When we tell people we are travelling to origin, the assumption is made that we are buying directly from the farmers. This is not the case. There is a complex and often confusing chain of custody over our beloved coffee beans. The desire to understand these complexities is the major driving force behind our travel to origin. As we deal with the end consumer of the product, we feel it is our responsibility to understand and explain the complex process that lies behind a cup of coffee. We believe that supporting existing supply chains is the way to have a long term effect on the coffee's quality and the farmers' wellbeing. We are lucky enough to work with suppliers that are more than happy to show us around at origin and explain what is happening (in front of, and behind closed doors).
Direct Trade is a seemingly simple term, which has caused much confusion and discussion in our coffee industry in Australia. Does it mean that the roaster buys from the farmer? If so, how does the coffee get here? How is it processed to an exportable product? In some countries, only local exporter companies are allowed to sell coffee overseas. Does this mean that Direct Trade is dealing with an Exporter? Or maybe it's an agreement with a Dry Mill. Who knows?!?
How is the end consumer supposed to know how their coffee got to them, when the majority of people in our coffee industry don’t know themselves? Once you've been to origin it all seems to make sense, until you travel to a different origin and see how different it is from the last. This is one reason we choose to buy through an importer with strong relationships with local buyers and agents, living in these coffee-producing regions. Use the local knowledge and expertise, we say! It is a bit naive for a roaster to think he can travel to a country and automatically find the best product and find a quick and easy way to get it to his roastery.
In an ideal world, each coffee company would grow its own coffee and control every step of the process (growing, fruit removal, washing, drying, hulling, sorting, grading, roasting and serving). Unfortunately coffee likes to grow in countries where ethics, economics and welfare may not be up to our First World morality. The reality is that moral standards in coffee actually progress with quality, rather than the array of stickers on the bag. The higher the quality of coffee, the higher the prices paid, which leads to higher income for farmers and better life standards.