Coffee as a global industry is by and large harmful to people and planet. What brings us together as a team of coffee professionals is a dissatisfaction with this status quo and a belief that positive change and alternate models are possible, starting with how we design our very own coffee business.
Small farms, Big Impact
Smallholder farmers produce most of our world's coffee supply, yet they remain the most marginalized geographically and economically of all actors in the industry. 100% of our coffee purchases support the businesses of small-scale farmers or family-owned farms.
Most producers in the world fail to earn a price that covers their cost of production. A requirement for us to purchase a coffee through an importer is access to transactions and pricing traceability from the producer up to us. Today, we look at two benchmarks as indicators of a sustainable price that we pay for coffee. Our price paid FOB for coffee against known FOB price benchmarks, and our Farmgate price against well-researched costs to produce a pound of coffee. Read our most recent transparency report for more information on prices we paid.
Reducing Our Environmental Impact
Coffee is a high intensity carbon impact food. Most GHG emissions and landfill waste occur in the final phases of coffee's lifecycle (roasting, distributing, retailing, brewing and consuming). We are committed to delivering a lower carbon impact cup. Today some commitments towards this include using 100% biodegradable packaging for our coffee bags, composting in 2 on 4 of our cafés, incentivising the use of reusable cups in our cafés by offering $0.25c rebate on drinks, donating $0.02c/LB per LB of green coffee that we buy to World Coffee Research, delivering our e-commerce orders when possible by bicycle courrier or electric truck, and roasting our coffee with an Afterburner that reduces harmful emissions by 95%.
In short, no, and we do not associate this phrase with a high(er) impact way of purchasing coffee than how we currently do. We will try to unpack this further here:
“Direct Trade” is a model that favours the elimination of intermediaries between producers and roasters. It is important to highlight that “eliminating intermediaries” does NOT necessarily means more money goes to the farmers than when coffee is traded through intermediaries like importers:
“Direct Trade” has been commonly defined in our industry as an approach to purchasing coffee from the farmer to the roaster. This may be possible in certain producing countries, and with certain farm archetypes where farmers have the foundational structures in place to export their own coffee and access markets abroad. However, there are many millions of farmers who rely on cooperatives, collection centres, mills and exporters to move to the roasting phase of the distribution chain. This is the prevalent structure in most of the producing countries where our coffees come from..
Decreasing intermediaries does not inherently lead to increasing income for farmers
In some form, all coffee is traded through intermediaries. Not only is there a wide variety of “farm archetypes”, but there are also a myriad of intermediary structures between farmers and roasters. All coffee must move through four primary steps before final consumption, and in each of these stages, there can be multiple local actors or agents required to move coffee from one step to the next: from cultivation (in producing country), to processing into green coffee (in producing country), to roasting (generally in consuming country), and, finally, to d) packaging/retailing (generally in consuming country).
We choose to purchase most of our coffee from smallholder farmers (holding less than 10 hectares of land) because research supports that this is where we can have the greatest impact, both economically and socially. Smallholder farmers tend to be the most vulnerable coffee producers, and those with the least market access in the traditional coffee supply chain. They are also plentiful - over 25 million of them produce 80% of our world’s coffee.
In order to access smallholder farmers, informal producers associations, and cooperatives, we need to work with intermediaries. Importers, the intermediaries that we most frequently communicate with, are carefully selected business partners. We require that they share key aspects of our vision toward increasing farmers’ economic agency, and they often have long standing relationships with cooperatives and smallholder farmers. All of our importers have active, on-the-ground presence in the producing countries they represent, allowing them to provide pricing and impact traceability to buyers like us, and to better understand the personalized needs of each farming community.
The positive impacts of "Direct trade” are only as effective as the roaster who is buying the coffee. Traditionally, roasters hold the largest margins of any intermediary in the coffee supply chain. If direct trade is able to transmit more of the roaster’s costs directly to the farmer, thereby increasing the farmer income, this is good, in principle, but direct trade can just as easily enable roasters to simply keep more of the total margin without meaningfully increasing the farmer income, and furthermore without supporting the operations of value-driven importers like those we choose to work with.
Stay in touch
We share coffee stories, home brew tips, product launches, events and promos.