Sandhill Coffee Community: Benchmark Coffee Traders
This blog is one in a series introducing you to the farms, folks, and friends who make up the Sandhill Coffee Community.
- Erica Zazo -
Coffee businesses are stronger when they combine community with their craft.
That rings true not only for coffee roasters who hand off the final product, but also for the coffee traders and farmers who bring the coffee to life. Our friends at Benchmark Coffee Traders believe in and operate their business with this very community-centered approach, which is why we’ve been supporters of their coffee beans for our roasts for many years.
Benchmark is a leader in sourcing and distributing environmentally-conscious and community-driven coffee. It’s grown with social impact and sustainability at the forefront: Sigri Estate conserves water in nearly every possible aspect of the washed coffee process, the remote estate serves as a local habitat and sanctuary for over 90 species of birds, and Benchmark’s social impact mission helps support free housing, free healthcare, and free elementary schooling for all of the coffee pickers’ children and the children in the surrounding community. Benchmark has funded the textbooks for the estate elementary school for five years and is currently constructing a sixth school. Additionally, Benchmark has directly funded five water tanks to ensure continued water access for the farm community.
About Benchmark Coffee Traders
Benchmark Coffee Traders is a direct-trade coffee company that connects local farmers from several single estates in Papua New Guinea and other parts of the world, including Yemen, Honduras, El Salvador, and Ecuador, to local coffee roasters across the United States. They serve as a partner and support system for the estates’ coffee farmers and families who are intrinsically tied to high-quality and ethically-produced green coffee beans that Benchmark distributes to local roasters around the world.
Roasters work with Benchmark to source some of Papua New Guinea’s best coffee beans with transparent and accurate traceability. The company is fully committed to not only providing amazing quality coffee but supporting the local community of coffee farmers and their families throughout important aspects of their lives. From free housing and schooling to healthcare support, Benchmark’s Sigri Estate offerings serve as an example all other coffee traders and producers should follow.
Q&A with Vikram Patel, Founder of Benchmark Coffee Traders
Vikram shares more about Benchmark Coffee Traders – from the social mission behind their company to the local farmers and families that are the lifeblood of their community.
Tell us about how your background – and the origin story behind Benchmark Coffee Traders.
I've always wanted to leave a positive impact on the world, particularly by having some sort of career that has a positive impact on society. Over a decade ago while I was studying and practicing environmental law, I had the realization one day that my impending career path wasn’t what I wanted it to be anymore. I wanted something more.
This was around 2012 and I decided to take some time to visit my family in Papua New Guinea. They owned and operated a community-focused coffee estate called the Sigri Estate. I spent a harvest season there working on the coffee farm and learning about the social projects they run, which included free housing for all the coffee pickers, free schooling for their children, and free healthcare for all of the farmers and their families.
Seeing this real social impact first-hand was the ‘Aha Moment’ for my coffee career. Enthralled with what I saw and experienced in Papua New Guinea, I decided to return to the U.S. and pursue a career in selling our coffee to importers. At the time, I didn't really have a frame of reference for what the business was supposed to be like – or what it would ultimately become. I eventually started to visit local roasters, specifically coffee makers and third- and fourth-wave roasters, and share our story and our greater social mission. I found these local roasters were not only interested in buying our coffee because of its high grade but also because they deeply connected with our farm’s positive social impact mission.
It was then that I decided to start my own import business full-time with the goal of bringing even more of our coffee beans to local roasters who shared an interest in passion for ethically sourced and produced coffee.
Can you talk more about the social impact element of Benchmark’s mission?
We want to create the most traceable, transparent, and high-quality coffee possible on the market. We also want to have a positive impact on and support the community that helps us do just this.
What’s so unique about us is the ability to implement better farm practices through our producer-partners as well as prioritize social projects across the farms we operate. Today we fund all of the books for five elementary schools at Sigri Estate and three sister Estates. This year, we are finishing a sixth school on-site too. We have also installed six or seven water tanks to create a stronger infrastructure for collecting water and making it easier and more efficient for families to access clean water. Lastly, we help support the estate medical post which provides healthcare for the estate workers.
These essentials – affordable housing, education, healthcare, and access to water – are basic needs. We help to ensure that the farm workers, the community that makes up Benchmark Coffee Traders, have access to these basic needs year-round.
We have also become a multi-generational organization. People who were born on the Sigri Estate have now gone to school on the estate and now work at the estate just as their parents did. There’s a sort of harmony you’ll notice that thrives there. There’s a palpable feeling and understanding of the way of life in which people live there. We pride ourselves on supporting growers, their families, and the larger community – so that they not only have the best possible quality of life for themselves and their families now but for the foreseeable future.
How do relationships play a part in Benchmark Coffee Traders’ success?
Fostering strong and ongoing relationships is essential to the way we run our business.
In the traditional world of commodity coffee, relationships aren’t an important aspect of success. It's more about things like comparing the price against the quality of the beans. For example, if a coffee roaster or importer can buy coffee beans that are cheaper, they’ll likely go with the “better” price instead of seeking out coffee beans and producers that share similar values as them. This approach starts to create misaligned incentives, where they cut corners instead of supporting sustainable, ethically sourced, and locally-engrained coffee growers.
At Benchmark, we feel it’s really important that people commit to long-term relationships with us. Having partners who are willing to work with us for the long term and are invested in also supporting our local farmers long-term is the key to consistent, ethically-produced, high-quality coffee. We are a business that’s driven by positive social impact and have relationships with roasters who also believe in leaving a positive social impact. Sandhill Coffee falls in that realm for us. Phil’s loyalty to working with us on an ongoing basis and supporting us throughout the process is beyond appreciated. It’s essential.
About Sandhills Coffee’s Kula Peaberry roast
The best seller of all of Sandhill Coffee’s roasts, Kula Peaberry is one of the smoothest cup of coffee you can find in our roster. This coffee tends to be a little less acidic than some coffees like our Jose Francisco and less bitter than other coffees like our Market Blend.
When pouring a cup of the Kula Peaberry, expect subtle notes of sweet dried apricots and chocolate. It’s also best enjoyed while listening to the morning sounds of birds chirping in the trees, water washing over a rocky creekbed, or wind blowing through the trees on a warm summer day or crisp fall afternoon.
Connect with Benchmark Coffee Traders online:
Connect on Instagram: @benchmarkcoffeetraders
Follow on Facebook: Benchmark Coffee Traders