In the last post we delved into our approach to making great coffee available to you (if you missed it you can find it here). That’s only half the discussion, though, and it’s important for us to cover the other half – our producing partners and the forgotten few in the coffee production process.
As a roaster, we straddle the divide between coffee producers and coffee retailers. On the one hand we try to provide as much value to our customers and our partner shops. On the other we try to make sure we are truly esteeming everyone that helps get the green coffee into our hands. This includes, but is not limited to the farmers who grow our coffee, the importers/exporters who transport our coffee, and the myriad of organizations that help ensure quality, equality, and fair play.
The organizations that we’ve begun partnering with as we’ve grown are an indispensable part of the value chain. Folks at the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), an international group of coffee professionals, help to elevate coffee globally in a way that we, as a small business, can’t. Meanwhile, groups like the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) and the Coffee Roasters Guild (CRG) help to push quality in the farming & distribution of specialty coffee and best practices in roasting that coffee, respectively. These are among the organizations that we partner with and rely on to make coffee more accessible on a global scale. This is also just the beginning! As we grow and start to be more involved in producing countries and the global coffee scene we will continue to partner with high quality organizations to help achieve goals that we can’t hit alone.
While roasters and farmers generally get credited for delicious coffees, the importers we work with are often a forgotten factor in the coffee supply chain. They are the ones who make sure that high quality coffee is properly stored and transported between the producing nation and our roastery. Many farmers own small plots of land and don’t have the financial capital or the social connections to get their coffee to Western nations where they can get the highest profits for their work. This is the key role our importing partners play. They have access to capital, they have financial flexibility, and they have systems in place so that they can come alongside the farmers in a meaningful way. When seeking importers to partner with we take into account their size (generally smaller is better for us like our friends over at Socii and Keffa), their producer partnerships (ideally we find importers with personal relationships with farmers or processing facility owners) and their values. Our goal is to seek those companies that also have a vision for seeing greater accessibility for their farmers’ products.
This brings us down to the farmers themselves. It has been so rewarding to see a multiplicity of coffee roasters, coffee shops, and other coffee retailers spotlight their farming partners. For many years the coffee farmer was rarely recognized and it’s been exciting to see that changing. The burden we feel, however, is how to uplift the farmers we work with in the best possible way. We are very sensitive to the balance between being grateful to the farmers who pour out their lives to produce great quality coffee while not exploiting them or using them as marketing pawns. We are in constant communication with our importers to find out how to best talk about the farmers. First and foremost we always want to make sure the farmer is fairly paid. For us, this means that we make sure to pay above Fair Trade prices every time and with every coffee we source (Fair Trade is currently a standard rate of $1.40-$1.70 ). Secondly, we’re growing to the point where we can contract directly with farmers*. Often this means going through the importer to make an agreement with the farmer to contract for their crop in advance so that they know that what they are producing already has a buyer.This will hopefully lead to our future partnership with specific farmers or regions to provide equipment, training, and assistance to push the quality of their coffee higher, so that we (and others) can pay the farmer more for their coffee and fetch a higher retail price in our market.
The trend is holding that coffee is only getting better, friends, and by increasing accessibility across the supply chain we hope to not just be a part of that trend but to be a pioneer in our industry.
*If you read part 1 of this blog post you may have already made the connection that this is why we offer a few standard blends and a set of standard single origins. If we are always striving to have an offering from the Huila region of Colombia for example, then it opens the door for us to contract with a farmer or a mill owner in that region of Colombia to purchase enough coffee to last us from one harvest to the next.