are individuals in the coffee industry who genuinely, and sincerely care about the farmers and producers livelihood, rather than attempt to take advantage of them for monetary gain. It was a nice, and meticulous presentation, that then opened up my eyes to a
whole new concept/idea: Are corporate coffee organizations/legislators doing what they’re doing for the right reasons/motives? Are we doing what we’re doing, with full commitment, and planning to help better the coffee industry for both the consumers and producers?

During the conference, hearing how some of the assemblies, coffee farmers/producers, while addressing their questions they refer to the statuesque as the “coffee cartels”, a phrase that could have a negative connotation to the controlling atmosphere by the legislators/organizers. This sentiment can easily give an indication of the questions addressing the farmers’ real challenges.

Don Rushton, Map of the Month – Bringing Smallholder Coffee Farmers Out of Poverty, article Dec. 5, 2019, uses new verified statistical data to understand the real challenges smallholders facing, those farmers represent 60% of the world coffee production. In this article, new data shows “44% of the world’s smallholders coffee farmers are living in poverty and 22% are living in extreme poverty”.


Coffee is the common person drink, so genuine, alive, and special to the stories of where it originates and the farmers who produce them. Coffee, in this way, could be rich, real, and good. Not just by how expensive you sell a specialty bunch!!

Mr. Salem M. Binmahfouz
March 1st, 2020