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.
Project 7 changed the way people perceive bottled water and the impact is can on lives around the world. Now they are hoping to do the same with coffee. The company realized mass consumption isn’t going away, so they’ve embraced it, and turned it into an engine for good. They are a for-profit company who use their profits to fund charities around the world. Project 7 continues to use great design and marketing to further their mission, while also giving the consumer the power to choose which cause they support. They focus on seven areas of need:
Quench – provides a year of clean water for a person in need
Heal – provides medicine for a person suffering from malaria
Hope – provides a day of counseling for a child of war
House – provides food, education & healthcare for a day for an orphan
Feed – provides 7 meals for the hungry in the United States
Teach – provides schooling for a week for a child in Africa
Each product is named after a respective cause, so you choose which one you support with your product selection. The coffee is only offered through a subscription program, but you can start with just 3 months. You can allow for a new coffee (and cause) to be sent each month or you can select a specific blend yourself. The coffee is all organic and Fair Trade certified, and they mention buying direct when possible.
The video, illustrated by Darren Dunham, fits well in the Project 7 vernacular, but also distinguishes itself as something new. From the beginning, Project 7 knew that design would be a valuable component of success and invested early. It’s paid off. There are many coffee companies who donate to many causes, but Project 7 has an established brand and a successful model in place that’s driven by a well communicated story. Their new video is engaging, informative, and well executed. I’m excited about their new venture and look forward to trying the coffee.
They are currently offering the first month free. Enter “CATALYST” when checking out.
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.