WHAT IS DIRECT TRADE?
THE FIRST STEP OF REALIZING OUR MISSION IS FINDING THE MOST AMAZING GREEN BEANS THIS WORLD HAS TO OFFER, BEANS THAT HAVE A DEPTH OF FLAVOUR THAT TELLS THE STORY OF WHERE THEY COME FROM.
There's a lot of coffee out there and countless ways to buy, sell and distribute it, and at Pilot Coffee Roasters we have our own method, one that aligns with our goals, values and ethics. We want our coffees to reflect the complex factors that make them special, from the varietal of the bean, to the climate, soil and altitude of the growing region, to the care and skill of the farmer.
So how do we go about finding these exceptional coffees?
Before we get into specifics, we'll briefly explain our sourcing options, to give some context to how we make our decisions. Most coffee on the market can be divided into two categories, commodity and specialty, each with different ways of judging and pricing beans.
– COMMODITY COFFEE –
This makes up the majority of coffee consumed around the world. That run-of-the-mill stuff you'll find at fast food chains and the like. Mainly traded through the New York Board of Trade, the price itself is set by the open market. It's graded for quality in its own way, but within each grade the coffee is treated as a uniform product, pretty much ignoring all the nuances of origin that impact flavour and distinguish beans from one another.
– SPECIALTY COFFEE –
This grading system puts a lot of stock in the unique influences of origin, and places the highest priority on overall quality. Specialty coffee is traded either through specialty importers or directly between roasters and farmers. The price depends on quality and is often four or more times higher than the price of commodity coffee. Since high quality coffee is difficult to grow and care for, specialty coffees almost always come from small lots owned by those dedicated farmers who devote a lot of time and attention to their craft.
Naturally, all of Pilot Coffee Roasters beans are specialty beans.
THERE ARE TWO TRADE MODELS TO CONSIDER FOR GETTING COFFEE FROM THE FARM TO OUR ROASTERY; FAIR TRADE AND DIRECT TRADE.
– FAIR TRADE BASICS –
Fair Trade began as a way to make farmers less vulnerable to shifts in the global coffee market. Because coffee is a difficult crop to grow, and farms can't easily switch to producing other crops if they're facing challenges, producers are at the mercy of fluctuations in prices. Minor changes can have huge impacts, especially on small farms, and Fair Trade seeks to minimize the risks for the farmers.
In this model, coffee is brought and sold through democratic cooperatives made up of small producers. The price is pegged at a minimum slightly higher than that of commodity coffee, which gives farmers some stability. In return for this premium, cooperatives must ensure their members are putting funds back into community development, promoting environmental sustainability, and implementing ethical labour practices. Fair Trade coffee is classified as specialty coffee, even though the system of pricing and quality control looks similar to commodity coffee.
– DIRECT TRADE BASICS –
Direct Trade is all about building lasting relationships that create the most mutual benefit. In this model, there are no brokers, cooperatives, or any other intermediaries between the roaster and the producers.
While Fair Trade is an important system, and there are many ethical importers, direct relationships truly allow for full transparency between buyers and sellers. Roasters see firsthand the growing and working conditions at each farm, so we know exactly who we're buying from, and can be sure we're supporting sustainable and ethical practices.
These relationships open up the lines of communication, allowing both the buyer and seller to understand each other's costs and agree on a price that reflects those realities. That translates into better prices for producers, and higher quality coffee for roasters. These coffees come in at prices quite a bit higher than Fair Trade and they're totally worth it.
Getting back to our mission to roast great coffee and work with great people, Direct Trade is a perfect fit for us. Going straight to the producers lets us select the highest quality coffee first-hand, and building relationships with passionate farmers means we get to work with great people in every part of our business. We're putting the time and resources into traveling to origin to build new relationships and support existing ones, so we can source as much of our coffee as possible through Direct Trade.