Counter Culture Coffee recently launched its Direct Trade program. It is a natural progression from their Source project, and is a robust example of similar models employed by other roasters, most notably Intelligentsia. Counter Culture is a pioneer, however, in that their Direct Trade coffees are certified by a third party (Quality Certification Services, paid for by Counter Culture).
Here are the standards:
- Fair and sustainable prices. Counter Culture works with each farmer to determine their production costs and begins price negotiations accordingly. This is the beauty of a direct relationship: many farmers really don’t know how to determine or track their productions costs, and therefore accept pricing that may not realize a profit for themselves. A direct relationship like this Counter Culture model is a true partnership, with the roaster assisting the farmers in calculating, forecasting, and streamlining their production costs. The result: farmers make a good living, roasters have reliable sources of great coffee.Currently, CCC pays a minimum of $1.60/lb. for green coffee; this is expected to rise in 2009. There are also quality-based financial incentives paid to growers on top of this (see below), designed to encourage ecologically-responsible cultivation methods and sustained quality improvement over time.
- Personal and direct communiction. Counter Culture visits grower partners on a biennial basis, at minimum. CCC has an entire section on their web site devoted to posts on trips to origin.
- Exceptional quality. Direct Trade coffees have scored at least 85 on a 100-pt. cup quality scale. The highest quality coffees are rewarded with higher prices paid to the grower.
- 100% Transparency. All relevant financial information is is available to all parties — growers, buyers, seller, intermediaries, customers — always.
I think this is a superior model to that of Fair Trade certification in a number of ways. First, of course, is that FT certification only applies to small farmers organized into cooperatives, it is not available to family-owned farms or plantations or single producers. Farmers themselves also do not necessarily receive all or a large portion of any price premiums; this is decided by the cooperative. Second, FT pricing does not take into account any differences in cost of production or cost of living in different regions. Third, FT certification does not certify or verify relationships or communications between producers and roasters or retailer, they only certify the financial transactions between them. Finally, FT does not certify, reward, or incorporate quality into their standards.
Some of Counter Culture’s coffees are also Fair Trade certified, but not labelled as such. And not all Counter Culture coffees will be Direct Trade certified, as it
takes some time to work with farmers to get to that level. But the sourcing and purchasing philosophy behind Direct Trade at Counter Culture applies to all their coffees. Congratulations to Counter Culture for this progressive move, which I hope is the future of all coffee sourcing!
If you’d like to read more on direct trade versus Fair Trade, take a look at the comments of Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia at green LA girl (or my brief summary), the Intelligentsia Direct Trade principles and criteria, or this discussion at Coffeed.