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What we mean…Relational Trade

What we mean when we use the word… 

When we started this adventure of profoundly good coffee Porch Culture had one direct trade connection from our time spent living in the Dominican Republic.  We knew that we would want to and need to expand our offerings from there which quickly brought up the questions of “How?” and “Where do we begin?”

relational trade

“Relational Coffee” is another ambiguous term in the coffee world.  Like Direct Trade it is not a certification but a subjective phrase that can vary in meaning.  For us relational coffee is the bridge that helps us cross over into more direct trade relationships.  You will notice a lot of overlap from our direct trade definition.  The primary difference being the relationship in “relational trade” involves a go-between.

Our 4 point definition is as follows.

Price | We pay above fair trade minimums and work through smaller importers or other direct trade roasters to establish price.

People | We communicate with those that have direct trade relationships with farms and ask specific questions to know both the people and the land connected to the coffee are cared for.

Quality | Its still gotta be profoundly good.  We look at cupping scores and talk with other roasters already using the bean.  In most cases a sample is requested before making a larger scale purchase.

Land | Shade grown with sustainable growing practices already in place.

Our goal is to build new farm relationships by creating connections with other roasters that have their own direct trade relationships.  Until all four of the direct trade criteria are met these coffees will be labeled as “Relational” rather than “Direct”.  Our current hope is to build 3 to 4 Direct Trade relationships, farms and/or cooperatives that we look to partner with for the long haul.  This means that only some of our Relational Trade coffees will make the transition to Direct Trade.

Those that don’t make the transition will come and go for various reasons but will always fill an important role for our business.  Before it is anything else, coffee is a crop that grows from the earth.  This means a couple different things for us as roasters.  One, there is a finite supply from each farm each season.  Two, coffee is subject to the unpredictabilities and risks of anything cultivated | drought, flood, cold snaps, bugs.  It is for these reasons that our relational trade offerings fill such an important role for us as roasters and you as Porch Culture patrons.  In addition to providing fun and variety in our Porch Culture offerings, relational trade coffees are farms/importers we can look to as trusted pinch hitters, special features, substitutes when other coffees become unavailable for whatever reason.

Spirit Mountain drying and storage from above

Our current Relational Trade offering is our Ethiopian Harrar.  The small importer we work through is committed to providing a viable, vibrant sales market to Ethiopian farmers, all small cooperative growers.  There is an established mutual commitment between these farms and the importer that is creating a great cup of coffee for you and a living wage for growers.  Profoundly good from farm to porch.

Next up on the blog | What we mean…Fair Trade

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What We Mean…Direct Trade

What we mean when we use the word…

For as common as coffee is there are a lot of processes and terms that are cloaked in mystery for the average coffee drinker.  Our hope as Porch Culture, through conversation and things like blog posts, is to pull back the veil, not to make anything more complicated but rather to make coffee more familiar, less intimidating, and more approachable.

A whole lot happens between farm and porch.  Because you have to start somewhere we will start with how Porch Culture goes about getting its coffee and why we go about it that way.

direct trade

“Direct Trade” is not a certification.  Rather it is used in the coffee world to describe a type of relationship between farmers, roasters, and small scale importers.  Where as terms like “Fair Trade” and “Certified Organic” are regulated, there is no governing body over the term Direct Trade.  All that to say there is no set-upon definition for “Direct Trade”.  Opinion varies if this is a good or bad thing.

Gleaning from other direct trade roasters, combined with our own convictions and findings, we have developed a 4 point definition of direct trade so that Porch Culture patrons like yourself understand what we mean when we label our coffee “Direct Trade”.

Price | We value the intensive labor that goes into producing quality coffee and express that in the price we pay for green [un-roasted] coffee.  Our transactions are handled directly with the producers.  We know how much money the producer receives for the coffee we purchase and that purchase price is at least 25% over Fair Trade minimums.  Direct Trade often earns coffee farmers 2 to 3 times more than the market value per pound.  Or better said, the world market value for coffee is typically 2 to 3 times under a sustainable, living wage for farmers.  Direct Trade is not a hand out it is an agreement that pays the true value of coffee with expectation and accountability of a quality crop.

People | Making things personal transforms what could be just another business transaction into a friendship and long-term relationship.  Our goal is to visit every farm that we work with.  Farm visits help to create transparency in both farming practices and worker treatment as well as confirming a commitment from the roaster to the farmer.
As a little guy it will take time for us to be able to build relationships with more producers and visit more farms.  Eventually, we plan to visit each farm once per year.  With this kind of travel, it also means we look to value quality over quantity in terms of how many farms we will source from at any given time.

2012-10-17 13.55.57Quality | Profoundly good does not just mean ethically sourced coffee it also means delicious coffee.  It is a both/and deal.  Quality is the basis of sustainable relationships for everyone involved | producer, roaster, and consumer.  Our coffee offerings are sample roasted and cupped for profoundly good taste before we consider moving ahead with a new farm relationship.

Land | How the land is treated effects every aspect of coffee.  We want our farmers to be in business for a long time, for the communities around them to thrive, and for our customers to have access to profoundly good coffee.  All our coffee is shade grown (coffee is naturally a shade plant) and cultivated with practices that consider the longevity of the farm and the health of surrounding communities.  This means some of our offerings will be certified organic but ALL our coffees are sustainable.

Our anchor coffee and very first Direct Trade relationship comes from Spirit Mountain in the Dominican Republic.  Our relationship with these guys goes back 8 years.  They not only meet but exceed all four of our direct trade criteria.

Next up on the blog | What We Mean…Relational Trade