Our ongoing journey to ethically source delicious coffee.
Coffee goes through a long process before we get our hands on it. When we launched Slide Coffee we were very passionate about sourcing coffee ethically, and were keen to learn and soak up lots of info about how this big globally traded commodity works. As we dove deeper into the topic of ethically sourced coffee the more we realise how much more we have to learn.
Let’s just be real here, and I’m sure most of the industry would join me in saying, we have not got this all figured out. We have a deep desire to have a completely transparent, ethical supply chain, however we’re finding it difficult to know exactly how to measure that. First I thought let’s just buy specialty coffee and we’re all good, then I learnt just because it’s ‘specialty coffee’ (80 points and above), doesn’t mean the farmer covered his costs that year. Unfortunately the Commodity Price of coffee is volatile and fluctuates up and down. The Coffee farmer has his expenses to produce the coffee, and sometimes the costs of production is higher than what he got paid for his coffee.
We’re always looking for more information about the coffee’s we source. We work with some like-minded coffee importers/exporters, to access this information. We can often get Farm gate pricing (how much the farmer was paid), but these numbers without any context don’t mean a lot. The overheads and expenses of a coffee farmer can be very different from farm to farm. How big is the farm? How much are workers paid per hour? How much did the tree’s yield, and was the weather favourable for this? What about fertiliser costs, and other inputs? Is this a family run business, and do they also grow their own food on the property? Unfortunately many coffee farmers do not even know their own costs of production.
Coffee farmers are often very vulnerable when it comes time to sell their coffee, they have already grown the coffee, so they can often be ‘price takers’ because if they don’t sell it at a premium to the specialty coffee market, then they’ll have to sell it for the commodity price (which is sometimes lower than costs price). So they’ll take whatever price they can get, in case they miss out on that higher premium. Some coffee buyers take advantage of the producer's situation in order to save or make themselves more money, this is at the expense of the coffee producer.
So we’re still trying to work this all out, but here’s our approach. We only work with Coffee importers/exporters that have the same passion and care as we do. They play an important role in getting the coffee from the farm/processing mill onto a boat and landing into a warehouse in Australia, it’s lots of logistics and time forecasting. All our suppliers are happy to share information about the coffee, and most times included farm gate pricing ect. At the end of the day, there does need to be a level of trust and mutual respect with all our vital relationships along the supply chain. This is where we get the term, sourced with love. For now that’s the best label we can put on the sourcing model we have. We’ve researched many other ‘certifications’ and ‘terms’ that are out there, and we feel that they don’t paint the full picture, and there is still room for unethical practices in the supply chain. We’d love to continue to journey with you on this road to discover more and better ways to source coffee. For now we promise to source with love, and in that there is no room for knowingly exploiting someone for their hard work. We also promise to keep learning, not to turn a blind eye, but to face these challenges head on, and aim for the best possible outcome.
Huge thanks to those of you who are also joining us in this journey, to be mindful of what our dollars vote for. We couldn’t do what we do without our beautiful cafe customers who regularly support our small roasting business, and by doing so put value the coffee farmers hard work. And to all our customers who buy a tasty brew at one of our stores, or buy beans for brewing at home, you are consuming consciously, and that is huge, and can have ripple effect on the community around us.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and look forward to diving deeper and further discussing these topics more.