Java Coffee Roaster - Fairly Traded versus Fairtrade

Arabica coffee is one of the most traded commodities on the New York Stock Exchange. This means that the price of coffee fluctuates daily.

When it comes to producing coffee, there is no doubt it’s the farmer we owe the most credit to for the delicious coffees we roast. The labour, patience and skill required to turn a seed into a bush laden with coffee cherry is significant. When the bean leaves the farm it passes through 10 middle parties before it arrives at our roast room door... everyone in the chain gets paid and often the farmer gets a fraction. Often, a farmer’s take-home pay doesn’t even cover their production costs.

You might assume that buying coffee with Fairtrade Certification is the answer, but despite its best intentions, the model is problematic. Although Fairtrade is intended to provide security to farmers by offering a minimum price they can count on the flat base of $1.40 per pound has remained unchanged for years. From a roaster perspective Fairtrade accreditation is often considered the ceiling, rather than the floor, becoming a standard in its own right and attracting "Big Coffee" producers. Fairtrade guarantees a minimum price for farmers' coffee beans (and a social premium for the community) but it cannot guarantee the quality of the beans.

Our coffee is not Fairtrade certified, we call it "fairly traded" instead. We should make it clear that we think Fairtrade do some great work in the commodity coffee market, but the fine and specialty coffees we source are just a different level! We are constantly scouring the globe for the best small-batch coffees available for our customers pockets. We can guarantee that all of our coffee is bought at a higher price than Fairtrade, because we promise to pay our growers more for great quality beans. What’s more, if we like the farmers’ coffee, we will return year after year to buy their next harvest. This fosters strong and long-lasting relationships with the farmers and enables increased economic security.

To demonstrate better the approach we have to ethically sourcing small batch coffee, in 2005 JAVA participated in the Cup of Excellence program, a program which has been supporting advances in coffee farming and premiums paid to farmers for high grade crops. Smallholder farmers gain the most from Cup of Excellence since historically they had the least education in recognizing their own quality and much less power in demanding fair value. Most coffees were blended - higher qualities were mixed with other lower quality coffees in order to push to a medium quality. While there was often no malicious intent since blending was the standard it benefited the larger commercial exporters and importers. As small micro lots stand on their own uniqueness many coffees no one knows about are discovered - much to the surprise of jurors and buyers who often have pre-conceived flavour profiles for coffees grown in a country. This surprise gives rise to the marketplace searching out quality for increased premiums. It also supports the rise of appellation development when coffees from the same region continue to win. As efforts to recognize these regional flavour profiles and their value succeed entire communities prosper. Even after 20+ years small farmers enter and win for the first time, flavour profiles continue to amaze, small unique regions are mapped and communities not known for specialty coffee thrive.

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