From its very inception, direct trade has been—like so many other great ideas in coffee—a grassroots, ground-up, make-it-up-as-you-go concept. Which is a large part of what makes it work. A proactive and mutually beneficial collaboration between coffee farmers and coffee roasters aimed at increasing the quality, value, and consistency of coffees produced, where the farmer and the roaster are committed to working together transparently and long-term. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. We work with the farmers in a joint effort to improve the state of coffee.
There is a certain kind of symbiosis when it comes to quality in coffee and the way it comes about. As roasters and retailers we need great coffees to sell so that we can compete based on quality rather than getting involved in a price-driven race to the bottom. Farmers need consistent and reliable markets for their coffees, and a means to differentiate them.
Many farmers have the desire and the ability to produce higher quality coffees, but they don’t do so because the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t work out in their favor. There are many significant farm-level costs involved in producing better coffees, and unless there is a reliable mechanism that allows farmers to recover those costs and profit from their investment in quality it is just too much of a risk, as the market can be erratic and whimsical. But when there is a partner on the other side who is consistently willing to pay a premium for better quality it takes the gambling element out of the equation. That’s part of our role in the DT partnership. We help build the market for quality, we support the efforts of the farmers in our network by making commitments to buy their coffees well in advance of harvest, and we communicate with them all year long to make sure we are aligned in our expectations.
Another aspect of it has to do with transparency and minimizing costs in the supply chain that are not adding value to the coffee. Our goal has always been to enable maximum return to the farmers we work with, because we understand that they need to be making money in order to continue investing in their farms, making quality-related improvements, and expanding their production. So we try to reduce costs that aren’t absolutely necessary and make sure the farmgate price (price to the farmer/primary producer) is always maximized and protected.
DT is not charity, it is a way to work with coffee that makes the pursuit of quality a viable and attractive choice for coffee professionals and sets the stage for those working in all aspects of the industry—roasters, baristas, farmers, farm workers, millers, cuppers, agronomists—to be successful by acting collaboratively rather than in a mercenary, every-man-for-himself fashion.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR THE FARMER?
1. Higher Wages
Though each Direct Trade relationship is unique, we will negotiate directly with the farmer and pay a price that will exceed the amount what they would receive via Fair Trade in many cases by 200-300%. The price we ultimately pay the farmer for coffee is based upon the quality of the lots we buy. The better the coffee, the more we will pay.
2. Better Farming Practices
We will work directly with the farmers to increase the quality of the coffee, usually resulting in better habits for the local habitat, as well as in some cases, rainforest preservation.
What's in it for Us?
The best quality coffee imaginable.
This is all about a relationship with growers, knowing them personally and working with them to create a better future for their families.