An important part of our approach to agro-enterprise involves making the chain that links farmers to markets more transparent. The idea is that the more farmers understand the market end of the chain — consumer preferences, market trends, quality standards, product presentation, etc. — the more effectively they can meet the demands of the market. For farmers in the specialty coffees market — and the organizations that support them — this usually means a long journey from the coffeelands to the United States or Europe to talk with roasters and retailers and visit the roasteries and cafés where their coffee is roasted — or “revealed” — and served. With the recent growth of markets for high-quality coffee in producing countries, that trip can be much shorter.
Last week, members of the CAFE Livelihoods team met in San Salvador, and took time out to visit with the good folks at Viva Espresso, who roast and serve coffee with as much care for its quality as many of the leading cafés in the United States. Viva Espresso’s owners, Lily Pacas and Federico Bolaños, provided a crash course in quality for the CAFE team in a location that was close to home (and less than an hour from the coffeelands). Thanks, Lily and Federico!
Just three days after our “trip to market” in San Salvador, we visited with the manager of a cooperative less than an hour’s drive from Viva Espresso who helped to underscore the importance of experiences like the one described in this post.
His cooperative has been around for 30 years. This year, the organization expects to export 25 containers of coffee – about 1 million pounds – including certified organic and Rainforest Alliance Certified coffees. But even after years of participating in high-value coffee chains, the cooperative doesn’t know any of the roasters who roast its coffees, where its coffee goes to market, or how it is presented there. The manager told me quite matter-of-factly that beyond the importers he deals with, he has “no knowledge of the coffee chain.”
Closing the information loop not only generates the important benefits mentioned above in terms of market intelligence and competitiveness, but also can give farmer organizations more leverage in their negotiations around the terms of trade. Until this group lifts the veil on the identity of the roasters that buy its coffee, it will be dependent upon its importer partners to share information and offer fair prices. While its importers may be doing this already, there is no surer path to the free flow of information and clear communications around price than the total transparency of the entire chain.
The journey from seed to cup is a very long chain in which the producer, who is the first link, is the least rewarded. One of the best ways to help the producer be rewarded fairly for it’s hard work is by direct trade with the last link of the chain: the coffee shop/ roastery. This way, the producer can get paid a larger amount that would otherwise be absorbed by the many middle links in the chain. The coffee shop / roastery also wins because it can establish a close relationship with the hand that produces the coffee, learn so much more about the farm and it’s reality, and can bring this story to it’s customers. Consumers want more than just a good cup of coffee and they deserve it. They should be informed of how much they are helping improve the lives and living conditions of the workers at the farm with their purchase of a cup of coffee.
We at Viva Espresso feel very proud that all our coffees are purchased directly to the producer. Our baristas know the growers personally and visit their farms during the harvest season to help with the picking and learn more about the beans, the land and people that make produce it. On the other hand, the growers visit our stores and learn how their coffee is transformed into the drink that everybody loves and understand what the consumer needs and this makes them better producers.
We congratulate CRS for their efforts to make this world a better place for everybody in the coffee chain. Thanks for including Viva Espresso in you trip to El Salvador and feel welcome to visit us next time you are back!