Cooperative Coffees is a green coffee importing cooperative committed to supporting and partnering with small-scale coffee farmers and their exporting cooperatives. By importing directly from our partner-farmers, we do business in a way that creates a fairer, more transparent and sustainable system of coffee trade that directly benefits these farmers, their families and their communities.
Coop Coffees' story began in 1997, when founder Bill Harris -- inspired by his encounter with a Guatemalan coffee coop on a Habitat for Humanity delegation -- decided to start up a roasting company that would import and roast fairly traded coffee beans from Central America. By 1998, Cafe Campesino, the roasting company, imported one full container -- approximately 40,000 pounds of coffee. Needless to say, they were up to their ears in green coffee that would have taken them years to go through themselves. So Bill got in his car and took a road trip up and down the eastern seaboard and through the Midwest, looking for value-driven roasters who were interested in investing in a collective effort for importing coffee. In 1999, seven roasters met in Atlanta and officially formed Cooperative Coffees. In 2009, 10 years down the road, the cooperative had grown to include 23 roasters who spanned the continent from the Yukon to the panhandle of Florida. Committed to sourcing sustainably grown coffees and to partnering closely with the farmers who grow it,our roasters know that by working together, cooperatively, they can more readily impact and multiply the positive effects of their selective coffee purchasing.
Here's the PDF version of our printed timeline folder made for our 10th Anniversary in 2009.
To learn more about the way the coop was started and has since evolved, click on the links below:
During and initial fact-finding tour in Central America and Mexico, Bill Harris makes contact with many producer cooperatives and meets Monika Firl, then working with coffee-farmer coops in Chiapas, who five years later would take charge of Cooperative Coffee's Producer Relations and Purchasing.
Inspired with the idea of creating a “First-of-its-Kind Fair Trade Coffee Roaster Coop” – Bill embarks upon another road-trip. This time he scouts out the midwest and eastern USA and identifies the seven original roaster members: Bongo Java, Cafe Campesino, Dean’s Beans, Heine Bros Coffee, Larry’s Beans, Los Armadillos (now Third Coast Coffee) and Peace Coffee . In November, an organizational meeting is held in Atlanta and shortly thereafter Cooperative Coffees is legally founded and registered in the state of Minnesota on December 21 1999.
Our first full container loads are imported from Guatemala, Mexico and Sumatra
- Guatemala: Since Bill’s earliest visits to Guatemala, we are in contact with APECAFORM – a long and trusted producer partner
- Mexico: Mut Vitz,the first Zapatista coop capable of direct export, becomes an inspiration and meeting place for many of our early roasters. Likewise, they are the first roasters – along with Kerry Appel of the “Human Bean Co” – to offer this coffee in the North American market... and support a new future for communities in the Highlands of Chiapas.
- Sumatra – Via our relationship with Forestrade, the initial export channel for Sumatran Fair Trade and organic coffee, we begin direct imports from PPKGO. In 2003, Dean Cycon of Dean’s Beans and Mel Megan of Peace Coffee participate in the “Coffee not War” friendship tour in Aceh, Sumatra. Cloudforest, Alternative Grounds and Bean North all join the coop in early 2000
We add new trading partners from Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and East Timor
- Ethiopia – Bob Bernstien of Bongo Java, TJ Semanchin (then) of Peace Coffee and Dean of Dean's Bean take the first fact-finding trip to Oromia Union. Cooperative Coffees purchases the first Fair Trade and Organic Sidamo and Yirgacheffee coffees available in the North American market.
- Nicaragua – At the recommendation of brothers Charlie and Bill Fishbein – we visit a “new union of coffee producer cooperatives based in Matagalpa. We resonate with the spiritual leadership of Pedro Haslam, and begin what turns out to be a long and rewarding relationship with CECOCAFEN.
- East Timor- Cooperativa Cafe Timor comes on to the Fair Trade scene and Cooperative Coffees is one of the first to begin importing this new source to North America.
Monika is hired as Cooperative Coffees first employee, and a Producer Relations “office” is established in Canada; meanwhile, she has acquired a new side-kick and eager travel partner. The Early crew in Madison starts up a coffee roasting company in order to offer support in a sustainable way Autonomous Communities in Chiapas, Mexico. In October 2002, Just Coffee becomes the 15th member of Cooperative Coffees. Deans Beans hosts the 2nd AGM in October 2002 at their new roastery located in Orange, MA.
