fair trade vs. Direct Trade coffee

Direct trade coffee

Photo: The Coffee Quest

Almost everyone knows them: the Fairtrade quality marks on coffee, chocolate, bananas and many other products. We think it is a great development that more and more products have a sustainable basis.

But now a new (counter) movement is slowly emerging: Direct Trade Coffee instead of Fairtrade. Direct Trade is becoming increasingly popular, especially in the coffee country. In this blog we explain what the difference is...

What is Fair Trade

Fairtrade is the older 'sister' of Direct Trade anyway. In 1988, the first pack of coffee with Fairrade quality mark was sold.

The Fairtrade quality mark was introduced by the Max Havelaar Foundation, as a nice follow-up to development aid.

According to Max Havelaar's website, there was an urgent appeal from Mexican coffee farmers: "Help is nice, but a fair price for our coffee is even better.

Then we don't have to hold out our hand any longer". Clear question, great initiative!

Criticism of fair trade coffee

But now that more and more products are slowly becoming Fairtrade certified, there is also more criticism of the quality mark.

For example, Fairtrade would be a Western toy ( Volkskrant ) and by buying Fairtrade products we would mainly maintain the organization behind it ( Radar ). NRC also reports that coffee farmers still notice little of this 'fair trade'.

In addition, before farmers can sell their product as Fairtrade, they must become a member.

Small farmers often cannot afford this membership. As a coffee roaster, you cannot just sell Fairtrade purchased green coffee beans as Fairtrade. You also have to become a member.

And the same also applies to small coffee roasters: Either they cannot afford this, or they are often better off putting that money elsewhere!

In addition, there is such an eye for "fair" at Fairtrade that the quality aspect is somewhat dwarfed. Of course it shouldn't be the case that we are going to pay more for worse coffee...

Read also: Specialty coffee vs. Commercial coffee: the differences

What is Direct Trade Coffee

More and more coffee roasters are done with the large unwieldy organizations that stand between them and the coffee farmers. It costs money, the focus on quality is minimal and the farmer hardly benefits from it.

That is why more and more coffee roasters are going for the most logical step ever. Direct Trade, direct trade with the coffee farmer. They skip all the links between them and the coffee farmers and go on their own.

This way they can watch, taste, make clear agreements about quality and build long-term relationships.

Because the links between them are skipped, those links do not have to be paid and this money CAN end up with the farmer and his family.

The sale will only go through if both parties adhere to the agreements made. This way the coffee roaster has a higher quality coffee and the farmer has more income.

Direct Trade Coffee 2
Photo: This Side Up

Training for the long term

In addition to Direct Trade and its many benefits, we see another nice development in the context of those long-term relationships; our partners (including This Side Up : the good middleman and The Coffee Quest) also invest in 'training' the coffee farmers to get better harvests in the coming years.

This ensures that coffee farmers are more motivated because they can potentially raise even more money for their life's work in the coming years, but also have the tools and knowledge to realize this.

This is not charity , this is empowerment !

Direct Trade Coffee Ethiopia
Photo: This Side Up Ethiopia Galeh

To make the quality of the coffee standard and comparable, there is the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) point score.

Many coffee roasters that do Direct Trade work with specialty coffee. Only coffee that scores at least 80 points according to a so-called "Q grader" may be sold under the name ' specialty coffee '.

This encourages coffee farmers to make the coffee harvest as successful as possible, because the higher the point score, the higher the price!

Benefits Direct Trade

The benefits of Direct Trade Coffee are endless. Due to the good price paid with this direct trade, producers can invest more in their coffee crops.

In this way, it is often possible to produce better and better coffee year after year. The big advantage in this Direct Trade system therefore lies in the case that the better the coffee, the better the price that is paid.

This Direct Trade movement enables coffee farmers to develop further. This is how we all prevent coffee farmers from throwing in the towel.

In this way we can enjoy coffee of which the quality is constantly improving for many years to come.

Direct Trade and Zwarte Roes

We are aware that no system is perfect. Yet we feel better with Direct Trade Coffee because it is so nice and transparent. We now let our partners buy coffee directly from the coffee farmers.

We do believe in the 'good middleman' and choose to only work with partners who really add value for every link in the chain.

Buy Direct Trade Coffee Beans; what should you pay attention to?

Because Direct Trade Coffee does not have an official quality mark, it is somewhat more difficult to distinguish between real Direct Trade Coffee and regular coffee that is said to be Direct Trade (greenwashing).

At Zwarte Roes we tell as extensive a story as possible about the origin of our coffee beans.

We are as transparent as possible in this and share all the information we have, such as the price paid for the coffee, which projects are running and, ultimately, the most important thing is the quality of these coffee beans.

For example, read the story of our Kenyan Coffee here, which is also called the coffee revolution.