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Coffee Shift is co-owned by the participating growers and was created to share greater benefit with the very farmers who produce our coffee, coffee that is fairer than fair trade.

With corporate presence in both Silicon Valley and Chinchina, Colombia, Coffee Shift is not only sourcing and importing the finest ...

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Macie McCallum

A More Balanced Brew: Coffee Shift Powers Better Coffee with Tech Savvy and Local Collaboration

Coffee Shift wants to wake up coffee lovers to coffee’s true flavors, while contributing to the lives and livelihoods of coffee growers in one of the world’s most significant coffee ecosystems, Colombia’s Coffee Zone. By cooperating directly with the people who know, grow, and protect coffee, by minimizing middlemen, and by using blockchain technology to boost transparency and payment efficiency, Coffee Shift hopes to change how we savor coffee.

“It’s a shift in the balance of power and a shift in the way we experience coffee’s nuances,” explains founder Tyler Pinckard, a seasoned Silicon Valley technologist with experience in fintech. To hasten this vital shift, Coffee Shift is implementing a blockchain system to connect more than 300 growers directly to coffee lovers. 

To support this project and the company’s future growth, Coffee Shift is launching a crowd-funded investment campaign via wefunder. 

Though built on new technology, something simple lies at the heart of Coffee Shift: a sip of incredible coffee. When you take that first sip, you should be tasting the water that dripped down from mountains to wash it, the plantains that grew as flavor-building companions to the coffee trees. The Coffee Zone of Colombia, much like the great wine terroirs, imbues the coffee that grows there with layer upon layer of flavor and character.

This flavor hits your cup thanks to a community of hardworking growers and laborers, people who see remarkably few fruits from their labor. Coffee Shift is moving power out of the hands of fancy brands and powerful middlemen and back to the skilled people who make coffee happen. Forming a direct, cooperative relationship with coffee artisans and farmers on the ground in Colombia by making them part of its management team and giving them equity, the startup is building a more equitable, transparent relationship between the happy drinker and the empowered grower.

Coffee Shift began when Tyler and Colombia-born music tech consultant and Coffee Shift COO Carolina Castilla went for an extended visit to the Coffee Zone, home to some of Carolina’s extended family. Tyler, a coffee lover, was entranced. The lush landscape, the specific terrain and practices all spoke to the deep knowledge and love of the land he remembered from his own childhood on a farm. But he was appalled at what else he saw: growers could barely squeak by, facing down a mountain of debt and centrally set commodity prices.

“I was helping some farmers load these 75 kilos sacks into a truck,” he recalls. “I asked them how much they would get for one of them. When they named their price, I was shocked.” Tyler decided he had to do something to improve the situation. He struck up a friendship with Juan Carlos Escobar, who would later join the Coffee Shift team. The fifth-generation coffee farmer described the wonders of coffee’s growth, harvest, and processing for export as green beans. He also got to know Mauricio Walker, a local coffee processor who is also a Coffee Shift team member. 

Guided by their input and insights, Tyler noted several pain points in the coffee supply chain. One crucial one was farmers’ relative powerlessness in the face of international trade. Though the price of a specialty coffee drink has risen steadily as American consumers come to prize good coffee, the price farmers get for their beans has fallen. 

Another is the lack of autonomy for local farmers to make astute decisions that affect coffee’s quality, and thus its potential value to consumers. Local expertise and management can make the difference between a mediocre and a truly extraordinary cup. 

This autonomy goes hand in hand with payment, which is where blockchain and cryptocurrencies have a helpful role to play. It can be easier to handle bitcoin in some areas than cash, and swift, secure payment means families can pay for medical care, schooling, and other essentials predictably. “There is a lot of improvement to be made in the realm of payments and international transactions, which are prohibitively expensive,” says Tyler.  “By approaching this with technology, we can further increase both the money received by the growers and the impact our business has on these families and communities.”

Moreover, American coffee lovers seem ready to move from overpriced branding and overroasted beans to a new stage, when coffee is savored like premium cheese or fine wine. Just as the soil and conditions in one vineyard can produce radically different wine from the one over the hill, coffee has its own character. This more developed palette means a premium for the truly good stuff, the high-quality, lovingly sourced beans Coffee Shift sells. 

“Everything we sell is 85 points or more premium coffee, grade excellent, cherry red coffee,” explains Carolina, referring to the grading system used to select the top beans. “People focus on the roast or geographic origin of their coffee. That’s not the whole story. What matters is the points and the red color when it is picked. That’s why we have experts like Mauricio on our team. He doesn’t just want to sell us cheap coffee. He knows what’s the best coffee.” And since these beans go directly to coffee lovers, he and his fellow coffee creators reap the benefits.

“The US is used to the homogenized, dark roasted coffee shop chain coffee,” Tyler notes. “There is a lot more we can experience, though, once we’ve trained our palette and expanded our vocabulary a bit. Sustainability or fair trade is admirable, but it isn’t a taste, yet taste is the biggest thing when it comes to coffee. If we can give people a taste for coffee’s complexity, if they start to prize it, we can turn that greater appreciation into real impact back in Colombia.