When I do my tastings I often get asked, “Are these organic fair trade?” My answer is, “no, unfortunately my coffees do not have those certifications. BUT, they are directly traded.”

Now, what is direct trade? Direct trade is the most recent movement in coffee, started by coffee roasters like Intelligentsia and Counter Culture Coffee where the roaster or importer goes to the farms to develop first hand relationships with the farmers. My supplier, Sweet Maria’s/Coffee Shrub, calls its direct trade program Farm Gate™, where the prices are negotiated at the “farm gate.” Here long term, sustainable relationships are formed and attention to high quality production can be incentivized and controlled.

“Now, what is direct trade? Direct trade is the most recent movement in coffee, started by coffee roasters like Intelligentsia and Counter Culture Coffee where the roaster or importer goes to the farms to develop first hand relationships with the farmers”

“Fair Trade” is an independent certification agency that ensures cooperatives, not farmers, get a fair wage for their product. The values and morals of fair trade are inherently good and should be supported, but the process of direct trade goes above and beyond the benefits of fair trade.

For example, the cooperatives get the funding from the Fair Trade organization, but there is no oversight to making sure the money trickles down to the farmers who produced it, which is a perennial problem within coffee production. Further direct trade relationships allow for greater quality control, for the importer can help out with issues revolving around the production, and gives incentives by paying higher premiums and bonuses for performing quality enhancing practices such as picking only the ripe fruit and having consistent processing methods. With the prices for coffee being directly influenced by the quality of the cup, everyone works harder to produce the best coffee possible.

“Further direct trade relationships allow for greater quality control, for the importer can help out with issues revolving around the production, and gives incentives by paying higher premiums and bonuses for performing quality enhancing practices such as picking only the ripe fruit and having consistent processing methods”

While there is nothing wrong with the Fair Trade certification, since it has pushed people to be more conscientious with their buying and drinking habits, the direct trade process has taken the quest of sustainability and quality to the next level. The biggest thing for Paradigm is that the farmers have a face, and that they are rewarded financially and emotionally for their work.

Many coffees we have are from Sweet Maria’s Proyecto Xinabajul (She-nah-bah-hool), where Sweet Maria’s searches deep into the mountains of Huehuetenango region in Guatemala to find the small quality producers. Most of the farmers in the region throw their harvests into big valley cooperatives, where generic industrial coffee drowns out all the uniqueness of their coffee. Many farmers were hesitant at first to work with Sweet Maria’s but seeing Sweet Maria’s commitment to helping and paying for quality showed them the new possibilities of working in the specialty market.

“The biggest thing for Paradigm is that the farmers have a face, and that they are rewarded financially and emotionally for their work”

The direct trade movement has definitely begun, and it has been fun to watch the improvements to quality and conditions of coffee farming and quality. Now it will be the consumers to keep pushing for sustainably sourced coffee and praising these farmers who work so hard to give us such an amazing coffee experience every day.

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by Reid Patterson

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