This interview is a pretty big deal. Rarely do I have the opportunity to talk to the co-founder of a radical coffee company like Driftaway about the heart, soul and game-changing tactics behind their brand. Second, I’m pretty sure that after reading this you’ll have a drastically different view of coffee, climate change and your massive impact as a consumer on the world.
Featured in The Today Show, Good Housekeeping, Esquire and more, Suyog Mody and his wife Anu started their small-batch, coffee roasting subscription company as an effort to help alleviate poverty and bring you a delicious cup of coffee customized to suit your tastebuds. You know, the usual. Coincidentally, my husband and I were gifted a 6 month coffee subscription as a wedding gift (shout out to Scott and Anna) and as coffee lovers, we were hooked.
Now, I don’t want to give too much away but there are so many things that make Driftaway Coffee unique. From their perspective on using Organic certifications (it’s not 100% and they’re fine with that), why farmers deserve a spotlight and the important reason that coffee needs science to survive the effects of climate change.
Hopefully you’ve read the fantastic interview with Bill Ahrens of New Country Organics Farm (if you haven’t go do that, too) and are about to have your mind blown and lens shifted once again by Suyog. His passion for sustainability and supporting others shines through and I hope you leave feeling motivated to take #inspiredaction.
Huge thanks to Suyog of Driftaway Coffee for being so generous with his time and energy. Make sure you get a coffee subscription for yourself and gift at least one more this holiday season. Enjoy, friends!
Your sustainability model is slightly different than most. Rather than trying to address symptoms of poverty, Driftaway tackles the heart of the issue by providing impactful, long-term solutions that would empower the farmers, their families and the community. I’d love to hear more about that process and how you came to that conclusion.
For us, remembering the various hands that coffee travels through from fruit to cup has always been important. That’s what inspired our luggage tag-like labels and the producer stories that we send with each coffee.
When we started visiting a few coffee farms last year, we learned two things.
1. Every farmer is always always looking for feedback “What did you think of the coffee”? It made us realize that, while we, the roaster, do get to hear from customers, the farmers themselves don’t! This led us to create the Farmer Feedback program – to connect customers to the people that grow coffee with so much love and dedication!
2. Climate change is threatening coffee as a crop and it’s totally possible that there won’t be any coffee for future generations. If we want to protect it, we need to invest in science for coffee. And in spite of the fact that coffee has been a cash crop for hundreds of years, there’s surprisingly little known about the genetics of the crop, how to improve it and make it sustainable to the effects of climate change. So we started our Bean for Bean program, where we donate 5 cents of every pound of coffee we roast to World Coffee Research.
We know its a small start but it is a start, and there’s a long way to go!
I, like many conscious consumers, am a staunch supporter of buying only Certified Organic and Fair Trade Coffee Beans because of the high standards it ensures. However, you say that only some of your beans have this certification due to the high cost that many farmers can’t afford. Can you talk more about this?
The certifications are great and they provide a minimum bar that gives customers confidence that the coffee comes from a good place. I’m a strong supporter of them myself.
In coffee, they work great for estates and larger farms that can afford the certifications. But, many farms and farmers that we work with own 5 to 10 acres of land, sometimes it’s in the field behind their house, and they will not be able to afford certifications, even if they meet all the criteria for getting certified. So while some of our coffees are certified, we don’t hold that a requirement when looking for green coffees to roast.
Driftaway pays farmers 50-80% over premium Fair Trade prices, which to some might seem like a random or arbitrary fact but is actually such an important topic. Can you describe the impact of Fair Trade for those who might not understand?
Fair Trade is a really good program, however the Fair Trade price is indexed to be a premium over the commodity coffee price (C market price), which is set by finance trading desks based on very macro and long-term prospects of coffee as a crop all over the world (and heavily influenced by Brazil, the largest coffee producing country in the world).
In our little world at Driftaway, we’re looking for specialty coffees from small farmers. Coffees that taste exceptional based on how they are grown, processed and stored by the farmers and importers, and roasted by us. For us, the bar is well beyond Fair Trade and we pay premiums for that exceptional taste.
One look at your Instagram or social media pages and it’s clear how much you care about connecting people to the names and faces who grow their coffee. I was stoked to see the women farmers, too! What made you want to dedicate so much of this space to them?
We’ve always felt that the supply chain in coffee overly favors the roasters, and we felt that highlighting the entire supply chain is important to understand what you are getting as a consumer. Ultimately coffee is a crop and the farmers play a key role in defining the taste of a coffee, and we think it’s important to highlight their role. Give credit where credit is due!
OK, finally, coffee! It’s so cool that a simple cup of coffee in the morning is one thing that so many of us around the world have in common. What’s been the most rewarding part of running a conscious coffee company?
Wow, that’s a tough one – there are many many moments. I think this varies from year to year. In the first year, I’d say it would have been just to not mess things up – just to finish one full bag of green coffee was very rewarding. If you had asked me a couple of years ago, just getting a single positive review or a cool photo on Instagram would have made my day. Last year when we launched the Farmer Feedback program, we were unsure how it would be received, with neither me nor Anu (my partner and co-founder) being from the coffee industry. We were very happy to hear it was received well by the farmers and the coffee community.
Our current priorities are working to build a team that believes in the Driftaway mission and taking pride in what they do. There’s a lot of little moments – something just feels great when we accomplish it as a team.
One thing that I really loved about Driftaway was getting to choose the flavor notes I like best and learning more about the different characteristics of each batch that make them unique—not to mention the influence of which region they are grown in, just like a wine. I realized that I’m 100% a citrus note girl for sure. Do you have any favorites?
Our roaster/green buyer Ian and I are tasting a 30 to 40 new coffees every week, always looking for that next best coffee to add to our monthly rotation. Once we select coffees, it’s like each one is my baby and you can’t pick between them!
But if I had to pick, I favor heavier-bodied syrupy coffees from our Balanced profile in the colder months (Colombia Meridiano this month – one of our best this year!), and the lighter bodied floral Fruity profile coffees in the warmer months (I love grapefruit notes in Kenyan coffees).
Finally: hot or iced?
Always hot! But not extra hot like at Starbucks. I typically brew coffee at home, pour it into a cup and wait for a full 5 minutes before taking the first sip. It’s warm, not hot and not yet at room temperature.