Traceability: Coffee Sourcing
Written by Alex
Coffee sourcing is where coffee traceability begins for Cartwheel.
We’ve built integral relationships with importers, and even sourced directly from origin in our sourcing trips. It is important to us to ensure that we know the quality of the coffee we are buying, and where it has come from.
In this blog, I will break down some of the key processes we undertake at Cartwheel when it comes to sourcing our coffee, how this has developed over time, and why this makes us stand apart from commercial coffee.
At Cartwheel, we rely on partnerships with importers. These are typically companies who buy coffee and bring it into the country, to market to roasters. The importers that we work with are often conducting sourcing trips, going out to origin, tasting a variety of coffees, and deciding which to buy.
There are occasionally exporters involved in this relationship, who’s role it is to market that coffee to the green coffee buyers. Typically, exporters will handle everything from training producers on how to get better coffee, as well as logistics, how to get coffee from the wet mill to the dry mill, for example.
At Cartwheel, we like to work with green coffee buyers - this could be roasters or importers - that specialise in a certain country, or a certain region. That might be because they have family ties there, or they might run an operation in that country. Importers can’t work in every single country in the world, so they will usually work exclusively with one, or a few, countries. There are some commercial importers who don’t visit the countries or know their partners, and their main job is organising the logistics of transporting the coffee. At Cartwheel, we choose to work with specialist importers who go a lot deeper with their research and support
This is beneficial because it allows those importers to build networks at origin, which in turn allows the coffee producers to build more infrastructure and improve their harvest, returning better quality coffee year upon year. It also shows us that those importers have a developed knowledge about the origin country, and we can trust that they are sourcing the best coffees available.
These relationships are usually developed over a few years, and we will often return to the same importers. Ideally, we will work with the same producers again too, but it’s not always guaranteed. However, these relationships can be very beneficial for us as a business – and for the coffee farmers. For example, this year we were able to order a large percentage of the harvest of Carlos Zati – ordering about 40 bags, instead of our typical one or two!
The partnerships that I’ve described above are not exclusive to Cartwheel, this is how most roasters will source their coffee. But what makes Cartwheel stand out is the passion that we have for our coffee, backed by our team of knowledgeable Q-Graders – dedicated to sourcing only the best coffees available.
Another method of sourcing mentioned above is sourcing trips. Our owner, Alex, has previously been on a sourcing trip to Kenya for example, which was exclusively a buying trip. This involved meeting an exporter, tasting coffees, and putting in requests to order his favourites. Another trip Alex took to Rwanda involved travelling from mill to mill, meeting the importer we were working with and touring the mills. This is essentially what an importer does but on a much bigger scale.
Sourcing trips themselves don’t make up a huge part of our sourcing, at Cartwheel. But, as the business grows, we’d likely do a sourcing trip to Brazil or Ethiopia, as two of our biggest sourcing countries currently. What a sourcing trip would allow us to do, would be to get first dibs on a coffee. Typically you arrive early on in the process, so there will often be thousands of different coffees for you to choose from.
Through these trips, you also begin to get a good understanding of the supply chain and the different actors that take part in the process. So, in some small way, we intend to share and honour this supply chain by continually supporting traceable coffee production, and sharing the stories of our producers with you.
How Things Have Changed
Since Cartwheel opened, it has been our continual mission to find the most amazing coffees that we can. Initially we would source one or two amazing coffees and buy a lot of it – often enough to last the year! But we realised, as we came to know these coffees very well, that people were interested in branching out – trying different coffees, or even roasteries.
Because of that, we adopted a system where we were able to give people lots of choice by buying in smaller amounts. We moved to importing one bag of coffee at a time, from a variety of different origins and working with specialised importers; whereas, previously, we were working exclusively with two importers. In the last year we’ve worked with around 9 different importers specialising in origins all over the world. The aim was to have one coffee a week, and we’ve been achieving that for a couple of years now! This gives you the choice of several origins and tasting profiles, every single month.
This doesn’t mean that we’ve compromised though, as we’re still importing those amazing coffees! But now, we’re highlighting origins, such as Timor-Leste, which are often overshadowed in the specialty coffee market. Cristo Luirai, from Timor-Leste, will be exclusively featured on our brew bar very soon! And it is still one of the best that their country, at the moment, has to offer.
Supporting these farms and our partners that work in these origins, has allowed us to see big changes occurring in recent years. There are countries in which infrastructure has drastically improved in the last 10 years, and the partners that we’re working with have helped with that. They’ll be investing in programmes and infrastructure which means that producers can yield more coffee, produce a better quality of coffee, and their farmers can achieve a higher price.
This is why we continue to stress the fact that buying traceable, speciality coffee is an investment in the coffee producers themselves! We work with a variety of importers who are all doing great work at origin, and we are currently reaping the rewards of this support by continually importing amazing coffees.
Traceability is a key aspect of what we’re doing and it’s a key aspect of what a specialty coffee is.
Specialty coffee is usually a good, trustworthy product that is entirely traceable from the origin source. On the other hand, commercial coffee is often lower quality and is often not traceable. This difference is reflected in the price, because our coffee has gone through a lot of extra process, and, by paying fairly for specialty coffee, we’re able to provide the coffee producer with a living wage. This means that we’re not exploiting him for cheap coffee, or exploiting the land for its crop. Another thing to note is that It might not always be the farm owner who suffers in a poor pay relationship; it could often be the people that are working for him.
So, for us at Cartwheel, sourcing from the right companies, maintaining relationships at origin, and paying more for a better crop, are just some of the ways that we’re supporting the continued production of amazing, traceable coffees.
That’s what makes Cartwheel different, and you can taste it in the coffee.