Practicing yoga along the seaside reminds us that we are not just a part of nature, but that we are nature. Our daily lives can begin to become heavy burdens on us when we forget to take a moment to center ourselves, to release our tension, and to recalibrate. So here's a gentle reminder, to always take care of your mind, body, and spirit. Set your intentions for the day, and accomplish incredible things!
“Fair Trade and Direct Trade”. I am sure you’ve heard these two terms quite a few times, whether you’re into coffee or not.
Seeing that you took the proactive step to click on this link entitled, “Fair Trade & Direct Trade, Do You Know The Difference?” I take it that you’re interested to learn more.
It seems to me that among many coffee conversations, there are two concepts that get tossed around as an interchangeable term. The difference between the terms “direct trade” and “fair trade” are often misunderstood and seem to be an intimidating topic to unfold and discuss.
This is most certainly a discussion for the people, by the people. After all, we coffee lovers and shop owners are the ones buying these products and (for the most part) drinking it too, right? So I think it's fair to say that everyone should know if they are purchasing coffee that is traded in a fair way, and if the process was direct and transparent.
So on that note, I have invited one of the most bad-ass coffee writers I know to give us the skinny on the topic.
We asked her to define each term in her own words, in order to understand the bigger picture:
Direct Trade coffee seeks to bring transparency to the transaction of buying and selling coffee by creating channels through which original producers and final consumers (or the roasters selling to final consumers) can interface directly to negotiate price, quality, and other contractual terms.
Fair Trade means guaranteeing that coffee producers are paid fairly for their work.
You want the good stuff. You want a high quality coffee product. You want to know where it came from and how it got there. You want to know how many hands have touched it before getting to you.
Ms. Northrop explains this clearly in a simple comparison:
“The best way to conceptualize this is as a Farmers Market. The original seller of the product and the final buyer of the product meet in an open market and the buyer purchases the goods directly from the producer, so there is complete transparency as to how much the buyer paid the seller because they literally spoke face to face and money changed actual hands. This is in contrast to a grocery store, which serves as an intermediary between original producers and final buyers.”
She goes on to explain that while this is viable on a small scale, it is more difficult on an international scale - but that this way of trading coffee is completely possible.
Instead of meeting at a Farmers Market a few miles down the road, those doing business are physically thousands of miles apart. She notes that this requires coffee to travel across seas in shipping containers and be processed using industrial equipment that is not accessible to all producers.
Harvesting and processing coffee takes a lot of work - I mean a lot. It is one of the most laborious crops, especially when you consider that machinery has yet to replace the process of hand-picking the coffee cherry. It is important that you know that the people harvesting and processing the beans are all paid a fair wage.
Northop explains that previously, coffee was considered a commodity: much like sugar, wheat, cotton, etc. The commodity pricing is created to make the handling of large volume products uniform and more efficient. However, this does not mean that the farmers’ financial stability is carefully considered.
Thankfully, Fair Trade has evolved as a movement and can be seen in two primary international non profits, Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade International. Northop explains that they, “draft comprehensive codes of conduct against which other agencies audit in order to award companies from the farm to the roaster with a literal seal of compliance: the logo you see on packaging and marketing materials.”
Here’s the logo to look for when purchasing coffee and what it means:
“This logo intends that the original producer of the coffee was compensated at a fair price, one which accounts for real time costs of production rather than the arbitrary number generated by the futures market. There are many criticisms of Fair Trade systems’ transparency and factors that complicate the situation, including the involvement of cooperatives and local governments,” explains Northrop.
WHAT DO FARMERS THINK?
I asked Nela, born and raised in a coffee producing family in Costa Rica, what labeling people should care about when purchasing coffee and what Fairtrade means to her. This was her response:
“I would say for me right now none of these certifications are a true reality.
The certifications are good and important, but most producers can’t get these certifications because of pricing and other challenges and most of them are just a convenience for certain organizations. We, producers, haven’t gotten any real benefit from Fair Trade certifications or Organic certifications.
