This article was republished with the permission of Dan Dean, Staff Writer for Observer & Eccentric Newspapers.

Maritza and Jeff Taylor meet with Direct Trade farmer Sergio Ticas from Finca Los Planes in El Salvador on a recent 17-day coffee trip to Central America.

Jeff Taylor’s journey to find exceptional coffee has taken him across the globe and along the way he has met some exceptional people, none more so than his wife, Maritza.

“I met Maritza at a coffee competition in Ecuador in 2008. We were both on the jury to judge coffees. We married two years ago and she emigrated from Colombia to the USA,” Taylor said.

From the couple’s hotel room in Antigua, Guatemala, Jeff Taylor spoke recently about his quest to find great coffee. The couple were on the final leg of a 17-day coffee sipping journey through Central America. Jeff is co-owner along with Fred Polzin of PT’s Coffee in Topeka, Kan., and Maritza is director of quality assurance. Their Central America trip followed a 12-day trip to Kenya in January.

The couple find exceptional coffee in what is considered the newest approach, Direct Trade, the basis for which is, in its simplicity, quite old-fashioned. A former award-winning photojournalist, Taylor has an adventurous spirit that has served him well during his coffee travels that began in 1997, four years after he and Polzin opened a small coffee shop in Topeka. PT’s Coffee Co. has since grown into one of the leading roasters in the country and was named 2009 Roaster of the Year.

The coffee that Taylor cherishes is grown at a high altitude. When the Taylors set out on their business trips, there is no staying at swanky resorts, rather climbing mountains and traveling backroad two-tracks are the norm. Their adventures take them to many of the 35 or so countries in a tropical band around the equator between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn regarded as the primary coffee producing nations.

Taylor is searching for coffee that he explains as having a clean cup with no off-flavors, high acidity or a bright mouth feel and, most importantly, sweetness.

“Fruit has sweetness, that is were coffee comes from — it is the seed of a cherry,” he said. When it is picked, processed and roasted correctly, it has a natural sweetness, he added.

And when Taylor finds a farmer producing the sweet coffee he is looking for, he pays a premium price. A minimum of 25-percent over any other price farmers can garner through available markets, including Fair Trade. “Most (Direct Trade partners) are paid quite a bit more, in fact I believe we only have one right now that we are paying the minimum 25 percent,” he said.

Establishing an ongoing relationship is one of the goals of Direct Trade.

Direct Trade
“We started the Direct Trade concept as a way to work closely with farmers … I want to be able to call a farmer during the year and ask about the crop and how things are going,” he said. “We are looking for farmers who have high expectations, are willing to push boundaries, have good conservation practices using little fertilizer and no pesticides, a willingness to institute social programs and most importantly strict guidelines for processing.”

On Taylor’s Facebook page, his past profession as a photojournalist is well-represented as he documents his travels. One amazing photo in his collection shows the one-lane “highway of death,” El Camino de la Muerte, in the Bolivian mountains. It is just one an example of the risk and adventure of reaching the best coffee.

“The sweetness in coffee comes from growing in high altitude. The higher the coffee is grown, the sweeter it is,” he said. And above 6,000 feet is where he finds all his Direct Trade coffee.

It may not be work for the feint of heart, but for Jeff and Maritza Taylor and their customers, it is an adventure and risk worth taking to find exceptional coffee.

For more about PT’s Coffee, its Direct Trade program and to order coffee, visit ptscoffee.com.