Direct Trade Coffee is A Two-way Street

Direct Trade coffee is more than just going to the farm, but rather is the overall relationship that exists from field to cup. While it’s essential that importers understand the point of origin, and have a personal relationship with growers, it’s equally important for the coffee farmers to see the whole “coffee chain.” A recent article in Fresh Cup magazine talks about the importance of a two way street between growers, importers, and roasters.

Ever since coffee roasters began going to origin to source coffee directly from growers, there’s been debate and confusion about what direct trade looks like exactly. Trying to capture direct trade within a single definition tends to oversimplify the complexities of intrinsically personal coffee transactions. Rather than considering direct trade as a model that is tweaked as it’s applied to a given scenario, perhaps it is more accurate to think of direct trade in terms of a qualitative shift in the intentions behind trade, a shift that ultimately leads to direct relationships and direct communication no matter the varied logistics that underlie buying and selling coffee.

These relationships and communications are often discussed from the point of view of downstream stakeholders in consuming countries buying coffee from farmers and traveling to the source at origin. Truly direct trade functions in this direction and in the reverse; it creates equal space for producers to actively sell coffee to roasters and follow their product all the way to its final destination.

Direct communication is the core of direct trade, but travel is about more than just face-to-face conversations; it’s about understanding the essence of a place. Visiting origin is often a moving experience for roasters and baristas, an illuminating process that fosters holistic understanding of the complexities behind coffee. Traveling to coffee destinations in consuming countries is equally moving for producers; seeing customers lined up out the door of a café serving their coffee can change their perception of their importance to coffee. Producers are as eager as roasters to trace their harvests, and those who do demonstrate that in direct-trade, travel, like communication, flows both ways.

Case Study 1: Marianela Montero and Sound Coffee Collective

Sound Coffee Collective, based in Riverside, California, is a new company dedicated to providing farmers with digital marketing materials and tools to promote themselves and their coffees in a direct-trade market. Rather than set up the collective as a non-profit dependent on fluctuating donations, founder Miah Idema opted to establish an LLC, selling roasted coffee purchased from the farmers Sound works with to generate revenue for future projects.

While traveling in Costa Rica in 2014, Idema volunteered on coffee farms in Tarrazu that belonged to brothers Carlos and Manuel Montero. He was inspired by the dedication the brothers and their families had poured into building a micro-mill to process their coffee and those of neighboring farms. “Their work ethic and their life stories completely altered my view of reality,” says Idema. He was inspired by their resilience and connection to their land and their work. “My generation has lost that connection to how things were made. My passion is for people, for learning the ways we think and how we do things.” Read more