If consumers want to make sure they are paying fair prices for their coffee, and they are supporting organic practices, they can now communicate with us directly.
In this day in age, with social media and other forms of direct communication, we are able to educate consumers directly about all of the work that goes into processing our coffee crops. The communicators in specialty coffee are the green buyers, the baristas in the coffee shops, the coffee roasters. They are beginning to travel directly to the source to get a better understanding of where their coffee comes from.”
TO SUM IT UP
Coffee is a complicated little bean.
But the basic coffee supply chain goes from producer, to broker (importers & exporters), to buyer.
Unless you’re Martin Diedrich, who drove his van to Central America and loaded it up with bags full of green coffee beans and drive the van back up to Costa Mesa, CA to roast them himself, there is going to be a step solely dedicated to the logistics of product travel that won’t be taken on by a roaster or buyer because it is so complicated. And that’s okay.
It is important to be aware of this trade. We need to ensure that whoever is negotiating directly with the farmer is proposing fair rates. We consumers need to be aware that if the coffee we are considering is inexpensive and available in large quantities, that there was most likely very little quality control involved and that the taste will definitely reflect that lack of attention.
We can stay fair and transparent by asking the right questions, asking a lot of questions, and supporting the specialty coffee movement down to its last, delicious drop.
The Coffee Nomad
“ We believe the coffee experience is our responsibility from seed to cup”
The brand mantra of Verve Coffee Roaster’s is enough to draw your attention, especially on Earth Day 2016. This already incredible operation believes that it’s their mission to bridge the gap from farm level to street level coffee roasting.
The first stop on our list will make you think twice about what a delicious cup of coffee should taste like. Roasted locally up the coast from us in Santa Cruz CA, Verve coffee beans are recognized as one of the best bags of coffee that you can buy. Their rich brews take the coffee experience to another level. At this location you can also opt for one of the many delicious cold pressed Juices they have in store. "The Flight" is a set of 10 different Juices that will give you a kick start to your day. Try the “Bowl of Soul” if you’re in the mood for a rich and warm tea.
When you walk through the elevator doors to the rooftop level of the ACE Hotel, you can already tell that there is an experience to be captured here. With the city skyline stretching out in all directions this trendy spot can be enjoyed any time of day. With a bunker type bar, a plethora of events and local collaborations can be expected every day of the week.
With appetizers and a delicious assortment of drinks from the bar, it is hard to tear yourself away from this place at the end of your stay. The entire rooftop has a Moroccan vibe from the decor to the lighting. The drinks are also cleverly named after different species of beautiful birds. Grab a cocktail with your friends and relax in this incredible atmosphere.
With its roots dating back to 1917 Grand Central Market has been a continuous operation that has evolved with modern times. This tastefully diverse market as always focused on the downtown population and strives to do the same today. With a mission to “celebrate the cuisines and cultures of Los Angeles” this spot will leave a lasting memory for any visitor or local to walk through its doors.
Walking into the Grand Central Market is like walking into an epicenter of creative, ethnic, and delicious food and drink. Each nook of the market has something different for you to discover. With every vendor giving a spin on their culturally traditional dishes, you could probably eat in this market for the rest of your life and never get bored with the available plates.
Tucked away in Venice Beach, this artisanal bakery is a hostesses dream come to life. The outside of Gjusta looks like a beautiful old abandoned warehouse with a sprawling interior that is occupied by the smell of freshly bakes breads.
When you walk through the screen door, a lively feel and welcoming attitude is immediately noticeable. The bakers and severs are all polite and happy to share their passion for their craft. The interior is flawlessly rustic and shows off their incredible food creations in a mouth watering fashion. Good luck on choosing from their robust menu, everything item is just as delicious as the next! Step through the back door into an well curated outdoor patio that you’ll want to relax under the L.A. sun all afternoon.
