"I don't think people ask enough questions. Is the coffee industry interested in the people who produce the coffee that they drink everyday? Do they treat the people right?" Our hour-long conversation with TV host and presenter, Anita Kapoor has digressed to the personal responsibility of consumers.
Kapoor's right. We succumb to the tunes of vetoing plastic straws and disposable cups within a hot minute, but yet conveniently turn a blind eye to the other aspects of our lifestyle. What we won't know can't hurt us right?
It's International Coffee Day today, and instead of rounding up our favourite spots for a decent cuppa (which we have already done), we're zooming in on Nespresso's AAA Sustainable Quality Programe. An initiative where the Swiss brand, alongside farms and agronomists on ground, use the best agricultural practices to produce high quality coffee. They accomplish all that while protecting the environment and managing the farms in a sustainable manner for the long term.
"Sustainability is like a bad word almost, no one actually knows what the hell is it. But to me if you look at it as an English language, it's where everyone's supported, in the best most healthy possible way"
These were just mere words — because anyone can speak of the S-word frivolously now — until Kapoor was invited to Bandung last July to visit the coffee farms. Bandung stands as one of the places where Nespresso's AAA Sustainable Quality Programme takes place, along with other 12 other countries around the world.
"Sustainability is like a bad word almost, no one actually knows what the hell is it. But to me if you look at it as an English language, it's where everyone's supported, in the best most healthy possible way," remarked Kapoor.
In the beautiful land of West Java, Bandung, Kapoor travelled to the concealed depths of well, where the coffee is grown and where the magic happens. Namely, two properties: Pak Anan's Farm and Pak Cahya's Farm. Nespresso's role in this said program, is almost like a middleman. Partnering with Olam (an agri-business), they provide the resources — like agronomists and technology to aid farmers in Bandung, resulting in coffee production. At the end of the day, Nespresso purchases the coffee — full-priced. They don't own any lands nor farmers. Everyone belongs to their own, and they each play their part in this program; like chips falling into place.
HOW THE COFFEE IS MADE
The experience kicked off with cherry-picking, by hand — which helps maintain the quality of the coffee cherry. After which, it's taken and brought through a small processing farm. In the washing process, those cherries that aren't dense enough, don't make the cut and are removed by hand. To obtain the coffee beans, the cherries are squeezed; with the pulp turned into compost and later used to strengthen the ground when farmers replant the seeds. It also makes a great tea. The beans are dried, then double-dried, before subjected to a sorting process to which they are determined if they're high quality or not. The ones that don't, are sold to those who need it for 3-in-1s and freeze-dried coffee etc.
"I went on this trip, looking to see if I could poke any holes in this. And I really couldn't poke a hole in anything. Because it's the truth, it's not like they set it up for us to take photos. It's really happening."
Finally, the ones that passed the discerning eyes of Indonesian women, become a sack of coffee. And in that particular moment, the farmers play traditional Bandung music to it. It's triumphant. Nothing is wasted. It's a secular process.
"Most of us are pretty woke, and we don't want to be associated with brands that might have a great product, but go through a bullshit cycle to obtain it. I went on this trip, looking to see if I could poke any holes in this. And I really couldn't poke a hole in anything. Because it's truth, it's not like they set it up for us to take photos. It's really happening. In my opinion, Nespresso got it good. Their thing is the pursuit of excellence, which in this case, they are really buying the best coffee from these farms."
The trip sounds exceptionally rewarding. What are some of the experiences interacting with the farmers working there?
Bandung is still traditionally, an area where many women don't have a lot of work. There was a female coffee farmer I met, who runs a collective with 50 other women. She had previously gone away to work as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia; and when that didn't work out and she came back, her husband coincidentally planted some coffee and they realised it was yielding. She's now head of that collective. I don't want to romanticise, but I felt that the woman [at these farms] were very empowered to make decisions, earn money, while running their businesses and running their households all at the same time.
What was something you observed about the farmers that you think people who live in the city wouldn't have imagined?
It's back-breaking work. One thing people don't realise is that it takes a very specific and special kind of person — to be in love with the land, no matter what the land yields. Because sometimes the crops are shit. But that's your job, that's your fate, your life. And I think it's a very emotional relationship. I've always had a healthy appreciation for people who work with the land, but now I have a deeper respect for people who make farming their lives' work. Because none of us would be eating or drinking without farmers. And when you see things done in a respectful way, that puts you at ease. There's so much murkiness around food production and it's really comforting to know that there's a brand that aims to walk the talk.
How was the trip changed your perspective on sustainablity ?
What I like about Nespresso is that they don't plaster sustainability messages, they don't have the rating on their coffee or anything. They are aware that there are so many aspects to get sustainability right. I like that they are quietly dedicated to sustainability. We're so focused on the aluminium pod but we don't realise what's in the pod is actually very sustainable.
Nespresso do recycle their pods — and sure I would love for them to come up with a more sustainable pod as it would be amazing. But then we all know that aluminium protects the quality of the coffee. So if your modus operandi is quality, you have to protect the quality. Imagine all that effort, and what ends up in the pod turns to shit. Never mind about Nespresso, but what happens to the farmers?
There's this thing about sustainability being all about proving how you grow it, but I think sustainability is also about what sort of work/job/life you are providing for these farmers. Because it has to be sustainable to them as well. Or else why should they be involved and producing coffee for you and you don't care about their livelihoods? From what I see, people are paid on time, everyone is involved and engaged — they are proud of their work.