When the words “direct trade” are used in the world of coffee, it’s a term used to describe the direct face to face, relationship between coffee roasters and the farmers who grow the coffee they purchase, cutting out both the traditional middlemen, and also the organizations that control certifications, that we have realized do not add any value to the farmers or to us.
For RAW, the main benefits are traceability, improved quality of the beans we are able to buy, customized and experimental processing options, and the fact that the farmer is paid directly the agreed price he/she earns, which is often up to 2.6 times more than when there is a broker involved. We have seen a very real improvement in the quality year on year of green beans from the farmers and co-operatives we have selected to work with, as they understand exactly the quality that we are looking for and a mutual level of trust is established. And what better way to do this, than face to face.
When visiting coffee origins, we end up with more control over the quality of the coffee, particularly the processing options, where we can greatly impact the sensory potential of the beans that we roast and drink. There are three main processing techniques, Washed, Honey or Natural, but also an increasing amount of anaerobic fermentations that many of our farmers and Cooperatives are experimenting with. This is the fun stuff and being able to source these coffees and bring them back to Dubai is something we really enjoy.
We have been very lucky, as while the restrictions to travel over the last couple of years have provided logistical challenges and increased shipping costs, the relationships we have formed are strong enough that we have been able to speak on zoom to our origin partners and receive fresh samples and not seen any disruption to our supply chain. Fresh new season coffees have landed from Colombia and Peru, and we have containers on the water as I write this, from Timor, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mexico and Burundi.
Another benefit of travelling to the source and dealing direct trade, is that we have more of an impact on social issues in the communities surrounding the coffee farms. Being able to meet with farming communities, usually with a translator, we can make sure there are no pesticides or herbicides being used, we can check which trace minerals they might be fertilising with and to understand how this helps improve the quality of the coffee tree (without negatively impacting the health or quality of the soil). From an environmental standpoint, we can learn how they are disposing of their wastewater at the washing stations and whether they are considering the environmental impact of maintaining the local forest cover, which directly correlates to the natural birdlife and soil quality.
It is also quickly apparent when you visit a coffee farm if the immediate environment (land, wildlife, and people) are being respected. If the numerous children that are often running around look well fed, if the women have a voice (as they always make up a large percentage of the labor force), if there is a community school, and if the local processing mill looks clean and well organised, this gives us some insight into how the money from coffee farming is being distributed.
To wildly generalise there is a direct correlation to a well-run coffee community and the quality of green coffee and lifestyle, of the community surrounding it.
The entire supply chain benefits from stronger relationships and better communication; the farmers receive more money, and we can clearly communicate to you the coffee’s story and year on year we can improve what we offer in real time.