As I type this blog post, I'm getting ready to leave for Nicaragua for my second coffee origin trip, and also the second time I'll get to visit our Direct Trade partner of 3+ years, Gold Mountain Coffee Growers. Last year, we were down in March when the 2017-'18 harvest had been over for about a month, so this trip will be a lot different in terms of what aspects of the green coffee production process we'll be seeing.
Given that, it seems like an appropriate time to look back on the year that just passed us by, and see how we did with our commitment to sourcing high-quality Specialty Coffees through more direct relationships with producers. Coffees that we ultimately offer through our Direct Trade Coffees product category.
But first, it's often helpful to review terms that I use frequently in this business, but take for granted that not all coffee drinkers would know what they mean.
So what is "Direct Trade," anyway?
Direct Trade is a term that has been used and abused over the years by coffee companies, and even when used responsibly it can take numerous forms. For us here at RSR, Direct Trade refers to supplier relationships that we have with coffee producers in origin countries who export their own coffees and/or those of partner-farmers, import those coffees to high-consumption countries like the US, store their coffees with a warehousing firm, and then sell their coffees directly to roasters like us.
Usually, roasters source coffee through larger importing companies that house coffees from all over the world and do the work of sourcing with producers, so roasters don't have to. There are benefits to both approaches, and we do make use of relationships with importing companies in our overall green coffee sourcing strategy. But we have a special emphasis on forming and cultivating "Direct Trade" (aka more direct relationships) with producers.
How'd we do in 2018?
Now that we know what I'm talking about, here's how we did...
The short story is: 2018 was an excellent year for our Direct Trade goals! Here are some highlights...
- Our overall green coffee purchases through direct relationships grew significantly to over half
- During our trip to Nicaragua in March 2018, we cupped and purchased on the spot what would eventually became our first award-winning micro-lot coffee, a Pacamara Natural Process - which then won Silver & Bronze medals in the Golden Bean North America Roasters Competition in Sept. 2018!
- We added our second direct sourcing partner - Benchmark Coffee Traders, Papua New Guinea
- We converted our highest volume coffee blend (Bohemian Gothic) to use 100% direct trade components from Nicaragua & Papua New Guinea
- Peace Tree Brewing Co. here in Iowa used a Direct Trade PNG coffee in a new beer, the "Cold Brew Coffee Stout," that's now being bottled and distributed throughout Iowa
- In October we also hosted Vikram Patel, founder of Benchmark, on a mini-tour across Iowa to visit some of our customers & friends like Brewhemia in Cedar Rapids, and Peace Tree Brewing in Des Moines
In closing, I'm very happy with how our direct relationships developed in 2018. With our new branding released, another trip to Nicaragua next week, and a strategy to keep building our brand (and sales) through our online and wholesale channels, I am very excited to see these relationships continue to deepen and expand.
Thanks, folks, for supporting a small roaster with big dreams and a commitment to working as closely with producers as we can, to bring you awesome coffees and to help coffee producers, their families, and communities improve their livelihoods.