REAL COFFEE, Part 1: Direct Trade - Our Commitment to Farmers

A simple Haitian proverb reads:

"an empty sack can't stand up"

Coffee farmers have traditionally been poor, disadvantaged and abused by large corporate coffee interests.  The "buy low, sell high" mantra of corporate profitability usually seeks to purchase the most beans for the lowest possible price.  In third world markets, this simplistic approach keeps farmers perpetually poor.  But, hey, "it's business."

The problems with runaway big business in this model, however, is that farmers have no incentive to grow excellent beans if the payoff is only marginally better than whey they're getting for the worst beans.  A few cents increase per pound for the best coffees doesn't justify the hard work and investment such coffees require.  So, the empty sack stays empty and nothing improves.

And even in the "Fair Trade" model of the 1990's, the small buying price increase primarily went to large selling coops or distributors and and made very little impact on individual farmer's lives. Further, Fair Trade did nothing to encourage farmers to actually grow better beans - it just guaranteed a small price increase, no matter what the quality.

BREW has committed to purchasing virtually all of its beans through the DIRECT TRADE program founded by Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters in Chicago.  Through Direct Trade, farmers are paid at least 25% higher than Fair Trade prices and only the best beans are chosen for the program.  Thus, farmers are incentivized and rewarded for growing the very best beans.  This means that BREW pays a premium on every pound of beans we buy, but it's worth it - both in the quality of the coffees we're able to serve in our stores and the benefits that result to farmers far away.

Even better, this higher price is ensured to the individual farmer or small selling co-ops of farmers, so the benefit actually reaches real people growing real, great coffee.

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posted by Barista Blog  # 8:11 AM 0 Comments


March 2008

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