Many consumers have heard the term “Direct Trade,” which refers to the purchasing practices of coffee roasters who choose to form direct relationships with the farmers they buy from. At Fratello, Direct Trade isn’t just a method for acquiring our beans — it’s a philosophy that we use to guide the way we do business.
We choose to work directly with our coffee growers for a few key reasons. First off, the practice allows us to work with the farmers at origin to produce flavor profiles that are unique and stand out from what is available through the open market. By going directly to the farm, we are able to find amazing coffees before they are mixed in with other coffee at cooperatives.
Cooperatives buy coffee from a collective of farmers and blend the coffee together and sell to mills, brokers, and greenies, who in turn sell to the roasters. It is by far the most common way that most roasters source their beans. The result doesn’t necessarily make for bad coffee, but we find that the cooperative model produces a “style” of coffee rather than a unique “profile.”
When we work directly with famers or a single estate, we are able to pick specific areas of the farm that are being harvested a specific way, growing a specific varietal of coffee that are then processed a specific way. Each of those choices plays a key role and produces a unique flavor profile in the finished cup.
Secondly, going directly to the farms and estates we work with gives us the opportunity to see the impact our purchases make firsthand. One of the issues we’ve always had with certifications that “give back” to the grower is that we were unable to follow the extra money we paid for the coffee to see that it was being used properly. It isn’t that we don’t trust 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 more for the coffee we bring back to our roastery, the effect on farmers, employees, and families becomes immediately clear. As a roaster, this takes a lot of extra effort as well as a lot of expense due to the travel, but the value to our partners is well worth it. We are also choosing to pay more to the coffee producers who are producing higher quality. They deserve the extra premium for the extra work they do to ensure the quality we require.
It’s also important for us to see that a grower’s workforce is cared for and that each farm is following proper environmental practices. One of the key things we look for when visiting our farms is that the owner is taking necessary steps to benefit the surrounding community. We want to see that there is health care available for the workers, that there is adequate food and shelter provided for the employees, that the employees 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 to work, so it is important that those children are never exploited and that they have proper care and access to education
This process not only gives us a peace of mind when selling our coffee, but also the ability to control flavour and quality. We get to work directly with farmers who are passionate about growing coffee and want to produce the best coffee possible. Unlike many conventional certifications that pay farmers a premium for sound environmental practices (which are also incredibly important), we also pay our partners more money for better quality green, which produces a better tasting coffee. We are choosing to work with farmers that are 100% dedicated to growing coffee, rather than farmers who merely look at coffee as a secondary cash crop they can grow alongside their bananas.
Fratello’s direct trade partners receive approximately 25-35% more money for their coffee than Fairtrade’s published rates. Our goal to expand our relationships to more regions and greater selections from within the regions we already work will be an on-going process and it’s a process that we love.
Our philosophy is simple: financially reward the coffee producers we work with for the quality they produce in order to bring our customers better quality coffee. It’s a win-win.
The coffee industry has coined the term “Third Wave Coffee,” which refers to a movement to produce a higher quality of coffee. We see coffee as an artisanal foodstuff like wine, rather than a commodity like wheat. Riding the Third Wave involves improvements at all stages of production, from improving coffee bean growing, harvesting, and processing, to stronger relationships between coffee growers and coffee traders and roasters, as well as higher quality and fresh roasting (at times called micro-roasting in analogy with microbrew beer) and skilled brewing practices.
At Fratello we understand coffee because it has literally been our life’s work for over a quarter century. The process that starts with us carefully choosing our green beans by travelling to countries of origin continues at our Calgary-
based roastery. The roasting process is complex and the tiniest of changes in roasting time, temperature, and other factors can significantly affect the taste of our coffee.
The staff who work in our roastery are made up of professional coffee roasters who all share a passion and commitment to making the best possible cup of coffee. While many other coffee roasters don’t spend much time profiling each varietal, we’ve been known to spend up to three months and 200 lbs (roasting 1/2 lb at a time) of beans profiling cup after cup until we get every factor exactly right. It’s that attention to detail and constant quest to never stop until we get the best flavour that makes our coffee truly unique.