The Transparent Trade Coffee Colloquium in Hamburg saw coffee roasters, importers and exporters gather from around the world. Rumble Head Roaster Matt Hampton joined the event led by Peter Roberts of Emory University. Transparency in coffee promotes better returns to coffee growers through openness around pricing.
Heading to Hamburg was a way to connect with like-minded roasters, importers and exporters. There were many questions raised and not a lot of easy solutions made. One thing we learned was that we are heading in the right direction and we are not alone.
Specialty coffee has been great for many involved. Baristas use better coffee than ever, machines have scales and temperature stability, grinders dose near perfectly. Roasters get a greater choice of high quality coffee, coffee drinkers and enthusiasts have more brew options than they know what to do with. But farmers, their workers and families are still feeling the pressure of the C’market and not being rewarded for their hard work. We think the majority are excluded from the benefits.
Transparency is Transparency. The whole point is openness, you can’t lie when you the numbers are there for all to see. The value in this is to let everyone in the supply chain get the information they deserve for the work put in. It seems simple when you think about it. If a business calls itself transparent but doesn’t show any data that’s not transparency.
The problems that roasters around the world face are very similar. The prices they pay for coffee, the wages they pay their staff, because of the value they put on quality and fairness are at odds with the competitions ability to Co-opt terms that have they have created to differentiate themselves in the market. It is too easy for a roaster to call itself a specialty roaster doesn’t have to prove anything to do so. It’s great to see we are not alone.
A unique aspect of the Australian situation is wages. These are higher than other countries and most of them charge more for their coffee. It’s no wonder there are so many cafes getting into trouble at the moment for underpaying staff. Coffee is often first on the list when cafes look at saving money. This surprised many of the other attendees that cafes would choose a lower quality coffee to save $2-$3 per kilo. That’s less than a cup of coffee sold.
We all agreed that one of the hardest things to is to come up with a fair price. It is one thing to say for example that Colombian farmers should be paid X amount but we need to consider international and regional specifics. A smallholder from PNG might require more or less income than a large producer from Brazil. The hope is to pay every coffee grower an amount that allows them and their families to thrive.
Tyler from Azahar Coffee Company gave a presentation on a project that shows the difference between just a few regions in Colombia and how the numbers are very different. A farmer in Huila would need around 1.1 million pesos per carga but a farmer in Narino would need 1.6 million to sustain a good living for themselves and their workers. This said there is always historical averages that producers have received that may or may not dictate the amount they live off and therefore wish to receive in the future.
It’s not enough to pay enough to cover the minimum wage but to pay enough to provide security and future investment.
The ability to create a cost of production and recommended payment chart would be the way forward but will take a long time to make and would also need regular updates. We will work towards something like this by talking to exporters we work with.
Looking towards the future
The one thing we know for certain is that we don’t know all the answers. The Transparent Trade Coffee Colloquium was an excellent start. We will endeavour to educate ourselves so we are making better choices going forward. We hope that other roasters will create their own programs and together with like-minded roasters, importers and exporters can help cafes and consumers make easy decisions about where they buy their coffee.
Here are some fantastic resources for further learning.
Transparent Trade Coffee work with us and other roasteries around the world to improve the coffee supply chain and increase the amount of the coffee price that returns to origin.
Perfect Daily Grind have articles and information on all parts of the coffee industry, from growing to roasting and brewing.
Hamburg is city with a long and important history with coffee. Checkout the excellent Sprudge guide if you want to learn more.
Our own Green Coffee Buying Guide is on our site. This is the information that we require of importers before we can work with them.
Our Web Store has our Transparency Project coffees available for sale.