Ever since I started working within the coffee industry, Direct Trade was a term that always drew my attention as something every roaster should aspire to do. It was confusing at the time because there is no exact definition of "what direct trade is?" and how it's different to all other recognised certifications like Fairtrade and why is it perceived to be better?
Three years ago, I took on the role of green coffee buyer for Bell Lane and I intended to make a 180° turn in the way we source our green coffee. My main goal was to establish strong and transparent relationships with coffee producers who believe and share the same values.
Colombia was a priority because it's one of the main components in our house espresso. I presented the idea to our import partners Andrew Tucker (Volcafe Select) and Roberto Ortiz (Carcafe) and got a reply a few days later, green coffee samples from Andrew with a note “I believe this is what you are looking for😉”. All three samples were from the same farm and all cupped extremely well, caramel, lime and vanilla were very dominant in the cup. A week or so after I got introduced to Bernardo Echeverry and learned more about his family and his farms. As this was a new relationship for both of us, we both needed to have transparency from the start and have an agreed plan for how the relationship would develop in the future for both parties. In the first year, we booked 160 bags of washed Cattura/Castilio from Bernardo’s Finca Estrella.
Immediately after this, I was already thinking of how we can move to the next level and demonstrate to Bernardo how committed we are. His passion is infectious, and I knew we would work well together. Traditionally Bernardo produced only washed coffee and it was something he was very comfortable doing. With the market demand for high-quality naturals, the idea struck that this could be something we could produce together. Knowing producers often get in touch with roasters who demand special processing I thoroughly believed this could be done comfortably for both parties, where we the coffee roasters carry the financial risk that coffee producers are usually faced with. The concept was that for the upcoming harvest Bell Lane will add a premium onto the washed lot that we booked, and those funds would be used to build raised beds for the naturals. Bernardo agreed with a smile. We have also committed that the first lot will be paid for regardless of the outcome. Once the project kicked off Bernardo said that after years of farming, he feels excited again, doing something new, but more importantly something that will allow him to reach more roasters in the future.
So, this August we will be getting, all going well, 8 bags of natural Caturra picked from La Estrella best locations. We cannot wait for this to land in our roastery.
In short, this kind of relationship is what I believe direct trade is. Transparent and fair pricing along with sharing knowledge and ideas that help both the roaster and the producer to grow together. This is just one of the examples, there is another exciting project I am are working on in the background that will be published soon.