Slow coffee – Swiss company ships beans across Atlantic by sailing ship

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by Emily Atkins

A Swiss coffee producer is upping its environmental game by shipping raw coffee beans across the Atlantic ocean by sailing ship.

Andre Conte, logistics manager at Atinkana, meeting the sailing ship in Amsterdam (source: Atinkana)

Coffee manufacturer Atinkana pursues a vision of sustainability: in the long run, they want to restore the original structure of the virgin forest in Colombia and make the soil more fertile.

The Swiss company is financing its project in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada by growing coffee, cocoa and a variety of fruits. The plants are cultivated in a natural cycle, with hardly any emissions being produced thanks to manual harvesting and processing.

For every kilo of coffee sold by Atinkana, the company plants two trees in Colombia.

In order to make the 8,500-kilometre transport to Europe as sustainable as possible, Atinkana relies on particularly eco-friendly means of transport: the coffee beans are transported by sailing ships across the Atlantic to Amsterdam, then by truck to Antwerp and subsequently by rail to Basel.

The ship is a brigantine, the Tres Hombres, which can carry 40 tons of cargo. It is operated by Fairtransport, a company founded by three friends from Delft, the Netherlands, in 2007. They discovered the 1943-built ship as a wreck without masts and in a wreck-like condition in 2007.

Within just over two years, they managed to fully restore and convert the ship into a sailing vessel that now crosses the Atlantic Ocean every year, sails the Northern European seas solely powered by the wind. To keep the ship in perfect condition, the Tres Hombres undergoes an annual renovation during which many volunteers help and learn and practice the science and craft of boatbuilding.

Once the ship delivers the coffee beans to Basel, Gebrüder Weiss delivers them to the coffee roasting plant using its hydrogen truck.

Last mile transport with the hydrogen truck (source: Gebrüder Weiss / Schlaghuber)

“Thanks to the cooperation with our innovative logistics partners Fairtransport and Gebrüder Weiss, we are able to cover 98 percent of the route from Colombia to Switzerland by sustainable means of transport. This makes our coffee almost as sustainable as a regional product in Europe,” says Andre Conte, logistics manager at Atinkana.

It takes two sailing ships about 10 weeks to transport the coffee to Europe. Fourteen tons of coffee are transported to Switzerland once a year.

Apart from reforestation of the virgin forest, Atinkana sets high standards in other areas as well. They pay higher wages to their coffee farmers than other companies. For each kilogram of coffee sold, eight dollars remain in the country – five for the coffee beans, three for reforestation. This corresponds to around 22 percent of the revenue. It is mainly Colombians  benefit from the profit.

Oskar Kramer, Country Manager Switzerland at Gebrüder Weiss, is fascinated by the project. “Atinkana’s eco-friendly approach in terms of production and logistics is a perfect fit for Gebrüder Weiss. For many years, we have been investing in alternative drive technologies for trucks and pursuing the objective of making transport as sustainable as possible. Using our hydrogen truck to deliver the coffee, we provide for zero emission last mile delivery in Switzerland.”

Gebrüder Weiss has been using its hydrogen (H2) truck for local transport in Switzerland for more than two years. The company plans to deploy another three H2 trucks in Germany by 2024.