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147. More on Counter Culture’s Direct Trade model

Yesterday I shared some good news:  Counter Culture Coffee is now offering a Direct Trade Certified coffee from 5 de junio, a cooperative we work with in Nicaragua under our CAFE Livelihoods project.  The cooperative has been working hard over the past few years to improve the quality of its coffee, and we are delighted by the news that its efforts are being rewarded by quality-obsessed roasters like Counter Culture.  With the announcement, Counter Culture’s Coffee Director and all-around coffee guru Peter Giuliano published this coffee biography on what makes 5 de junio — and its coffee — seem so special from where he is sitting in the United States.  From where we sit in Central America, Counter Culture’s Direct Trade Certified program looks pretty special, too.

It seems to offer everything that quality-focused farmers are looking for — direct communications, total transparency and rewards for quality.  And there is one other element of Counter Culture’s Direct Trade equation that the company does not emphasize in its communications that I have come to appreciate in a region where lots of farmers are producing extraordinary quality coffees in relative anonymity.

The tiny icons that Counter Culture develops for each of its Direct Trade partners cut through all the intermediation that has kept so many smallholder farmers invisible to the people who drink their coffee, giving farmer organizations what we refer to in Spanish as “nombre y apellido.”  This phrase translates literally (and badly) to “first and last names,” but the meaning is clear — these farmers are on the map.

Counter Culture’s Direct Trade brands (I confess, my personal favorite is the Los Luchadores stamp) also help cooperatives begin to communicate to the marketplace what makes them distinctive.  Peter’s 5 de junio coffee bio does that very well for folks willing to download and read a one-page document.  But the 5 de junio icon — featuring the clay tiles that sit atop the adobe houses that are so characteristic of the region — begins to create an image at a glance.  This is not just an issue of graphic design , but one that has direct impacts on farmers.  Once Direct Trade cooperatives are known in the industry, it is less likely they will ever fall back into the kind of commodity-trade anoymity that precludes direct communications, fair rewards for quality and transparency in the coffee chain.



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