Following up on last month’s post about libertarians and Fair Trade coffee, it’s worth noting that leading roaster Counter Culture Coffee has released its annual transparency report for its Direct Trade certified beans. It’s available here in PDF format and is very cool. For every coffee in the program it tells you which employee visited the farm, when they last visited, the price paid for the beans, the beans’ cupping score, the number of years CCC has been buying from that farm, and a paragraph-length description of their work at each location. You really can’t beat that level of transparency.
To put the numbers in context, here’s a quick summary: The minimum price required for Fair Trade certification is $1.26 per pound. Counter Culture’s Direct Trade certification has a minimum of $1.60. The actual lowest price the roaster paid last year was $1.65. They paid as high as $4.45, with many coffees falling somewhere above $2 or $3.
As I said before, I’m not reflexively against Fair Trade, but I don’t want consumers to think it’s the best or only game in town. When you put that program up against the Direct Trade programs of the best specialty roasters it’s easy to see why many coffee lovers prefer the latter model.
The Washington Post has a great article today about Counter Culture Coffee and the company’s unique business model: No retail stores, no shipping past the East Coast, fully staffed training centers in major markets, and an emphasis on free coffee education for the public. There are other roasters producing comparably great coffees, but I don’t know if any have done more to raise the bar for coffee standards in the areas they serve. Check it out here.
Today Counter Culture Coffee unveiled it’s new Direct Trade program, which they say is the first third-party certified direct trade seal. Counter Culture will partner with Quality Certification Services to guarantee that the company’s selected coffees meet the following standards:
1. Personal & Direct Communiction:
Counter Culture has visited grower partners on a biennial basis, at minimum.
2. Fair & Sustainable Prices:
Counter Culture has paid at least $1.60/lb. for green coffee. This exceeds the Fair Trade Certified floor price by at least 19%, not including quality-based financial incentives paid to growers.
3. Exceptional Quality:
Coffees have scored at least 85 on a 100-pt. cup quality scale.
4. 100% Transparency:
We take a transparent approach to everything we do and are committed to sharing our financial information with everyone from growers to consumers. Counter Culture maintains direct communication between buyers, sellers, and any intermediaries. All relevant financial information is available to all parties, always.
As Fair Trade certification, while well-intentioned, is limited by lack of incentives for quality and its requirement that participating farmers work in co-ops. CCC’s Direct Trade is more flexible, rewards quality, builds long-term relationships, and pays higher prices. CCC and other top roasters have been working along these lines for a while, but without outside certification. Hopefully this step will help promote the direct trade model to consumers and other roasters.