With October being International Fair Trade Month, we explore Fair Trade Vs Direct Trade Coffee. We’re sure you’ve heard a lot of words tossed around about coffee sourcing. Words like: Fair Trade, Direct Trade, Relationship Trade, etc. Here’s the good news: At Bristol Twenty Coffee we try to ensure that all of our coffees are ethically sourced and are either Fair Trade, Direct Trade or Relationship Trade. But, you’re probably wondering what’s the difference? And which is better?
What is Fair Trade Coffee?
In January 2018, the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ merged into one organization, called the Rainforest Alliance. Until then, the Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade International, and UTZ offered different certification programs that all shared similar missions and goals.
All three believe in the urgent need to transform agricultural practices and share the belief that certification by credible systems can help with that transformation. All three programs are committed to working towards tackling unsustainable production and market practices.
They also share a commitment to high standards in our work, which is why they are all members of ISEAL, the global association for social and environmental standards which works with companies, nonprofit organizations, and governments to support their use of voluntary standards.
They are also all members of the Global Living Wage Coalition, an ISEAL facilitated initiative that recognizes that living wage is crucial to individual certification programs, and so they have agreed to a shared approach for measuring living wage.
It is important to note that these labels are not mutually exclusive and that you can often find products with more than one of these seals. The Rainforest Alliance differs from Fairtrade in the focus and strategy of their missions.
Fairtrade’s standards are designed to tackle poverty and empower producers in the world’s poorest countries, giving them a guaranteed price for their products.
Rainforest Alliance certification focuses on how farms are managed, with certification being awarded to farms that meet the comprehensive standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard, which encompasses all three pillars of sustainability—social, economic, and environmental—and empowers farmers with the knowledge and skills to negotiate for themselves in the global marketplace.
Rainforest Alliance certification and training (including their Farmer App) are teaching farmers, farmworkers, and their families to farm efficiently and responsibly, growing their bottom lines today and conserving the fertile soils and natural resources on which they and their children will depend in the future.
What are the pros and cons to Fair Trade?
Fair Trade certification helped raise awareness about ethical sourcing and created accountability for coffee farms abroad.
According to Fair Trade International, the certification aims to ensure coffee farmers “work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities.” So whichever certification they hold, they are all doing great work in producing countries.
Currently, our flagship blend at Bristol Twenty Coffee is Formula 442 and our Machu Picchu Single Origin are both Fair Trade international certified. We also have a range of Rainforest Alliance certified coffees from Colombia, El Salvador and Brazil.
However, Fair Trade is a certification and not an actual sourcing method.
Think of it this way, you might buy organic fruit, but not Soil Association certified organic fruit.
This doesn’t mean the apples you buy at the farmers market aren’t organic if they lack the Soil Association sticker. It just means that the farmer hasn’t paid an organic certifier to provide documentation of their organic practices.
Fair Trade is similar in that farmers and roasters pay a premium to an organization to prove to you, the consumer, that certain ethical standards are met. Also surprisingly, only 20% of certified products are sold at Fair Trade prices, most are undersold.
But, what if there’s another way to prove to you the coffee was ethically sourced and, in many cases, the farmers are paid a higher wage for their work?
Direct Trade Vs Relationship Trade Coffee
First, “direct trade” and “relationship trade” are different words for the same thing: A method for ethically-sourcing coffee directly from coffee farms. With Direct and Relationship Trade, coffee roasters and farmers meet directly, side-step the costs of certification and often pass that money on to the farmer. They form partnerships, collaborate, and help farmers identify emerging styles and markets in coffee. On top of that, direct trade gives roasters access to hundreds of quality farms that can’t afford to get Fair Trade certified.
A drawback, you might think, is without certification how can you be certain the roaster is treating the farmer fairly? Or the farm is ethically operated? To solve this, many roasters are transparent about their sourcing by documenting and visiting the farms they work with.
If your goal is to have ethically-sourced coffee, then Bristol Twenty’s preference is direct and relationship trade. We feel that it is the way the industry is heading and want to ensure they we give back as much as we can to our growers. Through ourselves and our partners, we have a direct link to some great coffee farms, such as Las Acacias in Colombia.
Colombia Las Acacias is from Antioquia; a mountainous area mainly due to the Andes, that is the 6th largest department in Colombia. Las Acacias is more than just a coffee plantation; it is a piece of land located on the mountain slopes of southeastern Antioquia, in a Colombian town with a rich tradition of coffee growing known as Ciudad Bolívar.
Since 1994, this plantation has belonged to the VARGAS RESTREPO family, who—with the help of hardworking rural farmers—use time-tested methods handed down from their ancestors to grow the best Caturra(60%) and Castillo (40%) coffee beans. Together, they take pains to employ exemplary farming practices, to show respect for the environment, to know their employees’ worth, and above all else, to possess a deep knowledge of coffee beans.
These coffee crops, sown at altitudes between 1350 and 1850 meters above sea level, are caressed by warm winds off the Cauca River during the day and cool temperatures from the Choco jungle at night, leading to sweet, flavorful beans. From this volcanic soil, nourished by the river and the jungle, Las Acacias coffee plantation presents the world with a little piece of C