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What is Direct Trade to Fratello Coffee Roasters?

September 17, 2012

You have probably heard about it, and seen many people promoted/talk about it, but what is direct trade?  One of the issues with direct trade, is that it does not have the same meaning to every coffee roaster.  It is NOT a certification, it is a purchasing philosophy.   Below is our ideas around it and why we do it.

Direct trade coffee is a relatively new term which referring to the purchasing practices of coffee roasters who chose to make a direct relationship with the farmers they buy from. Also known as “Relationship Coffee”.

Fratello Coffee Roasters is choosing to work directly with our coffee growers for a few reasons:

This allows us to work with the farmers at origin to produce flavor profiles which are unique and stand out from what is available through the open market. Through working directly at the farm, we are able to find unique coffees before it is mixed in with other coffee at Cooperatives. Cooperative coffee has its place in the market (Eg. Fairtrade Coffees are Cooperative coffee), and most roasters only have access to this type of coffee. Often this is considered “commodity coffee” due to its pricing being based on the commodity market versus agreeing to a price with the farmer. Cooperatives buy coffee from many people, blend this coffee together and sell to mills/brokers/greenies. Brokers then sell this coffee to roasters. We find that the end result produces a “Style” of coffee instead of a “Profile” of coffee. When you are working with a famers, or a single estate, you are able to pick specific areas of the farm which is being harvested a specific way, growing a specific varietals of coffee, and then processed a specific way. Each of those choices are equally important and produce a unique flavor profile in the finished cup.

Fratello is able to go to the farms/Estates we work with to see the impact our purchases make. One of the issues we have always had with certifications that “give back” is that we were unable to follow the extra money we paid for coffee to see the impact, and ensure that it is being used properly. Its not that we disagree with those certifications, we just feel that there are better ways to impact the communities we want to work with. Through going to these farms, and paying these extra funds for the coffee, we impact those farmers, employees and families immediately. As a roaster, this takes a lot of extra effort as well as a lot of expense due traveling, but the value our partners receive is well worth it.

We can ensure that their staff are cared for and that they are following proper environmental practices. One of the key things we look for when visiting our farms, is that the owner of the farm is doing what they can to help the community around them. We look to ensure that there is health care for the workers, that there is adequate food and shelter provided for the employee’s, that the employee’s are paid well for what they do, and that the workers families are taken into consideration. Often woman on the farm will need to bring their children, so it is important that they are never exploited, and that they have care and access to education.

We get to work directly with farmers who are passionate about growing coffee, and who want to produce the best coffee they can. We agree to pay them premiums for this quality. Really its comes down to quality green coffee when you are doing what you can to roast the best tasting coffee. We will pay our partners more money for better quality green. What many certifications will do is pay the farmers more money for environmental practices (which are important!!); however, the taste of the coffee seems to come second. We want to work with farmers who are as passionate about coffee as we are. We are choosing to work with farmers that are 100% dedicated to growing coffee, not farmers who merely look at this as a secondary cash crop they can grow beside their bananas. We grow the best coffee needs constant care, so we work with farmers who are artisan’s at this craft. We want to work with farmers who are following their green coffee not only through the growing and harvesting process, but who take that same care and attention at the wet and dry mills. It is only this care and attention that can guarantee the best green coffee available in the market today.

Fratello’s direct trade partners receive approximately 25% (and up) more money for their coffee than what Fairtrade’s published rates.  It is going to be an on-going process to expand our relationships to more regions and greater selections from within the regions we already work.

Our goals are simple.  Financially reward the coffee producers we work with for the quality they produce, in order to bring you better quality coffee each year with the hopes of establishing a long lasting relationship.