Coffee parties come with a cool story and a great taste
Tupperware parties have disappeared from the scene in New Zealand, but a newcomer has arrived to be the next cool thing.
Coffee parties are filling the gap, offering specialty single-origin Pluma coffee.
The ethically sourced Pluma coffee, first imported to New Zealand from Mexico by The Lucy Foundation in 2017, is available to Hamilton coffee drinkers at markets and through parties and to everyone else online.
What makes the coffee even more desirable is that people with disabilities are involved at every stage of its production in Mexico and its sale in New Zealand, and they are all paid a living wage.
The Lucy Foundation, the brainchild of Dr Robbie Francis Watene and named ‘Lucy’ after her prosthetic leg, has helped to reinvigorate the production of an heirloom variety of coffee at Pluma Hidalgo, a small mountain community in the south of Oaxaca, Mexico.
“Five core disabled people are paid to hand-process the coffee for the New Zealand market,” Robbie says. They have been part of the operation from the start. “We work with 30 people consistently there.”
But the whole community is involved, and coffee crops have been improved with the use of organic fertilisers, pest control and workshops. Once the coffee harvest is over, the local team runs a café employing the same people.
“They are showing the community what disability leadership is without stating it,” Robbie says.
In New Zealand, two people are employed to run The Lucy Foundation’s Seed Training Programme, to upskill people with intellectual disabilities to work in the coffee industry. “The rest of us are volunteers.” Robbie works as a disability researcher at the Donald Beasley Institute.
“We worked on the smell of an oily rag for many, many years,” she says. “We wanted to show that you could have a whole value chain that was responsive to disability rights.”
Robbie says they now have a proven model and have shown what is possible. “We are in our second year of having sufficient funding for New Zealand operations to deliver our objectives.”
In August, six trainees graduated from the Seed Training Programme, which was granted $40,000 this year by the IHC Foundation, and six more graduates started in September. “We are giving them real hands-on work in a real business. They are paid the living wage for that work. It’s only fair and right that they are compensated fairly for that work. A lot of them haven’t been paid before.”
Robbie says they cannot force employers to think inclusively, but they can demonstrate it. She says Pluma coffee is a highly rated premium coffee. “We made the decision that we wanted a very good product. We wanted to move away from the charity model.”
Marketing the product and helping to run the Seed Training Programme since November last year is Nicola Rosser. Nicola has a lived experience of disability and has worked in the disability sector. She also runs her own personal coaching business, My Road.
While her colleague Seth Newman works with four trainees in packaging and dispatching the coffee, Nicola works with two trainees on sales.
Nicola says she realised that they needed to do something pretty creative and pretty quickly to sell the coffee and it also had to be something that the trainees would be comfortable doing.
“We have been to schools. We have been to a car yard, some team meetings. For me, the coffee party is learning about the process, about where the coffee comes from.”
Nicola has developed an easy-to-read resource about the coffee process.
“The story and the taste test of coffee draws people in, and we have bags of coffee for people to take away.”
They have a stall at the St Andrew’s Artisan Market once a month on Saturdays and aim to do two coffee parties a month. “The difference between a market and a coffee party is that you have people coming and going and you don’t have time to tell your story.”
The Lucy Foundation has recently received a grant from the Frozen Funds Charitable Trust to allow Nicola to work one-on-one as a job coach for Seed graduates.
While the Lucy Foundation does not pay for fair trade or organics certification for its Pluma coffee, Robbie says they can guarantee its quality and ethical production because they know everyone involved in the process. “We can identify disability leadership at every step of the process.
“It’s definitely the hard path. We have not taken the easy path. What it will look like in the future will be up to the people we work with. The more coffee we sell, the less we will have to rely on charitable funding.”
Caption: The whole community at Pluma Hidalgo is involved in reviving the production of Pluma heirloom coffee with the use of organic fertilisers, pest control and workshops.