Adventures of a Coffee Trainer by Emma Haines

Adventures of a Coffee Trainer by Emma Haines

Conscious Coffee… Is lack of transparency no longer an option?

‘Millennials’ (whatever that term actually means) seem to get a lot of stick nowadays. They are blamed for the decrease in alcohol consumption and the rise in avocado eating. They’ve made beetroot lattes a thing, and apparently prefer staying in to going out on the town.

But even if you firmly believe root vegetables don’t belong in hot drinks, we should be grateful for the increase in demand for transparency across the supply chain that is coming at us hard and fast from millennial consumers.

I’ve been involved in coffee tenders across large commercial groups for a while now and I’ve noticed an ever-growing trend. Where cost used to be top of the list, it seems it’s making its way further down the list of priorities, behind things such as traceability and sustainability. Companies know that their coffee supplier needs to stump up a clear connection to the farm, or at the very least, be able to prove exactly where that coffee came from and that the grower and their family were paid enough for it.

Now, before we get too excited, I need to remind you that there is still a big issue with the C Price and cost of production. Not all coffee is ‘paying its way’ and many, many farmers arestill struggling, but it’s encouraging to see tender documents being reviewed carefully to ensure the coffee supply ticks more than just the price per kg box.

The specialty coffee industry should be immensely proud of what it is achieving in this field. For years now, the specialty sector has remained steadfast in its work to improve the lives of those that work hard to produce our coffee by paying a fair price, but it seems that certain terminology is bounded around rather loosely by everyone now. I often hear from students, that the roastery they work for has ‘Direct Trade’ with a farm. This term, at first glance, seems one that will tick several more boxes on that tender list, right? Well, that is until we dig a little deeper.

Without meaning to sound pedantic, I do have a bit of an issue with this term. The name direct trade means just that in my eyes. It means that we (the roastery) visit a farm, meet the farmer, and agree to purchase that coffee. It means that we effectively sign a cheque to purchase direct from that person. It also means we more than likely need to employ someone locally that can oversee the movement of the coffee, that we understand the local law and customs, that we arrange space in a container at the port, that we get the coffee to the port, that we load the coffee into said container, that we have an export license so it can legally leave the country of origin, that we insure it from the farm to the port, on the sea and so on. We then need to organise everything once it eventually arrives in the UK so that we aren’t left red-faced with several tonnes of green beans stuck in a container and no way of handling them off the ship. I think you get the picture?

So why do I have an issue with this? Well, I’ll tell you why. Direct trade is an excellent way of trading, but there aren’t many that can effectively do it. Therefore, we need to build meaningful relationships with those ‘middle men/women’. Those middle people are the ones responsible for moving millions of tonnes of green beans safely and legally around the world. They are hugely experienced at sourcing the right coffee, and subsequently ensuring it arrives in the UK warehouse ready for us to roast. They take huge risks and make large investments, working closely with farmers to build relationships on our behalf. So, surely, it’s better to shout about our relationships with good, solid, trustworthy importers than to state we direct trade when we often don’t?

Blockchain is another route that’s gaining lots of traction. In effect, it uses cryptocurrency to track the coffee. It makes the information accessible and although it doesn’t directly impact the way coffee is priced, it will allow farmers access to buyers and the ability to follow their green coffee. Think of it as a way of digitally tagging the coffee, with cryptocurrency payments that are paid direct and able to be converted to local currency.

Whichever way you choose to purchase your green coffee, it’s important to be honest and upfront with your consumers. There’s no shame in telling people you work with a trustworthy importer, but it is misleading to imply you do something that you don’t.

Let’s focus on building those relationships, whether direct with the farmer, or via an importer. If you’re paying the right price for your coffee, there’s no need to shroud it in incorrect terminology.

  • Emma has worked in hospitality and catering training for the last 10 years. For the last five years, she has focused on coffee training, in particular specialty coffee training, and how to incorporate specialty elements into commercial environments. She works all over Europe and beyond, and is a resident trainer at London School of Coffee.


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