There's a huge human element behind coffee production that you should know about.
Coffee processing at the Shyira coffee station
We know our coffee is special, and many of you have discovered this by drinking a tasty cup with us. However, we haven’t spent a lot of time on the blog explaining why it’s considered *specialty coffee.* Specialty coffee gives us a better cup because of the incredible people involved from start to finish. From farm to cup, our coffee is focused on skilled people who work incredibly hard to bring you your favourite drink. How does coffee get from the farm to your cup? Let’s start with the beans.
All the coffee we drink is grown elsewhere and imported from tropical regions. As much as London and Southwestern Ontario is an agricultural hotbed, coffee is about as local as bananas for us. However, how the coffee gets from those farms to our cups matters to us, and we hope it matters to you, too. Fair trade is a buzzword you’ve probably heard before. Most people think when they’re buying fair trade coffee, they’re getting a good deal for the farmers, and they're somewhat correct in that thinking. Fair Trade certification means that farmers receive at least the global commodity price in exchange for their green beans, roughly $1.50 US per pound. In our view, anything less than Fair Trade is like stealing from the farmers' coffee plantation. Starbucks sources less than 10% of their coffee from Fair Trade certified providers, and we're not very impressed by their efforts. Tim Horton's is roughly 0% Fair Trade certified. That's right, Zero. Fortunately, you're not stuck buying mediocre-to-poor quality coffee from big companies. Lots of other small local coffee roasters do source Fair Trade, and we think that's a great start. However, there’s another level above Fair Trade that is even better for the farmers, and creates a better cup of coffee in the process. The best way to buy coffee (in our opinion) is through a process called Direct Trade. Direct Trade cuts out the mid-level wholesaler, and connects the roaster directly with the farmer. This direct connection between the roaster and the farmer is where the magic happens in the coffee world, and results in the best cups.
Direct Trade, or "Relationship Coffee," is a far more difficult and expensive way to obtain our product, and we’re convinced it's the best way to source beans. Green beans for specialty coffee cost between 3-4 times as much as the global commodity price, so the raw product cost of your bag of coffee costs $4-6 US per pound before it's roasted. Paying more for coffee allows the farmer to spend more time cultivating the ripest coffee cherries, drying the coffee for longer, and improving their sustainable agriculture processes. It also directly and immediately improves the lives of people working on the farms, increasing their quality of life. One particular example is the Shyira and Vunga Coffee Cooperatives in Rwanda, which you can read about here. Vunga is available right now on Pour Over, and Shyira will be available soon!
There’s another human element that I didn’t appreciate before getting into the coffee business. Many farmers who sell to coffee wholesalers don’t have access to roasting equipment, and have never tasted a cup of the product they produce on their farms. When a farm partners with an independent roaster, they can taste and understand the difference they make in the quality of product, and enjoy the fruits of their labour. To me, that partnership is what makes a truly beautiful relationship between farm and roaster.
We value people throughout our supply chain, and know that without a great relationship with farmers, we could not serve great coffee. We encourage you to ask questions about your coffee's origin wherever you go, and hope you will join us in our mission to serve a fantastic and fair cup every time you join us.