These days, most everyone seems to adopt Fair Trade and Organic as important standards to consider when purchasing many commodities that we have grown to depend upon like cocoa and bananas. And while these standards and regulations are necessary, there is the fact that they are still rules, and most of us who own small businesses tend to hate following rules. Sure, we like to make them, but.....
For me and Tucker, one of the most challenging aspects of owning our own business is continually balancing the business and the personal. Often, it seems as though these two things can feel at odds but in some rare occasions, the two are really obviously aligned. Working with companies like Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea and Taza Chocolate make our jobs as the retailer much easier and gives me one less thing to keep me up at night. All we have to do is choose to purchase products from them.
I can remember when Fair Trade became popular a decade ago and thinking that this all seemed good, but.....And then when we started to have lots of customers coming in to ask if our coffee was certified "Free Trade", I started to realize that not many people really understood Fair Trade. It had become more of a slogan rather than a certification process that we took really seriously. We even switched to a locally-based Fair Trade certified coffee distributor and found that our coffee tasted different every order and that the quality was not what we tasted before we switched. After a few months of struggling for high quality and consistency, we asked out local coffee guru, Mark Mooradian to help us find a new roaster. He suggested three top roasters from all over the country and we picked Intelligentsia.
Direct has always been a goal of mine, whether it is in communication or in trade and the fewer middle people are involved, usually both fare better. Ever played telephone???? Intelligentsia has adopted a full-scale model of trade that throws Fair Trade and Organic out the window and re-writes all the rules. Here is their Direct Trade Criteria. While there is no such thing as "basically" when it comes to Intelligentsia, a few criteria that we appreciate are:
1. Quality of the coffee must be exceptional. (To me, this is where Fair Trade really fell short because there is no quality or consistency criteria)
2. The growers/farmers are guaranteed 25% above the price of Fair Trade (Again, Fair Trade promises a set price to the co-ops, not necessarily the farmers. Who knows what they got?)
3. Intelligentsia visits the farms at least 1-3 times per year.
4. Farms must be committed to environmentally and socially sustainable practices.
5. Transparency of financial transactions all the way back to the farmers.
In addition to their commitment to quality from the grower, they have also gone above and beyond for us numerous times in the past 7 years of our working together. Our mutual respect for the perfect cup has worked out well, even though someone recently told me that "perfection" is not ever an attainable status, but a constant pursuit. I suppose it is this chase that keeps it interesting over and over.