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Specialty Roasters


After starting my research project and learning more about the Specialty Coffee Market and its independent initiatives, such as Direct Trade, I thought it would be important to get the perspective of Specialty Coffee Roasters regarding certifications and to know more about the sustainable initiatives they are involved with.


Therefore, I sent a Questionnaire to some roasters and collected 22 responses, among them were Tim Wendelboe, Peter Dupont from the Coffee Collective, Tres Cabezas in Berlin, White Label in Amsterdam and many other great Roasters not only in Europe but also in the US, Australia and Asia. 


The Questionnaire had around 10 questions and although the research is relatively small, it can already give us an idea of Roasters’ point of view regarding the biggest challenges throughout the industry. Below I will write about the most important conclusions:


Size: Half of the interviewees were small roasters, roasting until 330 bags of coffee a year, 30% were medium, roasting between 330 and 6600 bags and the remaining ones were bigger. 


Sourcing: my first question aimed to understand if they source coffee with any specific certification or other sustainable initiative (e.g. direct trade). 55% of them mentioned buying organic coffee (not necessarily certified) and 45% do direct trade when possible. Three other certifiers were also mentioned: Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ in a decreasing order. A few others mentioned sourcing coffee from the Cup of Excellence Auctions or have their own sustainability program. 


Their opinion regarding certifications were divided, almost half of them (48%) consider it the first step towards a more sustainable chain but others were quite skeptical since more than 60% believe none of the certifiers have correlation with quality improvements.


Regarding the challenges in the supply chain, I asked roasters to rate the most urgent ones among these (1- being the most important), the result was:


1- Provision of premium prices to farmers

2- Increase farmers' livelihood Standards

3- Environmental Issues (E.g. Water, energy and pesticides use) 

4- Labor Rights compliance

5- Develop farmer organizations

6- Climate change adaption 

7- Biodiversity protection 


My last three questions were open, in order to learn more about what they are developing individually. A short overview:


Are you involved with any other project or initiative to increase sustainability in the coffee sector?

70% of them are involved, especially with direct trade. A few examples are:


- Working on better processing methods in partnership with farmers.

- Owning a model farm for biological farming practices.

- Development projects in Burundi via the Kahawatu Foundation.

- Internal initiatives such as roasting on a machine that recycles the heat and thereby reduces energy consumption and using 100% Wind electricity for the company including coffee shops.


What do you consider the most important factor to increase sustainability in the supply chain?

Some of the most mentioned answers:


- Customer awareness on specialty coffee.

- Payment of premium prices for farmers when sourcing coffee.

- Cooperation and transparency in the chain.

- To study the effects of climate change and ways to prevent it.

- Teaching better farming practices to incentivize farmers increase quality.


How do you choose your partners when sourcing coffee?

Most of them answered they look for partners who can provide consistent quality, long-term relationship and ethical values.


After conducting this research I confirmed that awareness among roasters is increasing and there are a lot of well-intentioned people in the industry developing closer relationships throughout the chain and researching about better farming practices. I also concluded that for most of the specialty roasters the key issue to develop a more sustainable Supply Chain is to increase price payments for farmers, which in my opinion is extremly important because we have to think of farmers as entrepreneurs and if they are paid fair prices the chances they will invest in quality improvements and have a more sustainable farm (business) is much higher. 


Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go since prices are usually market oriented and there are many intermediates in the supply chain before the payment arrives to farmers. It seems simple but investing in quality can also represent a risk for farmers since coffee is a seasonal crop and depends on external factors, such as favorable climate.


It is also important to have in mind that when we talk about sustainable coffee it can be a much broader concept then we imagine, these Roasters are usually sourcing coffee without a Certified Label but are also doing it sustainably, through direct trade or exporters and trading companies that pay, most of the time, higher premium prices for it and are also involved with development initiatives in the Origin countries.


It was also possible to see that there is room for more cooperation in the field as most of the Initiatives developed are individual. That is also something I realized after meeting and interviewing other coffee organizations, especially at the Sustainable Forum from the World of Coffee in Dublin. In future posts I will write about these interviews and ways they are trying to increase cooperation.




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