Brewing cups of black gold

For some, coffee is a matter of consciousness.

For others, conscience.

Count among the latter the Bainbridge Ometepe Sister Islands Association, which for a decade has been importing Nicaraguan coffee beans to fund relief projects in that Central American country.

“We’ve found a little niche that we’re very happy with,” BOSIA member Lee Robinson said Thursday, as she and other volunteers packaged 350 pounds of fresh-roasted beans for delivery. “We don’t want to become Starbucks.”

BOSIA will host a coffee tasting of Cafe Oro de Ometepe – its signature medium roast, grown on the Nicaraguan island from which it takes its name – today at Town and Country Market.

The event is part of International Fair Trade Coffee Day, observed at cafes and grocery stores in more than 50 cities to raise awareness of the economics of the treasured bean.

These days, Robinson said, the market is not favorable to growers. A worldwide glut has pushed prices down to 50 cents per pound for producers, bringing poverty and instability to nations dependent on coffee revenues.

By contrast, Cafe Oro is produced under “Fair Trade” standards that guarantee a floor price to growers of $1.26 per pound.

Premiums for bird-friendly, shade-grown operations and organic and cooperative farming push that price to $1.61, Robinson said, giving the 40 or so Ometepe farmers from whom BOSIA buys a far better return for their work.

“We say this coffee has a conscience,” Robinson said.

And while its output may be humble by the standards of certain better-recognized, for-profit conglomerates, the program has seen considerable growth.

A decade ago, Robinson said, sister-island volunteers traveling to Ometepe brought beans back in their suitcases.

Today, about 13,000 pounds of beans are shipped in each spring, to be stored and roasted at the Pegasus Coffee facility on Day Road.

Every Thursday afternoon, a half-dozen volunteers show up to weigh and package the beans – crackling, aromatic and toasted to a rich brown by longtime Pegasus roaster Doug Walker.

The coffee retails for around $9 per pound, which after shipping and production costs leaves the organization with about $4.50 to fund relief work on Ometepe.

Last year, projects totaling $16,500 funded by Cafe Oro sales included library and classroom enhancements, cultural programs and several community water systems.

Most Cafe Oro is sold through Town and Country – which moves about 85 pounds a week and more during the holidays – and Central Market in Poulsbo.

The group also fills regular orders for several Audubon Society chapters. An annual shipment goes to the Skagit Friends of Central America, which features Cafe Oro at its annual Beethoven concert and sends the proceeds back to BOSIA.

And as it can now be ordered through the group’s website, some of the coffee even makes its way abroad.

Thursday, trying to beat the arrival of the UPS truck, Robinson packaged a few pounds for a customer in England.

“He was giving it to his sons,” Robinson said, adopting a droll British accent, “because they are

‘ just potty for this coffee.’

“He’s a loyal customer. I’m not complaining.”

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