The rapid rise of the ‘artisan roaster’ fraternity has recently brought a lot of new business to the handful of British import companies who specialise in bringing in green beans from the world’s various countries of origin. A new import company has now appeared, offering the challenging suggestion that the artisan roasting trade needs to be given some fresh choices in the coffee it can roast.
At the same time, the new company has suggested that the trade should have access to fuller audit trails, to prove that it is buying coffee on truly ‘ethical’ terms.
The new company is Falcon, which has some known names among its management – Konrad Brits has been involved in coffee sourcing for a very long time, and Mike Riley spent 25 years at Taylors of Harrogate.
The suggestion that the trade needs better choices in coffee is an interesting one – does the world not know of all the likely origins and producing countries? The trade knows of the major ones, comes the answer, which brings the resulting danger that everyone is using largely the same coffees.
“We have micro-roasters asking us to help them create blends,” says Mike Riley. “I have spent a lot of time with these people, and I have found that I can work out quite quickly who they have been buying from – their ‘pool of choice’ has become rather shallow, and I have been seeing the same coffees time and time again.”
There are wider choices to be considered, says Falcon. An example is Zambia, not a country always regarded as a source of high-class coffee. And yet, says Falcon, they have a Zambian coffee described as ‘spiky, with a citrus tang’, and a sweetness will which contribute well to an espresso blend.
“I started Falcon as a non-traditional trading house,” explains Konrad Brits. “We didn’t want to be in over-traded origins. So we came to places like the landlocked African countries, and developed a model which allowed us to say to the farmers: ‘you’re remote, you’re obscure, you don’t have easy access to market, so we’ll do it for you, and we’ll be your marketing partner’. This led us to start business with people like Taylors of Harrogate, who were at the forefront of this.”
For farmers like the Zambians, the new service carries an ethical way of buying, says Konrad Brits.
“The Zambian market was always fairly static. The origin peaked at about ten thousand tonnes, and then imploded during the coffee crisis. They’re landlocked, so they have very high costs – when coffee was 42 cents a pound, they were paying ten cents of that just to get it to the port. We have now found them ways to finance that.
“We now work with people like the Gates Foundation, concentrating on the ‘missing middle’ – that is, there is already finance for the micro-farmers and the big farmers, but a lot in the middle are missing out. We are completing a transparent chain, in which we can bring in investment funds for their farms, while not making the farmers beholden to us – we’re not being loan sharks.
“We can also now offer a finance audit through KPMG, which will show exactly how much money is getting back to origin. This is something the trade can take up, so a roaster can say, with comfort, ‘the coffee we buy subscribes to a full third-party audit’.”
There is still a very basic need for particularly detailed audit work, says Mike Riley. It addresses the matter of exactly where the money goes, a question which is still asked very regularly.
“I have worked with coffee certifications, and I have witnessed that what is being paid for great coffee is not necessarily going through to the people on the farms.
“We have found that what seems to be the right attitude by people in the UK, of ‘we’re going to pay a fantastic price for good coffee’, is not enough… because I have come across cases in which the farm workers are still being treated like dogs.
“This is not good enough, so we need fuller audits to look at detail like this.”.