Joe recounts his presentation, and that of other key speakers, at the 2019 Melbourne Coffee Week’s ‘Our Farmers, Our Heroes’ panel event.
Author: Joe Molloy (Director, Rumble Coffee)
We enjoyed a strong kick-off at Melbourne Coffee Week (MCW) this year by presenting on the key issue of transparency at the Our Farmers, Our Heroes panel event.
Organised by our good friends from Minas Hill Coffee, the event featured coffee growers from Brazil, a representative from Rainforest Alliance, and me – Joe Molloy – representing our very own Rumble Coffee. Bringing it all together was the wonderful Sarah Baker from Beanscene who did a magnificent job of hosting and keeping the event charging ahead while asking lots of insightful and stimulating questions of both the panel and the 50-strong audience.
What did we talk about? A lot of really interesting and varied topics, of course, but the hero of the day was that age-old, more-contemporary-than-ever issue of transparency.
Ismael Andrade of Sao Silvestre is a total legend in the Brazilian specialty coffee scene, a founder of the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA), and last year’s Cup of Excellence winner with a 93-point coffee. Ismael spoke passionately on the struggle to grow high quality micro lots in Brazil, and how he’s gone about doing so.
Next up was Pedro Gabarra of Santo Antonio (the backbone of our Shadow Boxer blend) who spoke on his family’s dedication to land preservation and the bird sanctuary they’ve created at the farm. He shared with us some incredible information indeed, not least of which that Brazil has strong environmental rules requiring all landowners to preserve 20% of their land as natural habitat. This has greatly influenced Pedro’s family’s farming practice, the details of which he kindly shared with us.
Pedro’s presentation was followed by that of Gabriel Oliveira (Bom Jesus) who discussed with us the farm’s GIMA (translating to: Intermunicipal Games to the Environment) project, a festival that seeks to raise awareness of both environmental issues and children’s welfare, and which in this last year gave dozens of bicycles to local children.
Fourth cab off the rank was Melanie Mokken from Rainforest Alliance/UTZ (a well-respected label and program for the sustainable farming of coffee and associated products like cocoa, tea and hazelnuts). Melanie spoke about how and why these two incredibly important organisations agreed to merge, as well as the importance of certifications and associated supplier and consumer behaviour.
Backing this up was Tina Wendel from 23 Degrees, a roaster that aims to source at least 50% of its coffees from women coffee producers. Tina was kind enough to introduce us to the company’s Flowers in Action project and its commitment to empowering women within the coffee supply chain.
Having the benefit of participating in so much discussion prior to taking a turn with the mic, I was honoured to share news of Rumble’s transparency project, including a discussion surrounding its development over the past 12 months.
The main point I discussed was simple. What’s the main idea behind transparency? That we insist on publishing the price we pay for coffee.
Why would we want to do that?
Well, a short while ago we published a blog on our work producing a new Speciality Coffee Transaction Guide. It outlined the many ways in which ensuring transparency can make for a fairer industry for all, but especially so for our farmers.
And how do we do it?
For each coffee we buy, we publish the F.O.B. price paid for that coffee on every piece of collateral related to that product: from website, to packaging, to general marketing material. We also share the data with Transparent Trade Coffee, a non-profit group based in Emory University in Atlanta, USA.
F.O.B., of course, stands for the ‘Freight on Board’ price and describes the value of the coffee as it sits on the boat, about to leave its origin. F.O.B. isn’t, of course, the full price we pay as roasters; to this, we add shipping, insurance, finance etc. as well as our labour costs and accounting for weight loss from roasting, blending, packing, etc. (usually around 15-20%). Without breaking down that total cost to the consumer, there’s the possibility that roasters and suppliers could lay claim to a costly, specialty coffee without shedding light on the percentage of that price paid to the producer.
This is our point: making sure we state the F.O.B. cost of each coffee ensures transparency as to the price paid to the farmer. Our goal, of course, is to keep that as high as possible.
Why is this so important?
Well, F.O.B. is also a value consistent from country to country. Wherever possible, we also use the farm-gate price, the price received by the individual farmer/producer. In many countries, this information is impossible to get as the coffee is an amalgamation of dozens or even hundreds of growers’ produce. Rumble works hard, however, to ensure that we have access to the necessary info wherever possible.
Of course, if we open our eyes to what transparency is and why it’s so important, we also need to understand what transparency isn’t, and how we can combat that too.
To begin with, transparency is not traceability. Traceability, of course, relates to knowing where your coffee came from, and who grew it. It’s super important, and something we’ve always done at Rumble, but it’s not transparency. Why? Because knowing the location of origin of coffee is only part of the picture: it doesn’t, as we’ve learned, shed light on how ethical the process has been for its producers.
Transparency is not the same as sustainability. The environmental sustainability of coffee is a massive issue, and one we take very seriously. But if growing coffee is not sustainable from an economic perspective as well, it’s simple: there can be no future for the industry.
Further, specialty coffee isn’t transparency. ‘Specialty coffee’ is a codified, highly specific term that refers to coffee that scores over 80 points on a specially devised 100-point scale. While the coming about of ‘specialty coffee’ has offered a number of benefits to the industry, the term often carries too broad a definition.
Direct trade is, of course, important, and at Rumble we completely pride ourselves on knowing the people who grow our coffee and visiting them every year. But direct trade, as important and virtuous as it is, is not transparency either. Only a deeper understanding of F.O.B. price can ensure an upholding of transparency to its fullest expression.
How did the crowd respond to all of this?
Beautifully. And they asked excellent questions to boot. One was from someone who also sells coffee. The question? About our own transparency at Rumble. If we publish information as to what farmers are making, shouldn’t we be doing the same for ourselves?
The great thing is that we are. One of our big projects for 2019 is a special ‘Cost of a cup of Coffee’ infographic that will display exactly this information. Watch our blog for more info!
The big takeaways? That a whole-of-industry commitment to transparency can have a huge impact. At Rumble, we’re committed to driving exactly that.