Seed Peoples Market is back in Costa Rica with The Coffee Nomad!
Have you already read The Coffee Nomad's first post on traveling to Costa Rica?
Bienvenidos to Don Eli Coffee Farm - Costa Rica
SAN MARCOS DE TARRAZU, COSTA RICA
Have you ever visited one those places where you start missing it before you even left it?
Well, those were my exact sentiments when I first laid eyes on Nela’s home in Costa Rica.
The beautiful wooden home sits on a quiet street in their small town of El LLano de La Piedra. The guest house was added on after Carlos’ (farm owner) string of international guests became a regular event during the harvest season.
I quickly threw my luggage into my room and briefly met my new housemates. Carlos wanted to show me El Pastora, the highest point at Don Eli Farm, and the best time was during the days sunset.
It's here in these hills that Carlos sends his pickers at the end of the day to count the “cajuelas” - or standard unit of measurement for coffee cherries in Costa Rica. Many harvesters are indigenous natives from nearby countries like Panama.)
(Drying beds at Don Eli Micro-Mill)
A loud, abrupt knocking near my bedside window woke me up that first morning. It nearly gave me a heart attack. It was pitch black and I forgot that I was in freaking Costa Rica.
I whispered fiercely to my new roommates, a French and German couple, across the room, “What is that?!”
My roommate slurred, “It’s Carlos. For the micro-mill.”
I sighed in relief. I was not under any fire or deadly combat. I then growled under my breath - I felt like I had just went to bed. Much like pulling off a band-aid, I yanked the covers off and stepped onto the wooden floors. I stumbled in the dark and became ever so grateful for my flashlight function on my iPhone. I threw on my comfiest clothing and hiking boots to begin my morning with Carlos at the micro-mill.
Their micro-mill sits just beyond the Monteros house. This is where the coffee magic happens.
A micro-mill is a small coffee farm that also has its own wet mill and processing on its farm.
And if there’s something that distinguishes Costa Rican coffee from other regions, it’s their micro-mills.
About 15 years ago there was a Micro-Mill Revolution in Costa Rica.
Before there were micro-mills, there were mega-mills controlling the entire coffee industry in Costa Rica. Producers would be shorted by large co-ops on coffee cherry counts. In these mega-mills, the carefully picked, higher-quality cherries would get mixed with low quality cherries. This left little incentive for coffee producers to perform their best and to motivate harvesters to pick the best cherries.
In operating a family-owned micro-mill, coffee producers can not only be selective in coffee cherries (being able to separate varietals or different types of coffee cherries, i.e. Typica from Caturra, etc.) but allow for experimentation with coffee processing.
It also allows the coffee producer to deal directly with coffee buyers. This is the best form of direct trade and fair trade there is. Often, the official certification for such labels are too expensive for coffee producers to afford. But we will get to that in our next post.
(Left to Right: Jacob, Lucia, Carlos, Don Eli, Nela and Maria Jose) Photo from DonEliCoffee.com)
The Don Eli Micromill is truly a family-operated mill. From Jacob (Nela’s brother) overseeing the de-pulping of beans, to Maria Jose (Nela’s younger sister) being meticulous with the drying process, it’s all Montero business.
I was pretty much like a fat kid in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. And Carlos was just as excited to give me the grand tour of the best micro-mill in town.
He would walk and talk at the same time while instructing someone to do more of this and more of that. He urged me to climb to the top of the wet mill or to help break apart dried up coffee cherries that were being “natural processed” (left in the sun to dry with their skins and pulp) leaving them sticky and practically glued together from their own sugary residue. I’d eventually go cherry-picking for a half a day and be pretty awful at it.
I had visited many micro-mills that all were as unique as the families that operated them. I had also made a quick visit to the CO-OP (or the COOPETERRAZU) a cooperative where coffee processing is done on a much larger scale. It was here that I learned that the Costa Rican coffee community is a tight-knit community. Everyone pretty much knows one another and they prefer it that way. Aside from personal relationships this includes the reputation of exporters as well as trading companies. If one exporter burned a producer, news would travel fast and the damage could be irreversible for their business.
