By Alicia Love,
When I first started in the specialty coffee industry about 6 years ago, the term "direct trade" was all anyone was talking about. People wanted to collaborate directly with farmers and cut out the middleman.
When I first started in the specialty coffee industry about 6 years ago, the term "direct trade" was all anyone was talking about. People wanted to collaborate directly with farmers and cut out the middleman. To me at least at first the whole idea seemed like a marketing gimmick trying to tug at the heartstrings of the socially minded consumer. I was a barista back then, and to me the idea seemed very far away both literally and figuratively. I had just been bitten by "the coffee bug" and hadn't yet realized I could make a career out of my newfound hobby.
Over the next few years as Coffee Labs grew, I began to form my own varying opinions of what direct trade coffee was and could be. In 2010 I was able to find out first hand after visiting Finca Liquadambar in Honduras to form what would become our first direct trade coffee relationship.
Today, Coffee Labs has a handful of farms that we deal with directly, but Finca Liquidambar will always be the first and special for that reason. We first discovered the wonderful coffee during the 2009 Cup of Excellence in Honduras, where Coffee Labs Owner Mike Love was a judge. Mike was completely blown away by the quality of the cup, and although it didn't make the final table, Mike knew he wanted to get his hands on this coffee.
Mike arranged to meet Farmer Reina Claros and take a tour of the farm and he really liked what he saw and tasted there. What we saw at the Cup of Excellence competition was no accident. The quality was still fantastic at the farm. The average lot size was also perfect for us.
What would immediately follow was a bit of a learning curve with regard to how exactly you get literally tons of coffee from point A to point B, where point B is thousands of miles away. Without getting too deep into the details, the most important thing I took away from that experience was that this whole idea of cutting out the middleman and trading with directly with roasters was kind of out of line in the industry. In this early time in direct trade coffee, some people in the coffee industry were making brokers and importers out to be villains of some kind. However, this was not the case for us. We learned quickly that if you start focusing all of your energy on the importing process, it took away from our primary goal, which was sourcing and roasting the highest quality coffee possible for our customers.
The reason I wanted to write this first blog entry was to share with you how rewarding this process became as it moved along. Watching Finca Liquidambar grow and improve with us over the years has filled me with a sense of pride that I’ve never experienced in a professional capacity in my life. It's a real and tangible sense that the work we’re doing is actually making a difference.
Since the beginning of our relationship, Reina has doubled her production and made vast improvements to the equipment she’s using on the farm. This year, she bought herself a coffee roaster so she can begin to more closely monitor the quality of her crop herself. We’ll be taking another a trip there in a few months to begin to teach her about roasting. She has been able to do all of this with the security of knowing that her entire lot will be purchased above market price. Investing in all of these resources without that security would be a major financial risk that few if any farmers would be willing to take.
This relationship benefits us greatly as well. Year after year her coffee has cupped better and better with each years production. It is because of this realization of just how mutually beneficial the direct model can be, that we started focusing our efforts on establishing relationships with more and more farmers.
This is more of a personal testimony from myself of how truly lucky I feel to go to work every day and know that what I do has a positive impact not only on my local community but in communities around the world. And also how lucky I am that I got to go and experience that impact first hand. It is this sense of gratitude that drives me and the rest of the Coffee Labs team to continue in this regard and invest in the communities around the world whenever possible.