Monday, August 02, 2010

Beyond Fair Trade

The cost of coffee has gone up, way up, over 60% in the last two years. Fair trade is no longer a tangible benefit for the mountain farmers; they can do much better.

This higher cost has lead to: either a lower quality coffee still qualifying as fair trade and sold for the same or not much more – or at a much higher price for the high quality high mountain beans. The fair trade importer now faces a difficult choice. Does he sell cheaper beans or does he charge more for the good stuff.

What was once the highest quality coffee, obtained at the fair trade price, is no longer so great. The best coffee, hand picked from the highest volcanic mountains – designated SHB (Strictly Hard Beans) Arabica in Central America – now goes for a high premium.

In the seven years that we have been importing fair trade coffee directly from high mountain indigenous farmers, the price of coffee on the commodity market has gone from some $.80 a pound topping at $2.10yesterday. The fair trade price was $1.34 then and for the SHB about $2.80 now. The good stuff goes for much more, and of course when you roast the beans the cost per pound goes up even further due to the loss of weight. The darker the roast the more weight loss.

Farmers that were starving then turned to drug crops and the revolutionary communist insurgents; they are now doing quite well. Back then world over-supply of coffee – largely due to the World Bank over financing new coffee producers in Vietnam and Brazil – caused the price to drop far below the cost of harvest for the mountain farmers.
That was then; this is now. Fair trade was a lifesaver. The revolution ended. The governments became more egalitarian with their indigenous growers. The cooperativas became more involved with the supply chain, and indigenous communities flourished.

All that glitters is not ORO senior. If your fair trade tastes a bit off the mark you might question the supplier. As for the higher priced product, I get about six 8oz cups from 1.1oz of dark roast; that’s about 87 cups per 16 oz. bag. We are talking $0.20 to $0.22 per cup, less than the cheaper brands.
Some call it direct trade, and by stressing quality, you and I enjoy a better cup: The cooperativa works towards better handling, milling and processing of the harvest. The market recognises and pays for the higher quality which is the unwitting purview of the highest volcanic rain forests -- the remote home of these proud Mayan coffee farmers.

The premium price for the best hand picked beans from the highest volcanic mountain rain forests, double screened to European standards, brings new prosperity to these once neglected people. As these charming Mayan farmers begin to realize their worth you can see the prosperity on their faces. They feed and educate their families; they thrive in the colorful traditional dress of their culture --- as the women bring to market enormous bags of coffee balanced gracefully on their heads.

When you buy the best coffee, insist on fresh roasted whole bean. Store your coffee right, tightly closed in a cool dry place, and grind it your self – extra fine, but experiment with that and measure carefully.
Here's to a new awakening.