Many developing nations are plagued with corruption. The 1% rule over all, and those with little are overburdened, overworked, and underpaid. This has long been true in the coffee trade industry, with importers bullying the farmers into unreasonable prices and leaving them, their workers, and their families without fair compensation. The coffee trade industry is now being shaken up however. There is a new David among the goliaths, a herculean group of individuals determined to blaze a new path in fair trade coffee. A coffee roasting company that is determined to change lives with each roast. This humble challenger is Prosum Coffee Roasters.
Located in a rather dead area of town (city restrictions have placed them there due to them being a roasting facility), Prosum Coffee is virtually unknown; even by the most devote followers of coffee here in Albuquerque. Luckily, I was fortunate to be tipped off about the magic that was happening in this unique coffee house. Little did I know, this coffee experience would change the way I viewed coffee forever.
As I walked in I was instantly greeted by the crew; Cindy Guttromson the humble yet gregarious owner, her right hand man Chad, who is cooler than the other side of the pillow, and Michelle a bubbly barista who can whip up a mean latte. I began to soak in my new environment, which was filled with industrial sized bags of the finest coffee beans from Ethiopia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sumatra, and El Salvador. The quaint kitchen boasted state of the art coffee and espresso machines, ready to be fired up at a moment’s notice, to produce coffee that was like the god’s nectar. Finally in the corner the gigantic roaster was giving off the heavenly smell of freshly roasted coffee, completing a magnificent setting for an afternoon of coffee sipping.
As Chad (“the coffee chemist”) began to wow me with my first ever siphon coffee of Ethiopian Shukery Kellensoo (seriously I wish I could send you all a cup of this stuff, its AMAZING!), I sat down with Cindy to learn more about her story, and the story of how Prosum Roasters came to be. Like in the previous stories I’ve covered, Cindy was not born into the coffee biz. For 30 years she worked as a financial analyst, putting in endless hours in an office behind a computer day after day. She did have a love for coffee, however, which led her to take up home roasting as a side hobby. The side hobby began to grow, like a baby coffee seed in the fertile soil of Chiapas, Mexico. She finally saw the need to escape the monotony of her life (no pun intended), and soon began talks with, as fate would have it, an old prom date in New York (part of Bushwick Seed Co. and Think Coffee) who was an importer of fair trade coffee. Things began to blossom, and Cindy’s dream of changing the world through coffee, was beginning to become a reality.
Prosum is incredibly unique in the way it does business. Cindy travels all over the world to meet face to face with the farmers she purchases coffee from. When she meets them, she samples 8-9 different blends of coffee to ensure that she is getting the absolute best coffee that they have to offer (and she has quite the palate for killer coffee). In exchange for their superior coffee, she not only gives the farmer a more than fair price, but she also invests 10% of her profits into programs established at each of the locations she visits. This means helping to renovate schools by filling them with books and new computers. This can also mean funding the plantations to create a better infrastructure on the farms, or to help farmers, their workers, and their families live an improved life. Cindy excitedly shared the program in Kellensoo, Ethiopia is one that has grown dear to her heart since her visit there this past summer. This program is currently helping combat the high-drop out rate among young women by providing them with reusable female hygiene products, which are nonexistent in the village. Cindy, the mother of a two wonderful children, also shared that in the near future she is hoping to send sewing machines to the village in order to provide another economic possibility for the women in the village. Prosum currently works with farmers in Chiapas, Mexico, Kellensoo, Ethiopia, Dipilto, Nicaragua, and the San Miguel region in El Salvador. Cindy’s journeys have brought more fulfillments to her life than she ever could have imagined, and in the process she has uncovered some ridiculously good coffee as well.
Her right-hand man Chad is now learning how to do coffee trade the right way. Chad was not born into coffee either, as he worked in IT for 18 years in Washington, D.C., before seizing the opportunity to migrate back to Albuquerque. He too was always a coffee fanatic, but it wasn’t until he started working next door at Camp Bow Wow (doggie day care) that he discovered the incredible things going on at Prosum. After frequenting the shop for a few months, Cindy asked him to be a part of her team, and he hasn’t been able to shake the smile off his face ever since (not having dog poop on him everyday helps too). Chad has also learned from one of the best baristas in Albuquerque, to perfect his coffee skills, and I can personally attest to this (heavenly). He echoed the positive effect this experience has had on his life, and his sincerity is palpable.
As a small part-time shop, Prosum offers a healthy variety of superb coffee drinks that includes their “Rockin’ Espresso” that with literally knock your socks off (don’t worry there is a “laid-back espresso for you normal folks). They also do syphon, pour over, French press, Turkish, cold brew and drip coffee that will make your heart sing, and your soul dance. Chad also filled me in that there will be a highly coveted (only two places in the ENTIRE U.S. can get their hands on it) batch of coffee coming from El Salvador in the coming month that will matter-of-factly alter your definition of mind-blowing coffee. Another awesome and unique feature of Prosum is the coffee classes that they offer on Friday nights, which includes barista training, as well as learning about the process of roasting coffee.
At the end of my visit I asked Cindy what her biggest challenge was during her first 9 months in operation. With the warm smile that comes so naturally to her, she said “figuring out how to let the shops here in Albuquerque know that I’m here”. She wants shops to know that they too can have a hand in changing lives, and that the journey to each cup of coffee has been beneficial. While I hope this piece helps with that cause, deep down I can’t help but know that the future is bright for Cindy and her crew. In Latin Prosum means to be useful, do good, and benefit… I think they’ve exceeded that. Thank you Cindy, Chad, and the whole team at Prosum for letting me take part in this remarkable coffee quest.