Over the last 15 years, the way that we source coffee has evolved. For the past ten years, we’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled the world each year in pursuit of excellent coffee, following the speciality industry’s guiding principles of Direct Trade. And, each year, as we grow, we travel farther and wider, finding ourselves in the enviable position of being able to look beyond the expected. Our longstanding relationships remain the backbone of what we offer, but new explorations punctuate this and offer our customers a taste of the future of speciality coffee.
Direct Trade is a method of sourcing which is, as it suggests, direct. Most commonly with the producer or an exporting partner. The term is used quite loosely within the industry though as it can mean a different thing to different roasters. It can also be a hard one to quantify and qualify, in general terms. A country’s infrastructure, regulations and political landscape all impact on the way we can trade and how “direct” this is with the producers themselves. For these reasons, it’s harder to meet the producers and workers on many farms in Ethiopia and Kenya, than say in El Salvador or Colombia. What we can quantify though is the price we pay. We always pay at least 50% over FairTrade prices, without exception; the minimum we’ve paid in 2019 is actually $2.30/lb vs $1.40/lb (FairTrade price). For this year’s feature coffees (the rotating program of single-origin coffees we release each month), we’ve paid up to $7.50/lb (this was for an experimental anaerobic-process coffee). Our Special Edition trading prices considerably exceed this, due to their incredibly high cup scores (a quality measure).
One of the reasons we Direct Trade is that it gives us, and the drinker, traceability in the cup. We can tell you who produced it, when, how, even where on their farm. We’ve visited them – wherever feasible - and seen the farms and met their workers first-hand. This is the case for all our longstanding producer partners, in Brazil, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia and Honduras. These are where the main volume of our coffee comes from. We share meals with them and their families, chat about what inspires them and what keeps them awake at night. In the few countries we work within which trading happens at washing stations or at the exporters, we request audit documents. These include information on who has contributed to the coffee (in locations in which small land parcels require supplying to a co-operative), how much they contributed, information on how they process their crops, their environmental impact and treatment of their farmworkers. This documentation can be challenging to secure, such as in Ethiopia and Tanzania, but we work hard with our exporting partners to get it; Working with trusted exporting partners who have the same ethics and values as us is critical.
As well as greater traceability, by forging relationships directly with producers we’re supporting a sustainable future. The price we pay enables social and environmental sustainability projects at producer-level and reinvestment into production at the farms. This sustainability means they can continue to do what they do, which benefits us in turn. These relationships mean we can secure delicious future crops and collaborate on experimental lots or processing, all of which lead to higher quality and more diversity in the coffees we offer.
Every year we will work with our longstanding partners, such as Ricardo Barbosa in Brazil, who we’ve worked with for ten years; these producers form the foundation of our coffee offering. But, increasingly, we’re researching and travelling to places less trodden to add further diversity to our portfolio. Our Head of Coffee and World-Class Cup Taster, Freda Yuan, has a pioneering vision of sourcing. For her – and for Origin – exceptional coffee shouldn’t conform to a certain idea or expectation. Through Freda’s explorations, we strive to break people’s preconceptions of what an incredible coffee can be, where it can grow or who grows it. We’re prepared to buck trends and charter new territory, in pursuit of an exceptional cup. And the reward isn’t just the coffee. By doing this not only can we broaden the horizons of our drinkers, but we can support producers around the world in their efforts; Whether that’s in developing ground-breaking new production techniques or emerging into the world of speciality coffee production and doing a superb job at it.
This year we’ve launched over 50 coffees, from nine different countries. Alongside Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nicaragua, were feature coffees from less-heralded origins, including China and Indonesia. Next year (2020) you’ll see all of this and more. Expect to see more feature coffees from Panama representing non-gesha varietals and coffees from Tanzania and Peru. Plus plenty of naturally processed crops. And much more.
The past 15 years have been an exploration. And we look forward to the next 15 and to being part of the ever-evolving map of speciality coffee.