Coffee Corps Volunteer Spotlight: Joel Shuler

By: Lisa Conway, CQI Operations Director

CQI’s Coffee Corps Program® is a unique private-public partnership that matches experts in the industry with producers and associations at origin seeking technical assistance. These volunteers help producers and other industry constituents improve their coffee and their business, while at the same time being exposed to the challenges and issues affecting coffee origins. Today we profile Joel Shuler, one of CQI's dedicated Coffee Corps Volunteers.

 

Joel Shuler has a longtime love of Brazil. Though he has made a career from sourcing and selling Brazilian coffees through his company Casa Brasil Coffees, it was a different passion—soccer—that originally brought him to the South American nation.

“I came to Brazil when I was 14 and spent three months playing for a small third division team in the state of São Paulo,” Joel says. “My junior year in high school I came back down and spent eight months playing for the youth team of Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense. Unfortunately some injuries cut short my soccer career, but my love for Brazil remained.”

Joel soon built on that passion for Brazil, launching the cultural center Casa Brasil in Austin, Texas, in 2003. Casa Brasil offered an assortment of Brazilian products, including commercial coffees from Brazil. Joel looked into importing better Brazilian coffees, and soon realized he needed to better understand coffee quality and then see if he could find it in Brazil. “It sounds simple, but it took about five to six years of cupping coffees every day, and over a dozen trips to Brazil, to get the confidence and find the relationships to bring in our first container,” Joel says.

Joel’s coffee passion turned into a coffee career, as Casa Brasil Coffees became his focus. About five years ago, Joel began working with CQI when the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA) became CQI’s In-Country Partner (ICP) and began revitalizing the Q Grader Program in Brazil. Joel applied to become a Q Arabica Instructor and was accepted into the program. The Q Program has since blossomed in Brazil, and Joel helps leads over a half dozen courses in Brazil each year. This year, Joel decided to pursue becoming a Q Robusta Instructor as well, and he achieved this feat in August. “That decision was based on what I have seen through my work with CQI—that the industry is strengthened not just by focusing on specialty arabica, but by working with growers across the spectrum to improve their quality,” Joel says.

Joel’s volunteer efforts with CQI’s Coffee Corps began in 2015, when he traveled to Myanmar to share his post-harvest and cupping experience to help a group of coffee growers in the country develop best practices at their wet mill. Joel has continued to dedicate his time to Coffee Corps projects and related work, including projects in Colombia and Brazil. This December, he will travel with his family to Myanmar where they will stay until March, working with growers to improve coffee quality.

Joel says the pursuit of coffee quality—and continued learning—are what has drawn him to volunteering for the Coffee Corps. “It’s a small group of intelligent and dedicated people with a common goal: to help improve coffee quality and the lives of those that produce it,” Joel says. “And it is no understatement to say that I have learned a lot more than I have taught. Every student is my master in many things, and listening to how people have adapted to their environment to produce quality coffees, or even to just get by, is a rewarding experience.”

In addition to volunteering with the Coffee Corps, Joel has played a key role in helping CQI develop our Q Processing Program, which professionalizes the art of coffee processing and certifies the stages of competency for different actors in the supply chain. Joel has worked closely with the CQI team to develop the first two levels of the program, and is currently working with CQI Technical Director Mario Fernández and Technical Services Manager Emma Sage to develop Level 3, the most advanced offering of the program, which will debut next year. “The idea behind Level 3 is that processors spend a half-year reading tons of scientific articles to better understand the state of the art of processing,” Joel says. “Over the years Mario and I have collected dozens if not hundreds of articles. Right now I am living the dream of reading those articles to see if and how they can fit into the Level 3 program, as well as what other resources can help students bridge the gap from the practical to the scientific so that they can deepen their understanding of their craft.”

As a coffee educator now regularly sharing his knowledge with others, Joel is quick to credit those who taught him important lessons early in his coffee career. “I will forever be grateful to those who provided the resources and pathways for someone like me to take a passion and turn it into a career—first and foremost [former CQI Executive Director] Ted Lingle, whose Coffee Cuppers Handbook was fundamental for me to learn how to cup coffee,” says Joel, “and Dr. Flávio Borém, who took me under his wing and over the course of what is now a decade has helped me to better understand post-harvest coffee.”

Joel says he is excited to continue to guide coffee professionals as a Coffee Corps volunteer and Q Instructor. “I am grateful to CQI for providing me with such incredible opportunities to meet people from across the globe, learn from them, help them with what I can, and develop friendships that I will have for the rest of my life,” he says.

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