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Best of ‘Three Questions’ 2023: Coffee Leaders Speak Up

Three questions 2023

Never in Daily Coffee News history has our “Three Questions” series traveled so much ground in a single year.

In 2023, we gathered insights from people working in all corners of the coffee industry, including a groundbreaking Rwandan educator, a charismatic coffee influencer in North Carolina, an artistic coffee curator in Guatemala, a revolutionary coffee roaster in Paris and many more.

All of the people above happen to be women — some in the early stages of their coffee careers and others whose gifts have graced the coffee community for decades.

In total, 12 of the 14 “Three Questions” stories published by DCN focused on women, all of whom were asked some variation of the same three questions: 1) What about coffee inspires you most?; 2) What about coffee troubles you most?; and, 3) What would you be doing if not for coffee?

As we continue our Year in Review smattering of our favorite “Three Questions” answers of 2023. If there’s someone in coffee who inspires you, nominate that person for a Three Questions feature here.

[Note: We’d like to extend a special thank you to freelance writer Jen Roberts, who’s reporting made this collection possible. Find out more about Jen and her work here.]

The answers below come from interviews with: Rwandan coffee expert Laetitia Mukandahiro; coffee trader and entrepreneur Aimerance MerveilleMuna Mohammed of Canada’s Eight50 Coffee; Cydni Patterson of Sweet Finish; María Andreé Negreros de Durán of Artista de Café; ‘Engineering Better Espresso’ Author Robert McKeon Aloe; Gloria Montenegro of La Caféothèque in Paris; Ella Fatima McElroy of Clove Coffee Shop in Paris; Coffee sustainability expert Chad Trewick; Brazilian coffee luminary Carmen Lucia de Brito; Marisa Contreras of Brazil’s Fazenda Capoeira; Joanna Alm of Stockholm’s Drop Coffee; and Kahawa 1893 Founder Margaret Nyamumbo

What about coffee inspires you most?

Gloria Montenegro: Tasting the coffee.

Cydni Patterson: The industry is small enough and with a wide enough reach that you actually can change lives, and all of this can happen over a cup of coffee, and I think that is freakin’ magical.

Margaret Nyamumbo: It’s a delicious beverage that’s social and can create bonds, but I also see the potential that it has to transform communities in a positive manner.

Aimerance Merveille: Coffee is mostly consumed in places that it isn’t grown, and the layers of relationships needed in order for coffee to be what we need it to be is one of my favorite things about it.

María Andreé Negreros de Durán: I love Guatemalan coffee and how it magically comes accompanied by people. A cup of coffee is accompanied by the work of generations, the hope of many people and the passion of an entire country.

Robert McKeon Aloe: Coffee is like a neural network: We have an input of coffee plants — do a lot of processing steps in different ways until we have an output coffee beverage — but it is challenging to know how the intermediate layers affect the final cup.

Chad Trewick: Coffee can be a bridge or a connection between different lands and to the people who make it happen. And not just producers… So many souls make their mark on coffee as it travels to our cups.

Marisa Contreras: What inspires me, motivates me and makes me go further and further is being part of the production chain, where people transform people — where we deliver to our consumers not only unique coffee beans, but the story of each family that draws its livelihood from coffee and has its life transformed by coffee.

What about coffee troubles you most?

Aimerance Merveille: I think one of the saddest things is the dishonesty. I don’t want to say ignorance because I think there are a lot of people with a lot of power and money involved who can see that they benefit off of gatekeeping.

Chad Trewick: The way we apply value or price to “specialty” or differentiated coffees and remunerate producers too often fails to adequately consider the risk and work that they contribute.

Muna Mohammed: The future of coffee and the impacts of climate change are troubling. The reduction of coffee yield has become more frequent, yet it’s still a crop consumers take for granted.

Cydni Patterson: I would like coffee to stop pretending it is apolitical. From 2016 to 2020, we witnessed coffee beans coming to our border and treated with more dignity than the people from the countries that grew them. We sat and watched children punitively put in cages from these coffee producing countries, and our industry, as a whole, had zero to say about it.

Laetitia Mukandahiro: The prices change a lot and the instability of the market is very challenging. The producers are always wondering. One year they can get a good price, and the next year they can only get half the price.

María Andreé Negreros de Durán: As a coffee shop, there are always challenges. One of them is educating palates to consume specialty coffee.

Gloria Montenegro: The first is to change the burlap coffee sacks. They are over 60 kilos and are absolutely horrible. It should be forbidden to have anything over 30 kilos. 

Ella Fatima McElroy: I come from a poli-sci background, so I sometimes think, “Is it really necessary to insist that we have a washed coffee from a country that’s struggling with water or insist that we get this expensive lot of coffee from Yemen when they’re in a civil war?” We don’t talk about this.

Carmen Lucia de Brito: The agricultural sector needs to build stronger and clearer narratives to more legitimately clarify its role in the world.

Joanna Alm: The prices and the structure. We have to start paying more for coffee. If you look at the risks taken [in the coffee supply chain], so many of the risks fall on the coffee producers.

Margaret Nyamumbo: I wish that the gains or the profits were fairly distributed. We’re still working through that colonial structure that has disadvantaged producers. Part of making that situation better or improving equality in coffee has to do with creating a new architecture for how coffee is traded.