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176. Counter Culture’s Direct Trade Transparency Report, take two

It is early June, which means that the rains are falling heavier now here in the coffeelands, and Counter Culture is releasing another Direct Trade Certified Transparency Report in the States to much well-deserved fanfare.  The report may generate less buzz in its sophomore season than it did last year as a rookie sensation, but this year’s report shows some welcome signs of maturity.  And the whole is unquestionably greater than the sum of the two parts.  When I put this year’s next to last year’s, I felt these trading relationships start to take on some depth.  And then I began to imagine what a worthy and compelling body of work this will be 5-10 years from now if Counter Culture sticks with this annual exercise in transparency.

It may be the table in which Counter Culture publishes the prices it pays for its Direct Trade coffees that makes headlines, but what I appreciate most about the report are the brief narrative summaries of each relationship, which provide some welcome qualitative detail about what Direct Trade feels like on the ground — where the cupping scores and prices in the table come from, the challenges associated with getting quality up and keeping it there, and how farmer and roaster alike deal with harvests that aren’t what they hoped.  It is here, incidentally, that Counter Culture’s Direct Trade model shines — sticking with growers and cooperatives through trying times, buying coffee at premium prices even though quality falls short, etc.

And by publishing these narratives annually, Counter Culture creates a storyline for of each of its Direct Trade relationships.  If you open the 2009 report in one window and the 2010 report in another and toggle between the two, you can read how each relationship evolved from one year to the next.  Over a span of 5-10 years, these reports together will tell the history of the relationships between Counter Culture and the growers and coops in its Direct Trade lineup, and indeed the evolution of the Counter Culture Direct Trade model.

What do I look forward to in next year’s third annual report?

  • Data on coffee volumes,
  • maps,
  • a table tracking key metrics — quality, volume, price — over time,
  • seeing whether Café San Ramón can overcome the stumbles that has plagued this relationship in recent years,
  • an update on Counter Culture’s carbon-offset project with Aida,
  • more detail about what Counter Culture Direct Trade 2.0 looks like, and
  • being pleasantly surprised by some other innovation in this evolving exercice in transparency.

Meantime, congratulations to the good folks at Counter Culture.

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Just as I did last year, I think it is important to recognize other extraordinary examples of transparency in the coffee trade.

Cooperative Coffees, a cooperative of more than 20 community-based roasters in the United States and Canada, has published all its coffee contracts since 2008 online at Fair Trade Proof.

Just Coffee out of Madison, WI, is a member of the Cooperative Coffees family that has been working over the past few years on a transparency project of its own that is noteworthy for following the money after it arrives to the roastery.


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