Our approach to sourcing speciality coffee beans 

Rwanda Liza coffee
Bradley and Amelia (center) with Jean Paul (far left - Owner of Liza washing station) and his youngest brother (far right).

 

Our approach

We pride our approach to sourcing specialty grade green coffee from the countries of origin based on four main principles. First and foremost we are committed to establishing and cultivating fair and sustainable, long-term, direct relationships with coffee producers and co-operatives. We aim to ensure ethical transparency in working practices with the producers we work with as well as with coffee exporters and importers. We practice science-based quality control on the coffees we buy to ensure we are working with only specialty grade (i.e. the best quality) coffees. We focus on the seasonality of the coffees we buy to ensure that we are bringing our customers the world’s freshest crops available.

Relationship coffees and direct trade

We are committed to using direct trade in sourcing our coffee in order to ensure a fair and transparent price for coffee producers that is above and beyond the Fairtrade base price. Though we are fortunate in the U.K. to have numerous specialty coffee suppliers, our goal has always been to source coffee directly from origin so that we can work towards building sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships with coffee producing communities.

In May 2015 we started sourcing coffee directly from Rwanda following a visit to several washing stations. We visited Rwanda again in May 2016 and 2017 and are continuing to work with Gishyita washing station, a small co-operative located on the eastern shore of lake Kivu. Prior to the 2016 harvest we donated $1000 to the co-operative to help fund new facilities (flotation tanks, fermentation tanks and grading channels) which has enabled them to further increase the quality of the coffee that they are producing. In 2017 we completed a school repair project at the Shye school in Gishyita village. This involved significant repairs to the primary school building in order to provide a safe learning environment for the children of the village. 

Over the past year we have introduced the title ‘Relationship Coffee’ to signify which coffees we have obtained through these special relationships, but also to address some of the ambiguity attached to the term ‘direct trade’. It is not always clear who is responsible for the direct trade and although it is often used to signify a direct link with producers, in reality this link may involve three or four parties in between producer and roaster (e.g. farmer - washing station - exporter - importer - roaster). With this type of structure in place it can be very challenging for the roaster and coffee producer to make a direct connection.

When you see 'Relationship coffee' on our labels the following criteria will have been met:

1) The producer is paid at least 25% more than the Fairtrade based price. 

2) We have visited the producer (either farm or co-operative washing station).

3) We will have a means of direct and open communication (either farmer or co-operative)

In most cases the price we pay for our relationship coffee will be well in excess of the Fairtrade minimum price. The co-operative level payment for our Rwanda coffees ranged from 60%-120% above the Fairtrade based price at the last harvest.

Quality control and seasonality 

Because coffee is a seasonal product our range of coffees changes over the course of the year, and we work very hard to ensure we serve coffees that are still fresh and seasonal. In addition to a strong focus on direct trade the quality of the coffee we purchase is paramount. In order to help us assess our pre shipment samples we utilise a moisture meter and Rotronic water activity meter which helps us to predict the coffee’s shelf life, and an Ikawa sample roaster.

Improved quality means better prices for farmers so it is very important that we continue to support the producers that work hard to supply us with high scoring coffees. We are also working towards shipping more of our coffee in vacuum packed boxes rather than Grainpro lined sacks. This form of packaging helps to slow down the ageing process, maintaining freshness for up to 12 months, which means we can offer certain coffees for a longer period of time. The majority of our coffees from Rwanda and Kenya are packed in 30kg vacpack boxes.