finding your tree “Let’s pick a tree” is a colloquial Hawaiian expression for having a conversation of significance…whether it means to “talk story”, relay news of import, or settle a beef. Essentially, it means let’s find a shady cool place to have a civil conversation rather than sweating, and possibly swearing, uncomfortably in the searing tropical sun. That is our hope for The Understory…to create a portal to a shaded conversation about what coffee wants to be. This is our salon of links, bonds and associations, and we invite you to share a cup and engage. Welcome.
Six years ago I saw the hidden potential awaiting us in Panama and made an overriding commitment to listen to what and how coffee wants to be. By entering into a relationship with the coffee plant, I was compelled to factor in the coffee plant’s entire ecology—biological, social and economic—to create a distinctly unique coffee experience.
The day we started, this land was an overgrazed cattle farm backed by forests. Today, it’s a rainforest in process with a recovering forest in the foreground. Every time we return, the plants and animals are increasing, the ecosystem is recovering, the coffee gets better, people are better paid, and we’ve got better tastes to work with.
Everything I had seen on our farm in Ethiopia – the critical need for canopy and shaded coffee understory– I saw could be recreated at our Gesha Estates farm in Panama. I knew that would take time but incrementally we could chart our own territory and be an example for everyone else in the rest of the world.
The beauty of the farm goes far beyond the coffee and the restoration project. Ninety Plus Gesha Estates is on 182 hectares (449 acres) with one third being mature forest. The balance of the land is under restoration. The farm is sited on a unique strip of land bridging the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. The weather generated from both sides creates an incredible diversity of habitats and microclimates as the winds converge from both oceans. We have one large river and two smaller ones – all of them pristine. Nestled close to the biggest volcano in the country we benefit from high elevations producing great coffee.
We are six years along the journey and the rewards are felt every time we come back. You can see and feel the changes. Even though it will take decades, it is decade’s worth of enjoyment and measurable change that you can feel on a daily basis in the people, the land and the coffee.
To take a broken system and replace it with something that comes alive – immediately, for you, it has been the most incredible reward. Nature is conspiring with us – you can feel it.
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2013, Joseph Brodsky held a blind cupping of prospective coffees for a select panel of his Ninety Plus Makers. Attending was Ninety Plus’ Ethiopian field director Semeon Abay who was [...]
How listening to the coffee plant can lead us to best practices for premium taste and enhanced forest health. Over the millennia, agriculture has extracted a heavy toll from planetary ecosystems…with modern industrialized agribusiness ramping [...]
A Manifestation of the Ninety Plus Experience By Joseph Brodsky “Let things taste of what they are.”—Alice Waters In Dublin at the world championships this year it hit me. Eleven years and countless farming and [...]