Coffee Talk: Gosling Coffee 19/11/2018

During our WAKEcUpCALL campaign, we met quite a few passionate, idealistic coffee makers—we call them the leaders. In this interview series we share their story. Today: communications trainee Jessa had coffee with Bonnie van Poortvliet and Dick van den Heuvel, the duo behind coffee roaster Gosling Coffee.

What do you think of when you hear the word Gosling? I immediately think of Ryan, as in Ryan Gosling, that mega-attractive Hollywood actor. The man who brings tears to my eyes every time The Notebook comes on. On the bike ride to Gosling Coffee, a young Amsterdam coffee roaster, I ask myself if their name will be based on this big star. But this turns out to be completely off-base.

“Gosling is the English word for a newborn gosling,” laughs Bonnie. “Geese cannot live alone; they need each other to survive.” A beautiful life and work philosophy. “At Gosling we believe in the power of collaboration. With coffee farmers, with customers, with other coffee roasters and importers. If we work with each other instead of against each other, we are much stronger. That way we can make a bigger impact when it comes to the living and working conditions of coffee farmers and the quality of coffee.

It is clear to me: Bonnie and Dick are pure coffee lovers, but Gosling Coffee has primarily been founded for ideological reasons. “Coffee is certainly not just a business for us,” confirms Bonnie. “If we have the opportunity to contribute something to the lives of the coffee farmers, or to the coffee world in general, I think we are obliged to do so.

Eventually the farmer had to bring his coffee to the auction, and then sell it at a bottom price. That was really not fun.

No Mountain Too High

The coffee beans that are roasted at Gosling are usually bought directly from the coffee farmer. In the search for the tastiest coffees, there is no mountain too high for these two: sometimes they have to walk for hours to reach the coffee farmer of their choice. I ask them about the benefits of direct trade: “If we buy the beans personally from the farmer, we keep the most control over the taste and quality of our coffees, which we naturally find extremely important. In addition, we pay the farmer directly and we know exactly how much the farmer has earned from his coffee,” Bonnie explains.

However, it appears to be quite a challenge to buy all of their coffee directly. Bonnie and Dick often work together with small-scale coffee farmers who only produce a few bags of coffee. For example, they tell me that they have bought the entire harvest of a coffee farmers’ cooperative in Uganda this year: only 45 bags and less than a quarter of a container. “It would be crazy to have an unfilled container shipped to the Netherlands. That is far too expensive and, moreover, we are not experts in the field of logistics, Dick explains. “This is why collaboration is so important; we need a coffee importer who helps us to ship this coffee to the Netherlands. Fortunately, we have found a few importers willing to reserve a spot in their container for our coffee. We pay them an administration fee for shipping and handling, but we ultimately decide which coffee will go and how much the farmer gets for his beans. Of course we are happy with this!”

Bonnie van Poortvliet (photo via @goslingcoffee)

Not Fun

But it also changes sometimes. Some time ago, the coffee roasters had set their sights on a very nice quality coffee from a small-scale farmer. “We had even found a customer in the Netherlands who wanted to buy the coffee,” says Dick. “Unfortunately, logistics simply couldn’t be arranged. Eventually the farmer had to bring his coffee to the auction, and then sell it at a bottom price. That was really not fun.” This is exactly why Dick and Bonnie hope that in the future more and more coffee importers will be open to coffee roasters who want to find their own coffees and buy directly from the farmer.

Dick explains: “Many coffee importers prefer to bring their own coffee to the Netherlands. They then sell these via a catalog to the Dutch coffee roasters. This business can earn the importer a substantial living because the importer determines the price for both the coffee farmer and the Dutch consumer. We think this should be different. We want to split the margin of the importer and distribute it more fairly. A part has to go to the coffee farmer’s income, so that he can earn a living and continue to grow and sell coffee in the future. Another part has to go to the customer, so they can pay an acceptable price for honest coffee.”

They want us to show the world that they exist, that they really have good coffee and that they want to do everything to make their coffees even better.

Soft

“Coffee importers have a lot of power within the coffee chain and may think that we are a threat to them,” says Bonnie. “But we want a win-win situation for everyone! For the farmer, the consumer, ourselves, but also for the coffee importer. We offer the importer a guaranteed sales—coffee that has already been sold before it enters the container—so that it can be imported without risk. And of course we also pay them for their service. If they work in this way, many more small coffee roasters can start their own coffee with small-scale coffee farmers. We know a few who are jumping at the chance! And so the importer might eventually even fill more containers than they do now.”

“Challenge or not, we just continue with our mission,” said Bonnie. “When we moved through Uganda last year, the coffee farmers were so happy to see us. They want us to show the world that they exist, that they really have good coffee and that they want to do everything to make their coffees even better. When I hear that, I just get incredibly motivated. It may sound a bit soft, but I really fell in love with Uganda.”

On the bike back to the office, I realize that Bonnie is anything but soft. A woman who—despite quite a few obstacles—is fully committed to a fairer coffee chain. You have to be hard on that.