10 Country: Bill's Accidental Success - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

10 Country: Bill's Accidental Success

April 8, 2004

Americus-- We often hear about the global economy hurting Americans, like jobs going to India, leaving our people out-of-work. But few people ever see how global trade helps, unless you go to Americus where you can see an on-going example of positive world trade with coffee.

The vast majority of us drink coffee, almost four cups a day for each person, without caring one bit about where the beans come from to make it, but Bill Harris, Jr. cares. "I had the experience in Guatemala of building a house for a coffee farmer," says Bill.

A minor construction accident, what Bill thought was minor, happened while building the house. Bill dumped a wheelbarrow load of dirt on a farmer's coffee bean bush. The farmer was most unhappy because the bush helped him make a living, and his income, what little it was, got instantly cut. "When I heard the horrible prices they were getting, in Guatemala, compared to the price that I knew good coffee sold for here in the states, it got the wheels turning," says Bill.

Coffee beans are a major income source for farmers, and he saw a possible business opportunity once he learned more. He could import their coffee, roast the beans, pay the market price directly to the growers. No middlemen to siphon money away. Farmers get a fair price, 80% of the market price for what they grow instead of the traditional 20% by selling through local channels.

"We're trading to make sure both parties win," says Bill standing in a room of plastic containers of coffee beans from Guatemala, Mexico and other countries.

To win in the retail marketplace, the beans need roasting to perfection, popping like popcorn when almost done. Lee Harris, Bill's brother, spills the beans frequently, in charge of roasting bag after bag of coffee beans. He nervously pulls a short tube from the roaster, where about a dozen dark coffee beans sit, checking their color.

He returns them to the roaster, pushing the short tube, about six inches long, back into the stainless steel machine, rotates the tube several times to get a new sample and pulls the tube out again. You can hear a faint popping sound, like popcorn, when Lee has the sampling tube out. He determines the beans were ready and pulls a big lever to release them into a cooling pan.

The beans continue to pop, much louder out in the open. "See how that popping is a lot louder and a lot sharper than the first one," asks Lee. Another inspection. Lee reaches in and grabs a handful of beans and looks at them. "I'm Looking for consistent roast," says Lee. A mere ten seconds too long or too short in the roaster could have ruined the beans.

The coffee beans grown all over the world, roasted in Americus, go to parts far and wide as their Café Capesino brand, which means coffee-small farmer in Spanish, an apt description of the growers they work with. "We've sent it to New York, to Las Angeles, Seattle and the American embassy in Moscow," says Kurt Peterson who ships the gourmet coffee.

The Harris's have a booming business in the bag. "We are growing as fast as we can grow," says Bill. But, how can you tell if you have good coffee? "Good coffee is not bitter," answers Lee. And, world trade doesn't have to be a bitter arrangement either regardless of the country you set foot in.

America has only a few coffee bean growers in Hawaii. So, they don't hurt our own growers. Check their web site: www.cafecampesino.com to learn more about how their business developed.

posted at 1:25PM by dave.miller@walb.com