Transparency in Coffee & Why it's Important:
Hey there - Dustin here!
I joined The Roasters Pack and This Coffee Co. as Director of Coffee a couple of months ago, and am excited to officially share more about what I do here. I’ve been working in coffee for close to 5 years now and have worn many different hats in the industry. I have been a barista, coffee warehouse worker, sample roaster, QC taster, green coffee buyer, and a Q Grader since 2019. Some of you may know that I currently also work with Leaderboard Coffee, supporting their educational side, communications, and social media.
Over the next while, I will be connecting with roasters and curating the coffee selections for The Roasters Pack alongside Suneal, and sourcing transparent and delicious coffees for This Coffee Co.
What I love most about coffee is the community itself, as well as the depth of education. I’m stoked to be working with these companies that value, respect, and reflect these aspects of coffee.
I’ll be writing about transparency today, and I'll talk a little bit about the first coffee I helped source with This Coffee Co.: A Kenya Ndaro-Ini AA, exported by Vava Angwenyi, and imported by JA Coffee.
Equitable, Transparent Trade is the Goal
This Coffee Co. began right here at The Roasters Pack, and our goal is to share more about transparency with our coffees. If you haven’t heard, coffee might not be around for much longer unless we take initiative and take action. Fortunately, there are some steps we can take, and some solutions and remedies to help us preserve this beautiful plant that we call Arabica (more on different types of coffee plants later ;))
We’ve already talked briefly about possible solutions such as fair trade, or paying your local coffee roaster more for their coffee, but how can we make sure that our money is making a difference for the farmer or producer?
The short answer is, we can’t exactly do that. Unfortunately, there currently isn’t a regulatory body that guarantees the producer makes enough from selling the coffee through the supply chain to you. However, there are some solutions that utilize transparency as a means to educate and empower all the parties in the supply chain (AKA supply stream, value chain, value stream).
We’re here to shed a bit more light on how the supply stream works, and where money goes. And just to be clear, we will be providing broader, simplified ideas here, as people have written books on this topic (suggested reading at the end).
Coffee always starts at origin. Whether in Brazil, Ethiopia, or Vietnam, coffee grows in soil, requiring fertilization and agricultural expertise. As the coffee grows and ripens, it is picked or harvested, processed, and dried to a certain standard to be sold. Based on location, accessibility, and privilege, producers may or may not have access to quality control tools, as well as diverse markets (for exportation, selling to cooperatives, local consumption, etc.). We only have access to coffees that have been exported, so we will primarily look at these, in addition to delving deeper into the importing process too. Only then can a smaller roastery like us purchase a coffee, which is then sold to you. We will dive deeper into each individual step another time.
Where does money go along the chain?
Value (money) accumulates at every part of the chain, and more hands involved means more money going to the middle people. Although it seems great to “cut out the middle person,” there has to be a balance, and there are indispensable parties that support the logistics of getting the coffee to us, and to you.
How can we improve transparency?
As unconventional as this is to do in the business world, we strive to look for where all the money goes along the chain. We want to know how much producers are paid, what the margins of exporters are with the work they’re doing, and respect importers who share this information as they put in work and have risks as well. All of this information is used to create our transparency graphs, to hopefully give you a better idea of what numbers make sense relative to various aspects of the coffee. Whenever we release a coffee through This Coffee Co., make sure to follow along with the write up about the transparency.
You can find the transparency information on our Kenya Ndaro-Ini AA below.
Kenya Ndaro-Ini AA Transparency Information
It is important that everybody along the chain makes an appropriate profit relative to labour and costs. What is key, however, is whether producers and farmers are paid enough, to both meet their cost of production and to make a profit. As you can see, traceability and transparent numbers through the chain could be easily misrepresented or lost, and thus makes it very difficult to know how much the producer was paid. Showing what happens along the chain is how we want to address transparency, because it is important to know where your money is going.
Suggested reading and listening
Freda Yuan on Coffee Transparency via Origin Coffee Roasters
Michelle Johnson on An Exploration of a Sustainable Value Chain via Re:Co
Ever Meister on Transparency via In Good Taste Podcast
Melbourne Coffee Merchants on Importance of Transparency, Difficulties, and Solutions
Jonas Lorenz on Gaining Clarity on Transparency via Keys To The Shop Podcast
Joe Morocco on Transpancy, Origin Knowledge, and Your Shop via Keys To The Shop Podcast
Ainhoa Martinez on Transparency via Sample Coffee
Alejandro Cadena on The Specialty Coffee Transaction Guide via Caravela Coffee
Joanne Berry on Why Transparency Matters via Nordic Approach
Dear Coffee Buyer - Ryan Brown