It was whilst studying for her degree in International Business that Cristina Talens realised that, in general, business lacked focus on its workers, producers and suppliers. This drew her into working on labour and human rights issues with Anti-Slavery International, followed by six years in the non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector. In 2003, she became Ethical Trading Manager for a leading Yorkshire-based coffee company, where she was responsible for supporting farmers to meet environmental and social standards. ‘It was also where I learnt all about coffee,’ she says.
Whilst working here, Cristina thought a lot about climate change and the issues surrounding deforestation in agriculture. Illegal logging accounts for the loss of around 25–30 million hectares of the world’s forest each year. And because these forests act as carbon banks, it is estimated that this destruction contributes to 20 percent of global greenhouse gases. ‘I conceived the idea of creating a speciality coffee from these ecological hotspots, and incentivising the farmers to protect the standing forest by paying them to plant trees through reforestation carbon credits,’ she explains. ‘Everyone around me thought this was blue sky thinking; a nice idea but just not practical.’
Cristina, however, believed it was possible. When she left the company, around six years ago (to work part- time for the Lorna Young Foundation, which provides information on climate change to coffee, tea and cocoa farmers in Africa) she also began putting the wheels of her idea into motion, and four years ago founded Source Climate Change.
‘To get the project kick-started, I set up a partnership with a large coffee-roasting company,’ explains Cristina. ‘They could see that it was something different, offering something that no other certification scheme did. I then tracked down coffee-growing communities in reforestation areas supported by the Plan Vivo Foundation, who offer payments to farmers and forest- users for ecosystem services – planting trees.’ Cristina worked with these farmers to develop the best coffee from those areas, paying them both for their coffee and a small amount for the carbon they produced when they plant a tree. ‘So one bag of coffee equates to a kilo of carbon, a tin is six kilos,’ she says.
The first coffee produced by Source Climate Change was from La Sierra, in the Chiapas region of southern Mexico, which is a real ecological hotspot. ‘The coffee is sourced from 13 Mayan and Mestizo communities, and is of such good quality that it exists as a single origin coffee,’ Cristina tells us. ‘It was quite a lengthy process – but people won’t drink any old rubbish, so we sent a number of samples to John Thompson, who runs Coffee Nexus and is a Cup of Excellence judge. We chose our coffee based on his advice.’
It took just over two years to develop, but it was certainly worth the wait. On its launch, in 2013 Source Climate Change’s La Sierra Cloud Forest coffee scooped a Great Taste Award. ‘It really is an outstanding coffee, with a lot of praline nuttiness – to get an award for it was great, really promising,’ says Cristina. Source Climate change has also launched two more products: Mount Elgon Cloud Forest – which is sourced from 300 farmers on the slopes of Mount Elgon, in Uganda – and the most recent addition, Gishwati Cloud Forest from Rwanda. ‘All of the coffees are high-grown and as well as being organic they have all received a ratings point of over 80, which is what coffee needs to be called a speciality coffee,’ explains Cristina.
Currently, Source Climate Change is producing just over three tonnes of coffee a year, which can be found in delis and farm shops across the UK. However, Cristina’s next goal is to get a major retailer on board, and she has been in discussion with the likes of Able & Cole, Booths, Waitrose and Wholefoods. ‘It would be great to get involved with a major player who understands what we’re all about, and how we benefit the farmers and the environment,’ says Cristina.