It must be acknowledged, however, that excellent coffee only has a future if the people and environment that produce it can do so sustainably. This is a tremendous challenge, and requires commitment and intentionality. Here are some areas on which we focus to help achieve this:
We pay more for our green coffee
We believe there’s true value in coffees that are unique and distinctive – the rapid growth in the specialty coffee market over the last few decades is testament to this. The quality of these green coffees needs to be properly represented by the prices paid for them – prices that enable producers to:
- earn more than it costs them to produce (a bizarrely rare occurrence!)
- re-invest and improve their business practices
- sustain a fair lifestyle
Just how fair does trade have to be?
What is a "fair" price for a cup or bag of coffee? This is a very complicated question to answer, and the magic number not only varies vastly from country to country, but from region to region! One thing is clear though – the prevailing pricing mechanisms are lopsided and very harmful. The ‘C’ price is a commodity price that underpins most green coffee purchasing interactions. It treats coffee as generic, whether it was produced in Rwanda or Brazil, and this means that producers are completely dictated to in terms of what they can earn. Most producers have very little market knowledge, which means they cannot effectively differentiate their product, and have almost no ability to negotiate their price.
The road less travelled
So what are we doing to improve the situation? Well, there’s a long road ahead of us, but here are some actions we have taken that can help us move towards achieving the three pricing aims previously mentioned.
We work with a select group of green coffee wholesalers who share a similar focus to ours, and have instigated a range of processes. Here are some of the measures they take to tackle the problems outlined above:
- Painstakingly calculating the costs of production for specific regions, despite the shocking lack of data. Accurate cost-of-production figures help determine the appropriate price that should be paid, but accurately assessing these figures is in itself an enormously costly and time-consuming job; especially when fuel rates in a region can double or triple from day to day, farmers are mostly illiterate, and everyday business records - like invoices or receipts - are seldom issued. But in spite of this, our partners will determine a base rate, which is calculated for each region; this is a minimum price that our partners will pay for coffee that season. This figure is calculated in consultation with local stakeholders, and is significantly higher than the going rates paid to producers in the same region - including the fair trade price
- Paying premiums for quality. Over and above the excellent base price that is guaranteed, premiums are paid, based on quality scores achieved by the coffee on the cupping table
- Committing to a purchasing contract with producers prior to the season, so that pre-financing can be made available when producers need it most.
Separate to these incredible humanitarian efforts on the part of our partners, the team here at Rosetta Roastery is also committed to purchasing the highest quality coffees that we can, through careful planning and blind cupping selection. We purchase ‘fresh crop’ green coffees, which come at a premium, and which are essential for us to be able to showcase the best coffees from each region or producer. We believe this careful selection process proves itself in our coffees, and that they are quite distinct, not only from each other (within our range), but also from our competitors in the market.
A higher standard of service - home and away
It is all very well seeking out the most stellar lots of coffee from around the world, but it is very difficult to share this quality with our customers, unless we also expect more of our team members here at home. Our baristas and roastery team need to be able to facilitate an exceptional coffee drinking experience at all our outlets, and to assist customers in their journey of appreciation – whether this is discussing flavour notes, fermentation trends in coffee processing, or how to brew a more consistent French press at home. We have a perpetual training programme attended by all staff members – whether they’ve been with us for a day or a decade – that covers the theoretical, technical, sensory and relational aspects of their jobs.
And we don't just limit this to our own staff! Our wholesale customers and their teams also undergo incredibly thorough training, as well as having open access to weekly sensory training, which we’ve found to be a vital (and often missing) ingredient in growing true competence in a coffee professional or barista.
We believe that with commitment to these processes, we can create value that will serve to elevate both the consumer experience, and the livelihoods of all the fundamental contributors in the chain - from the coffee cherry picker through to the barista.
Fair Trade for baristas?
But there is an obvious knock on effect here. As we up-skill and equip our staff to operate at a truly world-class level, the market dictates that they are now worth more as employees. It's a little ironic that, while there is a growing trend for first world consumers to be concerned about the plight of the coffee farmer, they very often forget that the barista directly across the counter is equally deserving of "Fair Trade", and a salary that reflects their hard work and dedication to specialty coffee. South Africa has one of the highest disparities between the rich and poor of any country in the world, and it would be completely remiss of us to ignore these very real social problems - right on our doorstep! The conversations around fairness and sustainability need to include these local concerns.
Specialty coffee might be seen as a niche luxury industry, due to South Africa’s socio-economic landscape. But whilst we appreciate the constraints felt by local consumers, we believe that growing our market will provide unique opportunities for (South) Africans employed in the industry. We want to elevate the opportunity of those we employ, as well as the staff of our clients in the hospitality industry, by up-skilling them to be far more than mere button pushers, or latte-art champions.
What is a living wage?
But what is "fair" in our context? And what is a living wage? How do we begin to deal with the inequality that we see around all us? These are, once again, tough questions with complicated answers. At Rosetta Roastery, we have always maintained that if we want to pay our staff more, and create more opportunities for them, then we need to create additional value in the products and services that we provide to ensure that we remain market leaders. Our training programmes outlined above are underpinned by the belief that by investing in our people, we enable them to contribute to the service industry at a far higher level, and thereby command a far higher value within their spheres of influence.
To do this, we start by paying our staff far more than the industry going rate, and we are committed to continuing to stretch ourselves in this regard.
There are many aspects touched on above that require more explanation and discussion. We would like to include you in this process, so please get in touch with us with any questions you'd like answered, or any comments and insight you'd like to contribute.