Posted on Leave a comment

Four years as a trade coffee buyer – what I’ve learned

When I started roasting in 2011 my knowledge of coffee wasn’t what it is today. I learn more everyday about coffee and will be the first to admit I don’t know it all because nobody does. However, I have noticed a slow change in how we buy coffee compared to those early days when I started off as a trade coffee buyer.

In 2011 buying Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance was top of the list, cupping results came second, then came price. This was down to ideology because naturally I thought certification is better. However, I soon realised this wasn’t the case and in the days when starbucks and costa is Fairtrade or RFA  yet hover at the bottom of most ethical trading lists, my realisations have proven true.

If you browse our website for RFA or Fairtrade you will find them tagged but it’s not part of the advertised part of the bean. The Roasting House (in terms of certification) are not Fairtrade or protect the Rainforest yet our ethical standards are higher than ever.Traceable information, good sustainable farming practices, and great cupping results are what I look for first and I think this matches the changing attitudes of consumers. Price plays an issue but I have also found that consumers will pay for great coffee as even our current most expensive coffee* works out under 50p a cup when made at home. Certification is now just a tag in the ‘what else?’ section of sourcing coffee – ‘oh, these beans are also from a Fairtrade farm’ and that is as far as it goes. I also notice this changing attitude in consumers.

There may be evidence of us roasters telling consumers what they should be buying because we second guess what the changing tides are. The farmers have to think even further ahead because they are guessing what the roasters might want. The results of which has seen a rise in small single origin farms and micro-lots because of the diversity that already exists out there. The make or break of cupping has a massive influence on the fortunes of farms. You can no longer put all your coffee into one farm.

New and old roasters

New roasters are appearing all the time and we see some making the same mistakes as we did. Suppliers now are more than happy to split down 60KG bags unlike they seemed to in 2011 but one great bean won’t be the same great bean in a year, and if not stored correctly (damp free, air tight if possible) will soon become old bagged beans that will be hard to shift (and why to avoid buying off ebay).

There is also a lot of copy paste out there and it’s badly done. An example that springs to mind is our Organic Bali beans where you will find written on some sites providing the same or similar that Bali bans all pesticides making all coffee from Bali organic. It doesn’t but does discourage their use to keep the biodiversity in check. I’m sure who ever first wrote made a genuine mistake or mis-translated but it shows how careful we need to be in not becoming lazy.

It’s not for the consumer to double check if roasters are telling the truth. Some of the now biggest names in coffee are slightly suspect in their trading and that reflects badly on all of us. We welcome new roasters to the market but not all will survive as although it seems like a gold rush, it’s hard work in a sea of overwhelming choice.

As a trade coffee buyer I’m always on the look out for the next big thing (hint; Heirloom varietal for 2016 – maybe ;-)). It’s second nature for me to only buy from sustainable farms. Tags are just that, and not the whole story.

Adam – The Roasting House

*excluding 100% Jamaican Blue Moutain

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *