CQI Volunteers in Action : Craig Holt

As a former expedition leader, Craig Holt guided educational adventure trips to dozens of countries.  He was able to visit many of the world’s coffee growing regions and learn about how it made its way from seed to cup. His first job after his travels was at Batdorf and Bronson several decades ago, and he hasn’t left the coffee industry since. As Atlas Coffee Importers’ founder and owner, as well as  Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) Board chairman, Craig now fills many roles in the specialty coffee community, one of which is rockstar CQI Coffee Corps volunteer.

In May of 2015, he volunteered for CQI in  Myanmar, along with fellow volunteers Andrew Hetzel and Matt Graylee, to host Myanmar’s first ever coffee competition, made possible by the USAID Value Chains for Rural Development and led by Winrock International. The goal of this competition was to raise awareness among local coffee farmers about the importance of improving coffee quality, to evaluate Myanmar’s quality baseline, and to promote Myanmar coffee on a global scale. Craig and his fellow cuppers roasted and cupped 58 samples of washed and natural processed coffees from Pyin Oo Lwin and Ywangan, two of Myanmar’s coffee growing regions. According to Craig, “Green grading and cupping the samples revealed meaningful potential for specialty coffee sales, tempered by current challenges with harvesting, processing, and drying.”

Craig  found great potential for quality coffee in Myanmar and felt these growers would  be able to compete on a global scale as long as they could establish good business efficiency and a solid understanding of quality. The following year (2016), he returned to Myanmar on two occasions: to participate in CQI’s coffee buyer origin trip in February, then later in May, with consultant Sara Morrocchi, to oversee on-the-ground activities and help Myanmar prepare its first high quality shipment.

buyer-tripFollowing the harvest in May, Craig and Sara worked with the Mandalay Coffee Group (MCG) to oversee crop processing, using the  government-run mill, which was in a fairly rough state of repair.  (new equipment was not yet in place).With three pieces of equipment, a huller, blower, and gravity table, and just two motors, the team was challenged to come up with a solution to the workflow challenge. By the following afternoon, a third motor was in place, proving the dedication and commitment to quality from the entire team at MCG. After understanding limitations with the huller, hand sorting was critical to ensure the quality of the exported product. Elaborates Craig, “This step in the process was relatively straightforward – which is to say that, like everything in coffee, the concepts were simple but required a huge amount of work. Again, the MCG staff and the people doing the actual work were exceptionally responsive and diligent. Because growers had done such a thorough job of harvesting and sorting the cherry, the green coffee was in good shape. We saw very, very few primary defects, the color was good, and the most common defects were broken/chipped/cut beans.” Mill outturns for all lots were evaluated and given initial approval for shipment, and export minutia was finalized with Craig.

Craig’s leadership, along with the the exceptional dedication of the growers, millers, Sara, and Winrock International, is setting up  a long-term, sustainable foundation for Myanmar as it becomes an important origin for the specialty coffee industry. And with the first shipment of specialty coffee landing in the U.S. this week, there’s a very promising future for Myanmar.

“Myanmar was a great place to work, and I am excited to remain engaged with the coffee sector there.” - Craig Holt

Related Posts