For the past three weeks I have had this issue eating away at me. I keep pushing it aside, but then something happens and makes my wheels start turning again. As I normally do, let me start with a little background/history.
About three weeks ago, a journalist did a short story about Cuvee Coffee and a couple other roasters here in Austin. The story was all about Fair Trade, Direct Trade…you know, the usual buzzwords. The message was completely diluted and inaccurate, but not because she is a bad writer. It is because she needed sound bites in order to take a very complex subject and simplify it into a few sentences. No big deal. These things happen and I moved on.
Last week I attended Barista Nation in Dallas, TX. One of the tracks was about “Relationship Coffee & Direct Trade.” The talk was good and the farmer (that the presenter is buying from) was there (which was really great because I have know & been cupping coffee with Ernesto for the past 6 years). Then a question from the audience about “Direct Trade.” That is when things got derailed. I listened to the speaker say that he did not think it was that important to make personal visits. Then came all of the things I have heard over and over like, “my business is small” or “I have a family” – all of the why I can’t travel excuses.
Lastly was an article I read online about a new shop opening up in Dallas. The article was very well written and the message was wonderful. Problem one is that the roaster the shop is using started talking about “going beyond Fair Trade” and “Direct Trade.” Problem two is that I know for a fact there is no substance behind it.
As the buzzwords “direct” and “relationship” permeate the specialty coffee industry, a lot of people grab those terms in order to use them as marketing and they end up meaning nothing. The word relationship becomes…well… meaningless. I compare this with Facebook “friends.” It’s like, oh man, I went to grade school with this person and even though I have not talked to them in 30 years…click “friend.” Personally, I have hundreds of Facebook friends, but only 4 are true friends. The rest are acquaintances.
In closing here are a few points:
1. You can still have great coffee even if it is not Direct Trade
2. Meeting a farmer at an SCAA event or Roasters Guild Origin Trip, does not qualify as a relationship
3. Just because an importer has a direct relationship with a farm and gives you all of the vital information, that does not equal a relationship. This is not the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
4. If you have to use caveats or explain how it sort of is a direct relationship, but not exactly, it is NOT.
5. A copy of an importer contract does not show the price to farmer so stop misleading people with the price paid to the importer.
6. Stop disrespecting the pioneers of Direct Trade and everyone who follows the model as it was originally defined/intended. It’s like saying you were a Navy SEAL when you were not…OK, maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea.
7. If you want to have a real direct relationship, then do it. No one is stopping you. And stop using excuses like time and money. Lots of people find a way. If it is truly important, you will too.