Back in May, Counter Culture Coffee owner, SCAA President and all-around coffee guru Peter Giuliano took me to task for some pretty lazy reporting. In my post, I repeated the (unsubstantiated) claim of a Fair Trade roaster who told me he didn’t remember the last time he paid less than $2 a pound for his coffee. Today, I settle in for a heaping plate of crow.
To be fair, Peter’s comment “taking me to task” was pointed but polite, direct but diplomatic, and worthy of quoting here at length:
Now, I was surprised that at the end of your posting here, you cite an anonymous “fair trade pioneer” who seems to be bragging that they can’t remember the last time they paid less than $2 per pound for coffee. I’m afraid there is something wrong here- you definitely want to check on that statement. Are they willing to be transparent about that? You’ve done a great job of evenhandedly making comparisons up to now, why would you compare [Counter Culture, Intelligentsia and Stumptown's] relatively transparent minimum price commitments to an anonymous roaster making an obviously exaggerated claim as “evidence” that it is inaccurate to say that Direct Trade roasters pay more? (Boldface mine.)
I struggled with the idea that the claim was, as Peter suggested, “obviously exaggerated.” I know and trust the roaster in question and had no reason to doubt the veracity of his claim. I had to admit, however, that Peter had a point:
On the business of the $2-per-pound claim, you are absolutely right — it was lazy of my to include it like that. I will go back and do some digging and let you know what I come up with. Thanks for keeping me honest!
So I went back to the roaster to share Peter’s reaction. The roaster’s response, presumably after looking at his books, was: “We just signed a contract…at $1.97 – my bad.” I really believe this is the lowest-priced coffee in this roaster’s portfolio. I just can’t prove it, since he was not eager to meet Peter’s transparency challenge and go public with his prices.
I am not convinced the $2 claim is outlandish. There are other progressive Fair Trade roasters who are totally transparent in their pricing and not far off the $2 mark — Just Coffee’s Transparency Project (see the right-hand margin of the page) reports prices for all its coffees, which come in between $1.91 (Mexico, Peru, DR) and $3.32 (Ethiopia). But until I find someone paying $2 across the board — which may not be hard in this year’s tight market — I will have to settle for eating crow.