Coffee Corps® Volunteer Spotlight: Bryce Castleton

CQI’s Coffee Corps Program® is a unique private-public partnership that matches experts in the industry with producers and associations at origin seeking technical assistance. These volunteers help producers and other industry constituents improve their coffee and their business, while at the same time are exposed to the challenges and issues affecting coffee origins. Today we profile Bryce Castleton, one of CQI's dedicated Coffee Corps® Volunteers.

 

Bryce Castleton commutes to work on a muggy day in Thailand, a stark difference from his hometown of Puyallup, Wash.—a small city just south of Seattle. Bryce works for Pana Coffee in Chiang Mai, where he oversees the wet and dry mills as the assistant management director. He’s right where he wants to be: working at the farm level. But Bryce didn’t start here. Like many others in coffee, his journey is full of life-changing experiences that guided him and shaped his career.

In between his studies in college, Bryce started working at Dillanos Coffee Roasters under the guidance and mentorship of Phil Beattie, among other coffee legends. There, he learned a lot about production and roasting. Bryce’s passion and love of learning, a common theme throughout his career, did not go unnoticed: He won a roasting competition and the owners saw his potential. Shortly after, Bryce was taking in the scenery on a beautiful Costa Rican coffee farm, Las Lajas. It was his first trip to origin and it greatly impacted him—in that moment, Bryce knew he wanted to make coffee his lifelong career. It also opened his mind to the supply chain and the complicated development from seed to cup.

Bryce returned to work even more impassioned and determined. He wanted to keep learning the intricacies of coffee. He left Dillanos and started working for Visions Espresso, but after a couple of years, he realized he wanted to be working closer to coffee’s source. After selling most of his possessions, he left behind his job and his hopes of opening a coffee shop. With the few items he still owned, he filled a backpack and hopped on a plane to Colombia. He traveled to numerous coffee farms around Colombia and Ecuador, visiting with producers and learning more about coffee and its challenges at the source. But as his money dwindled, his passions grew: He wanted to keep working in coffee, but this time at origin. He found a job on Sprudge that caught his attention: Coffee Works Thailand was looking for someone to help source coffees around Southeast Asia. This fulfilled his desire to learn more about new origins and continue experiencing different coffee cultures. Bryce applied, and within a couple of weeks, he made a new home in Thailand.

With the new hire, Coffee Works Thailand wanted to reduce its reliance on sourcing coffees outside Southeast Asia due to the extraordinarily high national taxes. Bryce was keen on sourcing coffees in the region, so when he found out about CQI's 2017 buyer’s tour in Myanmar, he was interested in knowing more about coffee from this origin. On that trip, Bryce not only bought a container of specialty coffee, he also met CQI’s Operations Director Lisa Conway. Bryce and Lisa kept in touch, and she contacted him later while looking for volunteers to contribute to quality control and capacity building activities to support the USAID / Value Chains For Rural Development program in Myanmar. The volunteer position was requested by CQI’s partners in Myanmar, Winrock International. With Bryce’s home base in Thailand, he was a perfect fit for multiple trips during the harvest season. His knowledge of quality control, warm demeanor and cultural understanding of the region allowed a deep connection with the producers.

Bryce’s company, Coffee Works Thailand, was incredibly generous with his time, allowing him to dedicate three weeks on and off for several months to the assignment in Myanmar. Bryce was thrilled to be spending so many weeks on the ground, since most coffee trips are compact, with the majority of time spent on a plane or in a car.

Bryce immediately got to work at the beginning of harvest. He, along with the Winrock team and other on-the-ground consultants, put together a quality-control database on Google Drive. The database was used to track moisture, screen size, and green coffee defects. In addition, they were trained to sample roast on a double-barrel Coffee Pro roaster. When Bryce was back working in Thailand, he was able to access the database and make sure data were being inputted correctly. When Bryce returned, the training continued. After three trips of three weeks each, the harvest concluded, which meant the data could be compiled. Bryce comments, “One of the most impactful moments was when [CQI consultant] Sara Morrocchi and I quantified all the data we had accumulated over the season for the different lots and their respective qualities. … Sharing that quality data back to the growers and smallholder groups—and engaging in a dialogue about quality—was invaluable. After all, that's what this whole specialty coffee thing is about.”

Bryce knows the Myanmar producers will work hard in upcoming seasons and stay focused on improving quality—their motivation and willingness to learn was apparent throughout his assignment. Now, it’s up to them to continue the training for future generations, with the hopes of new market access and sustainable prices to support the community.

By: Alexandra Katona-Carroll

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