Last year our magazine celebrated its 100th anniversary. Now it is time for us to salute one of the first specialty coffee roasters - First Colony Coffee & Tea, which celebrates its 100th this year.
In 1902 James G. Gill, who was in the European teas and foods business, decided to sell coffee. With the purchase of a two-bag coffee roaster, the James G. Gill Company was formed and began supplying grocery stores in the area with freshly roasted coffee.
Today, 100 years later, the company has evolved into First Colony Coffee & Tea, and is co-owned and operated by descendants of the Gill family. Thomas Brockenbrough, great grandson of the founder, is president/c.e.o.. Tom and his older brother, J. Gill Brockenbrough (who passed away two years ago), bought the Gill Company in 1970.
Many changes occurred in the 1990’s, and one of the most positive was a partnership with a Coop of coffee growers in Colombia. Since 1995, First Colony has been productively working in an environmentally grounded, socially beneficial partnership with the Federacion de Cooperativas de Caficultores de Antioquia, Colombia’s largest coffee producing cooperative. This Coop represents 17,000 coffee growers who work together for their families and contribute to the coffee industry in Colombia and to consuming countries.
When the Coops were researching a North American roaster for a partnership, they found similar qualities and characteristics in the operations and culture inherent at First Colony Coffee & Tea that their country posesses: they are a people rich in tradition, formality and protocol. The Coop sought to learn the operations of a roasting company, and then cultivate a coffee to accommodate specialty roasters. They wanted a closer tie with the end consumer and to produce a value-added product. Through this partnership, the Coops have learned about distribution channels and in developing specialty coffees for them.
This was a way for the farmers and their families to avoid relying solely on the low prices of green coffee. During the past two years, coffee farmers have been victims to the falling monetary value of their beans. Farms have been abandoned, people have died fighting over their land and while facing perilous conditions as they fled their homeland to find work.
We see the industry helping themselves and each other with the recent Cup of Excellence Internet Auctions. Members of the international coffee trade take the time to help growers grade their coffees, review the taste and recommend its quality. Specific countries are highlighted, most recently Nicaragua, and farmers reap the financial rewards for high-quality coffee.
Thankfully, the tide may finally be turning for the coffee farmer - we need and want their quality coffees for the future of the beverage.
Editor & Co-Publisher