It is our goal at Crowded House to eventually source all of our coffees through direct trade partnerships. "Direct trade" to us means face to face communication with the farms that we are buying our coffee from. This kind of partnership can be mutually beneficial on several levels for the coffee farmer and roaster.
Currently, in the coffee supply chain the profit margins are unjustly balanced to where the coffee farmers are not getting what they deserve for their crops. In most cases, growers are barely breaking even for the cost of their coffee after harvest season. There are not many avenues for them to sell their coffee after they have harvested it without getting taken advantage of. In many cases they are forced to sell their coffee at a loss because they can find no one else to buy it. This causes farmers to come up with ways of paying their day workers less than minimum wage during harvest season (in Costa Rica, as low as $5 a day) which is possible due to the high levels of unemployment in these regions.
The best way out of this situation for a farmer is to make a direct connection with a buyer who will give them fair prices for their green coffee. As green coffee buyers, we want our farmers share in any success we might have from the coffee they have produced. At Crowded House we pay well over the market price so that farms can make profit and pay their workers the wages they deserve.
For years coffee has been traded as a commodity rather than a specialty product. The consequence of this market approach is lower quality coffee. Coffee is generally bought by region instead of farm and is mixed in with many other coffees with little regard to quality; the result is an inconsistent, unimpressive flavor in the cup. With direct trade partnerships we know exactly where our coffees are coming from, how it was grown, and what specific processing methods were used, as well as many other variables. This enables us to work with the farms to improve the quality of the coffee through shared information. Additionally, when a farm receives the right price for their coffee they are able to use profits to improve conditions on their farm as well as implement new strategies for growing better coffee.
The relationships formed through direct trade partnerships are the most important part of the process to us. We do not merely want to make mutually beneficial business transactions; we want to form real friendships with the coffee growers we buy from.
We are resolved to one day buy all of our coffees from people that share our values. Our current connections with the Spirit Mountain Farm in the Dominican Republic and the Murillo family with Monte Vista in Costa Rica give us optimism that this goal is possible. Both of these farms are committed to not only growing exceptional coffee but also to make Jesus known in their communities.
Crowded House is all about people. When you look at the entire production process from farmer to consumer, and realize the amount of people who are involved in making one cup, you realize that coffee is one of the most relational products in the world, and we want to see each relationship done right.