It’s mind-blowing how much you can learn in such a short period of time - especially when your mornings and late nights are fueled by freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee.
In our next post we will discuss the “Tica” way of life (that may or may not include the best chicharrones in town), how Nela is changing the coffee-buying game, and what “Fair Trade” and “Organic Coffee” labels really mean to coffee producers.
It kind of makes you think twice about your average cup of Joe.
Until next time,
Mugs Up & Pura Vida,
The Coffee Nomad
"I don’t know about you, but when I think Costa Rica I think of beaches, toucans, waterfalls and zip lining. Clearly this would be my first time traveling to Costa Rica, but something told me I was going to have a very different experience from the average visitor."
A couple of hours after landing into the capital of San José, I found myself cruising with Nela’s dad in his truck across the steep, green mountainsides of Tarrazú.
Tarrazú is known to produce some of the highest quality coffee in Costa Rica. It’s rich volcanic soil and varying elevations can result in clean, balanced and powerful coffees. The differences in elevations from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet has a great influence on the flavor profiles that the region's coffee offers. And since these coffee cherries are dealing with less air at high altitudes, they mature more slowly. But it’s a process that the farmers, and ultimately coffee buyers find worth it.
My name is Erica, also known as The Coffee Nomad, and I will be guest blogging for SEED People’s Market for the next few weeks to share with you my journey to a coffee finca, or coffee farm, in Costa Rica!
But before I dive into that, allow me to tell you a little bit about myself and how I got into this whole coffee thing.
Around 3 years ago I was working as a news reporter in Central Texas (yes – one of those field news reporters chasing house fires and breaking news stories that often led to not-so-happy endings). Long story short, I began a coffee blog as a creative outlet. It started off very simple. I mean, I’d discuss the bare bones of a shop – the menu, location, aesthetics and pricing (thrilling, I know).
As I ventured on this journey a funny thing happened. The more I chatted with baristas (who were far too patient on their end) and the more books I read, I grew madly in love with the complexity of coffee. It became a fantasy of mine to tell the ultimate coffee story; to go to the source of coffee and share the stories from there.
Fast-forward a couple of years later and my small little creative outlet grew into its own brand. One day a girl reached out to me on Instagram. She told me she was from a coffee producing family from Costa Rica, but that she was in Southern California (my neck of the woods) for an internship. So, we met up for coffee and instantly connected over travel and well, coffee. She invited me to visit her family’s farm some day.
A couple of weeks went by after meeting Marianela, or Nela, and I kept playing around with the thought of making this trip really happen.
As a young, twenty-something female with a goal to visit coffee farms – Costa Rica was a natural fit. Among the Central and South Americas, Costa Rica has a more peaceful history. I knew I’d feel safer than the regions that are also rich in coffee production. It kind of goes without saying, Costa Rica is a stunning country. I looked up air fares and to my surprise, it wasn’t awful. In my head a little voice kept cheering me on, “Pura Vida!”
I knew there was no better time than now. I knew I had to go.
And so, I first set a couple of goals – one of them being to first gain a sponsor. After much thought about what local companies really align with my values, I decided to reach out to SEED People’s Market.
I was fortunate enough for them to agree to sponsor me and I was thrilled. It was the first time I felt that someone saw value in my vision. This no longer was a creative outlet for myself, but a platform to share like-minded passions about coffee and travel.
I truly couldn’t believe it. The fantasy I had three years ago to one day visit a coffee farm was going to become a reality.
That day was February 15th 2016 when I landed in San José, Costa Rica.
So - pack your mugs!
From coffee processing, to a real discussion on direct and fair trade, to the people behind the sourcing, this will be an adventure that will forever change the way you think about a cup of coffee.
Mugs Up & Pura Vida,
The Coffee Nomad