Cooperative Coffees supports the FLO registration and purchases the first container of Fair Trade and organic coffee exported by Maya Vinic – a coop of some 500 producers growing out of years of living in internal displacement in the aftermath of the Acteal massacre suffered in their region of influence.
We import our first container from Peru, thanks to a commitment and prior relationship Dean’s Beans had developed with the Cooperativa Agraria Cafetalera Pangoa, we begin what has become one of our most stable and rewarding relationships.
We hold our AGM in Americus, GA September 2003. Through a series serendipity and good luck, we end the meeting with an opportunity to lunch with Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, resulting in friendly communication for future encounters.
Chris and Jody Treter continue to cross paths with Cooperative Coffees, in conferences and the fields.... when Higher Grounds Trading Co is legally founded in 2003, they apply and become the 16th member.
We receive samples and contact information for Fondo Paez (via roaster-member Alternative Grounds) and begin communicating directly to help them with FLO registration. We import their first containers of transitional organic coffee.
Thanks to a prior relationship with the Just Coffee crew, we meet Santa Anita – Colombo, Guatemala – and support them with FLO registration and their first direct export in March 2004. Since then, the relationship has led to many direct roaster projects to help producers improve production and family income.
Abby is hired as office support in Americus... and continues to date as the office manager and somehow manages to keep things flowing smoothly – come what may!
CoopCoffees co-sponsors, together with Equal Exchange and the FTRN, the forum Fair Trade Coffee: Strategies and Consumer Education, bringing together producers, importers, financers and Fair Trade NGO allies for the first time at the Carter Center in Atlanta. We are graced with an inspiring participation by President Jimmy Carter.
Cooperative Coffees becomes a member of the International Federation of Alternative Traders (IFAT) – a network of traders with “Fair Trade at the Heart” of their business.
Our 4th AGM is held in Montreal in September 2004.
We met Mark and Mel in the coffee fields of El Bosque, Chiapas in 2001. In January of 2004 Conscious Coffees, originally of Breckenridge - now located in Boulder, Colorado becomes the 17th member.
Higher Grounds Trading leads the way in Ethiopia delegations and with support from OROMIA union visit the Harar region; we add this unwashed coffee to our direct purchases.
Nicaragua – Entering into a strategic alliance with the CRS National Fair Trade Program in the USA, we meet CECOSEMAC and begin direct import of their coffee.
Coop Coffees co-sponsors, with our Fair Trade allies Equal Exchange, CRS, Lutheran World Relief and others, the first-ever Fair Trade Futures Conference, held in Chicago and designed to promote “Living a Fair Trade Life.”
We hold our 5th AGM in Guatemala – our first in a producer country –– with representatives from 7 producer partners, the majority of CC roasters and Fair Trade allies Kieran Durnien of FLO Centroamérica, Noe Rivera of Maya Cert and Guido Fernandez of the Bank Risk Management team. The Assembly results in the “Xela Accords” – an action statement about Fair Trade, raising minimum prices and building sustainable relationships.
Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans August 31, 2005. In addition to the tragic loss of life and structures, CoopCoffees loses its entire inventory of green coffee. But shutting down the coop is never considered and within 2 months we are back in business (with special thanks to friends like Equal Exchange, who diverted contracts to us when our inventory was non-existent!)
During a 1,200 km tour across Bolivia’s infamously treacherous roads, we discover AIPEP, a community-based coop in Caranavi. We work with FECAFEB to import AIPEP’s first containers, which eventually helps them achieve FLO certification.
Dominican Republic – We meet Rufino Herrera, historical leader of FEDECARES, at Cafe Rico during a 2004 tour in Canada. By the 2006 harvest we are importing our first containers directly.
Demand for Fair Trade and organic coffees from Guatemala continue to grow and we add Asociación Chajulense and Río Azul as two new sources of excellent quality coffees. Since then we have sent numerous delegations to visit the coops and learn about their development processes.
We meet CEPICAFE manager Jose Rojas at the Carter Center forum in 2004 and we stay in contact. When we discover a need for additional for Peruvian coffee, CEPICAFE recommends CENFROCAFE, a “sub-coop” member of CEPICAFE located in Jaén who fills our contracts.
Coop Coffees, with support from Coffee Lab International, CRS, and TransFair Canada coordinates, under the FECAFEB umbrella, a “First-Ever” Fair Trade Quality Competition, in Caranavi, Bolivia.
