Imagine how many beans it takes to make a cup of coffee, got it? Okay, now pick one bean out of the bunch. That one bean has traveled a long and arduous journey to arrive into your cup. Along that journey it was carefully grown, picked, and handled by some of the hardest working farmers known to man. In other words, getting that delicious cup of coffee in your hands is quite a process.
These coffee farms are made up of extremely hard working families who are accustomed a very different way of life (and have been for generations). Most coffee consumers never see this side of coffee–they simply see the cup in front of them and that’s it. But we here at The Roasterie make it one of our missions to educate our consumers on just how much hard work these farmers put in and how little compensation they truly receive.
Hence, the Beginning of Fair Trade Coffee
A term that is used by just about everybody in the coffee industry is “fair trade”. In the early years of coffee buying, it was very easy for coffee buyers to take advantage of growers and farmers. The fair trade movement aimed to change that by ensuring that farmers are paid a fair price for all of their hard labor. At the same time, the fair trade ideal eases the conscience of the average coffee drinker because it ensures them that their morning cup made with a positive impact.
Does Fair Trade Work?
Sounds like a win-win right? Not quite. Fair trade doesn’t help farmers as much as we think. You see, not all Fair Trade is the same. For example, what we here at The Roasterie consider to be Fair Trade isn’t the same Fair Trade that large coffee companies market. We spent many years developing relationships with our farmers that to us, it goes beyond just buying coffee beans. While on the contrary, major corporations primarily focus on doing the bare minimum so that they can put the fair trade seal on their product and generate positive PR.
The problem with Fair Trade is that while it sets a price floor for coffee, it doesn’t dictate quality. So farmers often sell their highest quality coffee above fair trade prices, and then sell their inferior coffee at the bottom of the price floor. Because there isn’t a more specific price level based on quality, the price floor often shifts.
Another flaw of fair trade is its lack of transparency. Despite certification programs and standards, what is considered fair trade that boosts the quality of life in one part of the world doesn’t qualify as a living wage in another. This is due in part to currency power and economics. Right now the fair trade price floor is roughly $1.40/lb. When the market is low, that is good. Sadly, the market is actually growing. When the floor doesn’t adapt to market conditions, it is the farmers and laborers who suffer.
What More Can We Do?
While we adhere to fair trade practices, we often feel that the system falls short and doesn’t always accomplish what it was designed to do. These farmers work tirelessly growing an nurturing something that so many people around the world routinely make a part of the day; and in return the ask for a living wage. That is why we often employ direct trade practices, to take care of our friends when the system falls short.
We care about delivering our customers the highest quality coffee at a price that is both fair to them and the people who made their coffee possible. It may cost a little more sometimes, but we feel it’s worth it; 20 years later we think you do too.