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Blog

2018 Recap

Brian

2018 was one of the biggest years we’ve ever had with Underground Coffee. As the year draws to a close, I wanted to take a moment and revisit a few of the accomplishments from the year. None of this happens without lots of prayer and support, so as much as this post is about updating from this past year, please also view it as a list of things to rejoice in as well as things to pray for going into the next year. So here are a few of the bigger highlights from 2018:

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1. Training Center Construction

After several hiccups with construction contractors, we finished all the major construction of our training center last month. We are excited to get electric and plumbing done in January as well as start furnishing. The training center will be a key piece of our ministry going forward into 2019. Other than a place for trainings, we will be able to stay there overnight, roast and check quality on coffee and hold trainings.

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2. Seedling Share Program

This year we started a seedling sharing program where we partnered with local farmers to distribute high quality coffee seedlings around our area. In 2018 we distributed over 10,000 seedlings to farmers and plan to double that in 2019. The program has been well received and we already have a lot of requests for seedlings again. This program has also been a great way for us to form new friendships in the village and get to know people on a deeper level.


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3. Team Truck

We bought a truck! After a lot of support from people in the US (and a lot of waiting on the local car dealership) we bought a KIA cargo truck. The truck has been much more of a blessing than we could have imagined. During the long days of harvest this fall, we would have to drive home on mountain roads at night. Having a truck to move supplies as well as safely get up and down the mountain has been a key piece to our success in 2018. I’m incredibly thankful we didn’t have to drive my 20 year old jeep up and down every night.

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4. Our First Harvest

This fall we participated in our first coffee harvest. This year was all about learning systems, capacities and figuring out how everything worked. All of these goals were achieved, as well as we produced some great coffee. In 2019 we will start to scale everything up and try to produce enough volume to hopefully bring high quality coffee to the US market.

2018 was an incredible year. We are very excited to start 2019 and see what God will do through Underground Coffee here in South East Asia.

The Painter

Brian

Just this last week we wrapped up painting on our training center. What was supposed to have been a 3 month construction project has turned into about 15 months. We had to get rid of our original contractor and instead have found individual contractors to do small parts of the job.

We had a contractor lined up to paint but then a family in our village church had a financial emergency. The son in the family had taken out a high-interest loan to buy a motorbike and had no way of repaying (predatory loans are VERY common here). The loan-shark had just repossessed the bike and the family was told they had 3 days to repay. The father in the family (he’s in his mid-50’s) came to us and said they were planning to sell their land and move to another village if they couldn’t figure out another plan.

Our local partners were worried because the village they would move to doesn’t have any believers or a church for them to join. The family is all new believers. The mother, son and daughter attend church most Sundays. I’d never seen the father at church before, however we know him pretty well because his farm is right next to ours. He’s a rough older guy who smokes a lot and until a couple months ago drank a lot as well. The first time I met him was preparing for the Christmas party a couple years ago. I was working with a few of the younger guys trying to figure out how to kill an angry cow we were planning to eat. It wasn’t going well and one guy almost got kicked. The old father walks up and tells us to get out of the way. He takes a log from the fire, smacks the cow on the head, it falls over and he walks away. He’s a tough old guy.

As we talked to the father about how they needed money for the bike, he asked who was going to paint the building. We told him we had talked to someone lined up and he said he was a painter and could do it for the same price. I had my doubts, but our local friends said this would be a good opportunity to help his family out of this financial situation. So we decided to hire him on.

It has been two months of very slow painting. The first week he showed up maybe one day. The second week he showed up with a crew of 5 young guys. Turns out he’s scared of heights so he hired his nephew and friends to paint the outside of the building. As you can see from the picture, we had problems with them taking safety seriously. (And as you can’t tell from the picture, we couldn’t get them to quit smoking as they applied wood-stain/paint-thinner). Over the past month the father been slowly but consistently working every day.

After the father started painting, I started to see him at church on Sundays. It was the first time I’d ever seen him there. We also have lunch together on the farm most days and he would join in (because free food). On Monday’s we always have a meeting/devotional with lunch and he would eagerly participate in the Bible study. He has almost no spiritual knowledge and was eager to learn and talk with us. Our local partners are always asking him to pray. He was very shy about it the first few times and still often declines, but our local friends force him to anyway.

We just finished up our contracted painting with him and we’re thankful for the time. There are spots where the paint isn’t even or drips of different colors are now sealed under layers of stain because he wasn’t careful. But I’m happy with the work. The perfectionist in me notices, but I smile because I know what it accomplished.

Harvest

Brian

After a long blogging hiatus, I wanted to take a moment and update everyone on our progress on this year’s harvest. For the last ten months we have been working hard building, planning, and preparing for the months of October, November and December when all of the coffee in our area is picked. Here’s a few pictures and updates of everything that has been involved:

This spring we built our wet-mill - which allows us to pulp coffee cherries, ferment the remaining coffee parchment in water tanks, and then clean/check quality in a wash channel.

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We also had to import several pieces of equipment in order to process the coffee. A not-so-fun-side-note is that we had to re-wire our main electricity from the meter (over 200 meters away) because the original electrician didn’t do it correctly.

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In order to dry our coffee properly we built a solar drying house. This sounds much fancier than it really is (essentially a plastic greenhouse). Because we’re trying to do everything in the village, which has colder temperatures and rain showers, the drying house has been a great addition. We spent the rainy season building all of our wooden drying racks, which keeps the coffee from getting dirty and also helps with airflow for better drying.

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Finally we’ve spent a lot of time getting to know farmers in our area and figuring out what types of coffee they have. One thing we’ve learned is that our village has very little coffee of high genetic quality (at least until our seedling program takes off in a few years). We met a man from a neighboring village last Christmas that invited us to work in his village about 15 minutes away. Thankfully they have lots of high quality coffee there. We’ve been working with villagers to improve their quality of picking and we’ve been very happy with their hard work.

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So every afternoon about 4pm we drive over to the neighboring village and buy the coffee cherries that the farmers pick during the day. A lot of this time is spent sitting around waiting on farmers, so this has given us a great chance to talk to people in that village. We have met dozens of new people and look forward to getting to know them more throughout this next year.

We arrive back at the mill around 5:30, run the coffee through our pulper and let it sit overnight in the ferment tank (thankfully our local guys in the village run this part so we can get back to town at a decent hour). The next morning we empty the coffee out of the tanks, clean the coffee of the remaining sticky mucilage and float it in the wash channel to help with quality. Finally it goes onto the drying racks for 10-15+ days of drying.

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After all of our coffee is dry and has time to level out moisture inside of each bean, we’ll run it through our coffee huller to take off the parchment. Then we’ll hand sort all the coffee to remove defects and bag it all up. Thankfully all that will be a job for the spring.

This year has been a great year of learning, implementing systems and also figuring out what are our capacities and bottlenecks. We’re looking forward to more coffee in the coming years and getting great coffee exported to the US.