We hold our 6th AGM in Raleigh, North Carolina, hosted by Larry’s Beans. Simultaneously, we celebrate the founding of our sister-coop CoopSol (Coopérative de Solidarité du Café Équitable) based in Montreal, to manage the communication and outreach, quality control and export facilitation, and the development of special projects.
Montreal office begins staffing with its first interns Sylvie Trottier and Genevieve Paquette; we believe that is cause for celebration!
We participate in the IFAT International conference and culmination of the IFAT mark “Global Journey” in Brussels, Belgium; we receive our IFAT “ratification.”
CoopCoffees formalizes a friendly relationship with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and presents Fair Trade workshops at their 2007 and 2008 conferences in Burlington, VT and Boston, MA respectively.
Through our Fair Trade friend, Dan Jaffee, we are introduced to MICHIZA, an indigenous coffee farmer coop working throughout the department of Oaxaca, soon to become one of our primary suppliers of organic Mexican coffee.
Following our participation at the EAFCA conference, we visit Rwanda with Just Coffee. We begin purchasing and promoting Misozi and then COOPAC coffees from the Kagera River Basic and Kivu Lake regions, respectively.
Cooperative Coffees and CoopSol hold their Assembly meetings in Matagalpa – facilitated by our Nicaraguan partner CECOCAFEN. Some 70 participants in representation of roaster members, producer partners, and Fair Trade allies come together for a week of workshop, discussion and exchange.
Worker-members from the coop Café Cambio in Chicoutimi, QC participated in the “2005 Xela Accords experience” and meet many Coop Coffees members for the first time; in 2007 they become the 21st member. Meanwhile, another roaster coop is getting set up in Viroqua, WI – and Kickapoo Rosters becomes the 22nd member.
At the encouragement of Community Action Network (CAN) leader Ernesto Mendez, we visit their producer partner in Tacuba, El Salvador: ACOES. We discover a “perfect match” for CoopCoffees roaster-producer partner profile preferences and delightful coffee in the cup.
Chelsea Carter joins the Americus team in charge of import logistics and compliance with fair trade and organic standards. CoopSol moves into an independent office space as our technical team grows with Florent Gout in charge of purchasing and logistics and Shannon Ripley assisting with communications.
Our 8th AGM is held in Traverse City, MI hosted by Higher Grounds Trading.
Coop Coffees marked TEN YEARS of learning, growing, and living fair trade. The celebration fittingly took place in Americus, GA -- the birthplace of the coop -- following the SCAA conference in Atlanta and during sister coop, Coop Sol's annual assembly. It was a spectacular event with representatives from several producer coops and close allies of Coop Coffees along with a good chunk of roaster members, many of whom had been there from the very beginning!
Coop Sol moves to larger offices in preparation for setting up our internal quality laboratory.
The 9th AGM is hosted at the Third Coast Coffee Roasters facilities in Austin, Texas.
Coop Sol organizes the first producer-country-based AGM in Peru...with the helpful support of hosts, Pangoa and CENFROCAFE/CEPICAFE.
Coop Sol also successfully establishes a quality control laboratory ("Le Labo Equitable") in our Montreal offices, to serve as the in-house sample-testing lab. The lab is certified by the SCAA in April (first in Canada) and hosts a SCAA Cupping Judge Course with instructor, Mane Alves of Coffee Lab International. By July 1st, we move all quality control operations for the coop in-house and are testing all preshipment and landed samples for approval or rejection.
Coop Coffees embarks on a Strategic Planning journey to determine the direction of the organization for the next 5 years.
The 10th AGM takes place at Just Coffee's facilities in Madison, Wisconsin.
La Tierra Coop joins the cooperative.
Coop Sol holds its second AGM in a producer country, making it all the way to (and across!) Ethiopia.
As Bill Harris decides to step down as executive director of Cooperative Coffees, the team brings in Janet Utecht to man the helm of the CC ship.
In the quality lab at Montreal, long time CC insider EJ Dawson (formerly from Bongo Java) arrives to head quality control and manage the Labo Equitable, further cementing and improving quality control within the cooperative.
Coutts Coffee in Perth, Ontario applies and is granted membership in the coop.
The 11th AGM is held all the way up in Whitehorse, Yukon, in the facilities of our northernmost partner, Bean North.