In what may be one of the oddest collaborations I’ve seen, Chicago-based indie band Wilco have teamed up with Chicago-based coffee roaster Intelligentsia to offer “A Wilco Selection.” The coffee—which is Intelligentsia’s Organic Ethiopia Sidama renamed—will be sold as part of a Wilco Coffee Lover’s bundle that will include 2lbs of coffee and 2 designer mugs. They will also offer a decaf version of the bundle if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
While I think this is an odd partnership, I’m excited about the exposure it will give Intelligentsia—who roast some of the best coffee you can buy—and their Direct Trade program that pay farmers even more than Fair Trade. You can pre-order now, and the coffee will be roasted and shipped beginning December 6.
Organic Ethiopia Sidama Homecho Waeno
The aromatics of coffee blossom and violet make way for an incredibly graceful and elegant cup. The body has a light and silky quality, like fresh whipped cream, that beautifully compliments the ever-present note of citron, juniper berry and vanilla. As it cools, the cup blossoms into notes of confectioner’s sugar, rosehips, and soft raisin, resonating on a pristine finish with a touch of milk chocolate.
Although this is Fair Trade month, I’d like to take the opportunity to celebrate Direct Trade as well. Direct Trade has similar goals as Fair Trade, but with fewer middle men and without the expensive certification. Coffee roasters who employ the Direct Trade model also pay farmers at least 25% more than Fair Trade prices.
This week, Chicago based, Intelligentsia Coffee, launched a new site that features key elements of the Direct Trade buying model they created. The illustration above captures the journey from crop to cup while each stage is highlighted with more information when you visit the site and roll your cursor over the various segments.
Almost all coffee roasters claim that they “work with farmers” but few can back the promise. Intelligentsia travels to our coffee’s source each of the 12 months of the year. We visit farms, roll up our sleeves, and get to it. We take 24-hour redeye flights and 10-hour, high-altitude pick-up rides over serpentine roads. You pick up our coffee and we shake the hand of a farmer in Peru. Or Rwanda. Or Guatemala. And when you see the Intelligentsia Direct Trade logo on our bag, you know how much effort is invested in each bean. -Intelligentsia
On Intelligentsia’s main site you can even click through Geoff Watts passport (co-founder & green coffee buyer) to see all the places he’s visited to ensure the highest quality coffee and build great relationships with the farmers who supply it.
I recently watched Black Gold, a documentary about the global coffee trade and it left me feeling enlighted and guilty as hell. Anyone who drinks coffee should see it(while remembering most documentaries show a specific perspective). It focuses on a co-op in Ethiopia and highlights the staggering facts regarding coffee trade and the ridiculously low pay farmers get for their coffee. Even with Fair Trade certification, the contrast in price is obscene.
While I believe direct trade is the best way forward, the number of roasters who acquire their coffee this way is limited, so Fair Trade is the best widespread option available until things change. Intelligentsia (one of my favorite roasters) has trademarked the term “direct trade” and pays their growers 25% more than Fair Trade prices. I’m willing to pay extra for good coffee, especially if I know it’s improving the lives of the farmers who work their asses off to give me something I love so much.