Direct trade is a fuzzy concept, even for those people who make a living among coffee supply chains. So it’s no wonder the concept can be completely mystifying to consumers.
“A lot of people ask us how we meet these farmers, and they have a perception that we’re like Indiana Jones going into the jungles going past old tombs looking for this one indigenous farmer who’s growing this one bush,” says Chuck Patton, owner of San Diego’s Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. “But actually, it’s all about contacts and relationships.”
This is the message that the Bird Rock team is hoping to convey in a new video that takes viewers through a direct trade journey from Guatemala to San Diego — one that naturally makes several stops, including to private contractors, farmers, exporters and importers.
“While our customers know we travel to origin to ‘get coffee,’ I think there is a misconception or a lack of information about how exactly we go about doing that,” Patton tells Daily Coffee News. “There are many moving parts.”
One caveat: Patton stresses that the trade model documented in the video is just one example of how a “direct” trade relationship can work. “Every company has a different idea about the concept,” he says. “The video is our attempt to frame how we define coffee we sell as ‘Direct Trade,’ which is different from coffee we buy at origin through an exporter.”
In this way, the video presents not only a learning opportunity for the more conscientious consumer, it also underscores the ambiguity among various labels — “direct trade” among them — that are widely used throughout the specialty industry by coffee companies of all kinds.
“The term is used so often now, I think it is time for the coffee industry to talk more in-depth about the meaning of direct trade and other terms like ‘farm to cup’ or ‘relationship coffee,’ says Patton. “These terms are heavily used in specialty coffee, but the meaning of these terms seems to differ from roaster to roaster, if they are defined at all. While it is terrific that so many roasters now are sourcing at origin in a sustainable way, without clearly defining these terms, there is a potential for the terms and labels to be misused.”
Here’s the Bird rock video, which features Patton, private contractor/relationship builder Gabriela Cordon, Fernando Diaz of Finca Santa Ana, Genero Batrex of exporter Servex, and Steve Sims of importer/green seller Bodhi Leaf: