Traceability: An Introduction
Written by Alex
We go on about traceability quite a lot. It’s one of the main points that we emphasise about our coffee, and we have a small section on the back of all our tasting cards dedicated to it. But what does it mean and why is it so important to us?
In coffee, traceability is quite simply the ability to trace where and when the product was produced and by whom. Often it means that other important information is captured and is available such as prices paid to producers, the locations of mills, dates of harvesting and other processes leading up to exportation and shipping.
On the one hand, we’re able to offer you the story of where the coffee is from and celebrate the producers and farms but there is more to it than just following the journey of your cup of coffee from its source at origin.
To understand why we insist on working with traceable coffees only, first we need to understand where coffee has come from and what normally happens in the supply chain.
If you’ve drunk our coffee, then you’ll know that the name on the front of the bag is either
- The farmer/producer’s name
- The community or co-operative name
When you go to the supermarket, if you pay attention to the bags of coffee, you’ll notice that the names on the front of the bag are either:
- A blend (which is made up of coffee from different countries)
- A country
- A region in a coffee-producing country
Traditionally, commercially grown coffee has been treated as a commodity. The driving factor for a company that buys coffee by the container-load (20,000KG) is price. These companies have sought to reduce costs wherever possible and, inevitably, the producers at the bottom of the chain are the ones who are forced to make cuts. Often, this means that steps that could be taken to improve coffee quality are stopped. Things such as selectively picking only ripe coffee cherries, cleaning and maintaining milling equipment, and hand-sorting, are quality processes that don’t happen if they’re not paid for.
For the exporter/importer and coffee buyer, one of the simplest ways of reducing costs is to aggregate small lots of coffee into one big lot. Often this means that coffee has no ability to be traced. It’s these practises that usually enable other things to remain hidden – theft of coffee from farms, non-payment of farmers by middle-men, poor working conditions on large farms for coffee pickers and a host of other bad practises that thrive when there’s no traceability.
In a bid to appear traceable, many coffees are sold by the region (i.e. Huila, Colombia. Santos, Brazil). Don’t be deceived… Huila for example, whilst it is a great growing region, is the size of Wales. And Santos is a port in Brazil where coffee is delivered and aggregated ready for export.
We intend to be as transparent as possible when it comes to our traceability, as we share the desire for knowledge about the coffee we are drinking. That’s why we always aim to provide a traceable journey from the farm to your cup.
Who Do We Work With?
We work with various importers and specialists at origin. These organisations provide us with all the information about our coffees that we’re interested in! Including: rate of pay provided to producers, available training offered at origin, and the extent of their network or number of farms.
We’re also able to open communication channels with the producers, providing you with intimate details about the history of their farms and their passion for their product. It is this attention to detail that we feel produces a great quality coffee and pays deserved recognition to those directly responsible for its production.
Some of these names that you may have noticed us mentioning recently are Falcon Specialty, Raw Material, and Caravela; for example. These companies are typically out at origin, directly sourcing the best coffees available and working with farmers to increase the quality of their crop.
Falcon Specialty hopes to assist with driving socio-economic change and protecting vulnerable communities and fragile ecosystems at origin. They organise, train and connect rural, smallholder farming communities with international coffee markets. Falcon have assisted with sourcing coffee for our classic blend, Misspent Youth!
Raw Material stresses that they don’t initially search for the best coffee, rather they work with impoverished communities and help them to produce high-quality coffee that generates a stable income for the producer! They’ve sourced a few of our recent coffees, where 100% of profits are returned to the producers: Shyira, Carlos & Pedro, and Kilimbi!
Caravela are focused on sourcing outstanding Latin American coffees from small farmers. They reward passion and recognize excellence at origin, whilst demonstrating a commitment to quality and transparency at every level. Caravela sourced our newest coffee, Velo De Novia. Go and check it out on the store!
Traceable = Better Quality
So, what can you take from this? Well, there are several benefits to buying traceable coffee. Some of these benefits include: knowing producers are being fairly paid, having a full understanding of the ethical processes of production and import, and being able to support smaller, independent farms with a more unique variety of coffees.
However, it’s always a great sign that traceable coffee is going to be better quality. Often, you’ll pay a higher price for traceable speciality coffee, and you certainly get what you pay for. The additional cost goes back into the production of the coffee. Think of it as an investment in the producer!
We’re passionate about supporting these independent farms and helping our importers increase the available training at origin, raising funds for improved coffee production, and nurturing the market of unique, high-quality coffee.
Ultimately, the reward of your investment into traceable coffee is the continued production and import of amazing, speciality coffees. Year upon year, independent farms are benefiting from the support of international specialty coffee drinkers, meaning the available training for quality of production is only going to increase!
This has just been our introduction to traceability, and we’re really only scratching the surface in blog one! In the coming weeks, we’re going to deep dive into our traceability, looking further into: the production chain, meeting our farmers, importers, and exporters, and how to learn more about Cartwheel through the lens of traceability.