Crop to Cup is a bustling coffee importer and café based in the Southern tip of Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood. The company, co-founded in 2007 by Jake Elster and Taylor Mork following time with communities in Uganda, recently divested itself of its highly-acclaimed roasted brand. Instead, Crop to Cup now does a sterling trade in all things green: Green beans (dried but unroasted), green intentions and a budding business are the new order of the day.
Green bean customers now mingle with Crop to Cup’s original retinue of artists and local factory workers in the café space. From retirees seeking an introduction to the green bean roasting game through to artisanal coffee aficionados and commercial coffee buyers, the diverse clientele personifies a rapidly gentrifying Gowanus proudly mired in its murky — and somewhat less green — roots.
The decision to build out the green bean market came from a desire to help coffee farming communities by cultivating a following closer to home. Crop to Cup has already built a strong business thanks to its earthy café, stocked with caffeinated brews and delicious pastries from locals such as Runner & Stone, and relationships with roasters across the US. However it has been harder for Crop to Cup to make a real impact on the economics of the coffee business in the already overcrowded bean-roasting arena. The coffee commodity market is already so complex that little of the money spent on a bag of roasted coffee eventually finds its way back to the farmer. Crop to Cup’s focus on green coffee is designed to create a direct link to the farmer, build appreciation for the raw material and ultimately support better farming practices. Customers who can identify a good batch of coffee by sight or based on the condition of the raw bean are more likely to pay a premium, which in return incentivizes the farmer to grow better beans.
Mork acknowledges it will take time to shake up the market. Though commercial roasting outfits already understand how to assess the quality of green beans and create a better tasting beverage, that knowledge has yet to percolate down to average consumers. By educating home buyers how to spot a good batch of green beans from another, bean cultivation methods and providing roasting instruction, the hope is to create more discerning palates. Selective palates mean more thoughtful purchases, which in turn hopefully promote better farming practises and returns for farmers. Better returns lead to more sustainable farming and ultimately benefit the wider farming community.
This move deepens Crop to Cup’s commitment to farming cooperatives in East Africa, Asia and Latin America. Mork and Elster’s initial work in Uganda focused on improving communications and services for local communities via non-profit organizations. Over time the duo formed relationships with coffee growers. Upon their return to the States, the pair founded a business with hubs in New York and Chicago to first help provide direct links for the farmers with the coffee industry then create better economic returns. Mork and Elster created direct feedback mechanisms between drinkers and growers to help farmers understand their customers, improve the quality of beans and thereby increase the value of their crops. By turning green, that exchange continues and grows to this day. Independent bean reviews can be submitted on the Crop to Cup website. These reviews are then compiled by the small team at Crop to Cup and shared with coffee growers. The more feedback the farmers receive, the more they can work to deliver beans that consumers will love thereby pushing up the price of their crops.
Though home roasting is still a highly-specialized market, Crop to Cup aims to broaden the appeal of buying green beans through education. Both commercial roasters and home buyers can learn how to use a range of roasting equipment, from the shiny high-end Huky roaster to more affordable devices such as the Gene Cafe machine. Similarly customers can purchase a range of flavorful green beans sourced primarily from co-operatives across the world. Uganda, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Sumatra feature heavily in the green bean showroom, its shelves bursting with this season’s ripe blueberry and spiced chocolate notes.
Customers to the coffee shop and showroom can now learn the tips of the trade and test out equipment. Useful pointers such as “remove any foreign objects” (this sometimes includes spent bullet shells!) but “don’t overpick” potential defects from a pre-roasted batch of beans are great places to start. For those new to the green bean game but unable to make a trip in person, the Crop to Cup website is useful source of information. Other great resources, such as Sweet Maria’s exist online to educate home roasters and also provide access to green beans.
Crop to Cup dedicates an entire wall to its green stock and boasts ample space for cuppings and workshops. The team’s old office space has been relocated to make way for a larger customer seating and cupping area, complete with laser cut countertops from Brooklyn local Tomer Ben-Gal. Green beans are available to purchase either directly in the showroom adjoining the café or online and for those keen to learn more about roasting, the staff plan to start running classes and educational events. Finally for those seeking the finished product, a monthly rotation of brews drawn from roasters across the country is available in the café, open seven days a week.