Dane is Ally Coffee’s Account Manager for the Pacific Northwest, based in Portland, Oregon. At the Ally annual meeting he took some time to reflect on everything from breaking down old espresso equipment to cutting edge processing research.
I got started in coffee via my parents. They owned a service tech company, accessories, and machines. My father worked for La Marzocco for many years, so it was a common ground. After I got out of university with an international studies degree, I wanted to continue speaking Spanish, so I took that and the connections I had from my folks and from the coffee industry and kind of put them together.
I started doing tech work; fixing brewers, fixing grinders. My older brother has a service company in San Diego, so I would go down and spend summers working for them. Then in 2010 I got into the green side working for a green importer.
On the tech side, half was fixing machines that were down in cafes, and half was repurposing and fixing brewers that were delivered to the shop or breaking down machines for scrap. That was where I started, in the machine shop!
My international studies program was a pretty broad liberal arts degree. I started learning Spanish in high school and had taken classes with a program called Amigos de las Americas, a sort of toned-down Peace Corps for high school students. I went to Costa Rica for eight weeks and then that was really what gave me the motivation to continue pursuing that language.
I started green coffee work in the lab. At my previous job, I managed the cupping lab for five years; a lot of quality and logistics work during that time. My mom owns a coffee roaster so I had been privy to cupping and what that process looked like prior to working in the lab, but it was starting from scratch. I started volunteering originally, sample roasting.
I didn’t expect to find such a large industry to be so small at the same time. I didn’t expect the relationships you make in coffee to last as long as they do, so that surprised me as I moved along in my career in coffee. Being able to maintain those relationships, those friendships, a lot of them being international. The grower side is really what captured me, captured my heart. Working with farmers is what I love.
I’ve had the chance to a few different countries at origin. I had the chance to go to Myanmar twice to judge their national coffee competition both in 2016 and 2017. I’ve visited almost all the countries in the Americas for coffee. I’ve yet to go to Africa! My wife is Colombian, she’s a coffee farmer. I met her on a trip to Colombia so that is probably my most memorable origin trip experience!
One thing I’ve looked at a lot is the question of what factors go into making quality. There are probably thirty to thirty-five factors, whether it be harvesting or processing or drying or varietal. But variety is maybe six percent of that, so it’s not necessarily the big thing. We’re seeing a lot of people get amazing results via processing that’s being done at a very artisan level on an individual farm basis, but there’s not a manual for that. It depends on the elevation, latitude, climate, what kind of cherries, what kind of processor, what’s the profile you’re looking to achieve.
CQI has just started a processing course, which I think is going to be a good step into creating a new level of understanding and consistency in specialty coffee. I also think, being on the West Coast, that Organic is not going anywhere. What I’ve seen is that fair trade is maybe falling behind because it’s not as easy for the consumer to understand. What does that mean? Does it mean a $0.20 premium? Does it mean that the people were treated fairly? That all the business along that chain was “fair?” I think Organic will continue to grow because it’s easy to understand: Organic means no pesticides were used.
Here people want to know their product and the person behind their product. Individual producer lots is still something people want, to be able to tell their consumer more than “Peru Cajamarca.” They want to go a little more granular on where is it from and why is it distinct. Distinctness, uniqueness, rarity. Being in a market of friendly competition, there is always a desire to provide something new to customers.
It’s beneficial for everyone in our industry to understand cost of production. Many times, you look at this commodity that we trade in and think that it can all be produced at the same cost, or that a $5.00/lb green coffee is way too expensive. But is it in Costa Rica? In Ecuador — did they pay on the dollar? There are so many different factors that go into it. Understanding takes going to origin, visiting the farmer, visiting the cooperative, visiting the estate that you buy from and understanding their model. Listening.