Seeing as our recent blog all about Lauren was so well received we thought we would talk a little more about some of our #peoplespeople!
René Macaulay is a fixture here at Peoples. The Roaster Formerly Known For His Moustache has been with us since 2007, working with our farmers at Origin and here at the roastery – from crop to cup.
Five things you may not know about René:
1. He once lived, for a time, in the Himalayas.
2. He can convert a non-believer in minutes (to the importance of fair trade).
3. If he could have any coffee-related toy in the world it would be a colour grader ‘laser eye’ (for those of you, like me, who have no idea what that means – there is a picture below)
4. His first flat white was procured from Cuba St institution Olive.
5. He is the hero that Peoples Coffee deserves. (OK I stole that one from Batman but Rene is kind of the man…)
Each trip to Origin is quite different and very sobering, René explains. A lot of the time the trips are focussed on things that have nothing to do with coffee – issues that affect the whole community like food security and access to health care. The co-ops that we work with in Africa have been rolling out pharmacies and midwifery to all the farmers and this is making a tangible difference in peoples lives.
“It’s not about assessing fair trade – on the whole it is to assess the needs of the farmers. To get a feel for each co-op and ensuring the needs of the farmers being met by the co-op leaders.”
Peoples are resolutley fair trade – so I asked René a few questions about fair trade and the coffee industry to get a better idea of why:
Is fair trade actually making a difference in the lives of farmers at Origin?
What farmers really need is to be paid a whole lot more. As roasters we are all limited in what we can achieve by the wholesale price and the street price of a cup of coffee. The most powerful mechanism of fair trade is the social premiums and the ongoing positive value they add. They put the power and the means back in the hands of the community.
Why did Peoples Coffee change from Fairtrade certification to World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) certification?
We felt that WFTO’s 10 principles of fair trade were better suited to help us challenge ourselves, ask hard questions and analyse how well we were performing as an ethically minded business. WFTO allows us to apply the ethos of fair trade to all of our business practices, not just our product.
In your opinion what is the most dangerous emerging trend in coffee that is affecting farmers lives?
Luxury. Specialty Coffee has relentlessly prized quality as the most desirable element of coffee and this has huge implications for farmers. The highest quality coffee doesn’t necessarily mean better tasting – it just means there are zero defects and nothing getting in the way of tasting the coffee. The higher the quality, the harder it is to produce and environmental changes are making it increasingly MORE difficult. Very often retail prices roasters sell for don’t reflect the difficulty of production and chasing this level of perfection is super challenging for many of these communities.
We have been working with many of the same producers for years, in the last few years climate change has had a huge impact on yields and quality, we continue to work with these groups buying their coffee even though they have been struggling with producing enough of the quality coffee we desire, rather than just buying from someone else who we don’t know.
When he’s not half a world away at Origin, René is hard at work at the Peoples roastery in Newtown. Back in the early days of Peoples Coffee René would often pop in to the roastery to watch his friend, Matt Lamason, roast.
“I roasted at home and but had very little ‘coffee experience’ so to speak. He (Matt) hired me as junior roaster and then flew to Colombia soon after – so I was definitely chucked in the deep end.”
René has certainly come a long way from the junior roaster that used to take a sugar (?!) in his flat white – in addition to being the Head Roaster for Peoples Coffee he is also the chair of the New Zealand Roasters Guild (which he helped set-up). The guild is a formalised community that aims to stimulate roasters to progress in research, development and knowledge. Their main goal (that they share with sister organisaton The Barista Guild) is to ensure everywhere in New Zealand has good coffee.
The guild is volunteer based and holds events and meetings across the country. Membership is open to anyone with a passion for specialty coffee & the roasting craft and the desire to develop skills as a professional roaster. You can read more about getting involved here.
René is a pretty humble guy. He has a passion for coffee but much more important, he believes, is coffee with a conscience.
“There is lots of suffering in the world and it is so easy to live in our society and be blind of the repercussions of all of the little things we do.”
September 28th, 2015
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