Coffee Cupping with Cafédirect for World Fairtrade Day

Coffee Cupping with Cafédirect for World Fairtrade Day
08 mai 2024

In the run up to World Fairtrade Day, Shared Interest colleagues met with Arran Stein, Coffee Programme Manager at Cafédirect, for a unique coffee cupping experience at our head office in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. During the session, staff had the opportunity to try out a range of different Fairtrade and organic coffees whilst learning more about the journey of this much-loved beverage.

The Journey of a Coffee Bean

It takes upwards of two years before farmers can receive a good harvest, and up to three years of work to bring a coffee cherry from its point of origin to its final destination – swirling aromatically and invitingly in our cup. And how many people are involved in the entire process, from picking to brewing? 50 to 100 people, for every one coffee bean.

Somebody plants it, then farmers will cultivate it for several years. Next up, the coffee cherries are picked and then delivered to a mill, where they will be milled by another ensemble of workers. Following this, the coffee will be delivered to a port, escorted across the seas and into the UK and met with further logistics at a domestic port. From here, the beans will be delivered into a roastery and attended to by a host of packers and roasters. Finally, the coffee will be delivered to a retailer and distributed to the consumer.

Arran said: “In the whole chain: 50 to 100 people. Two to three years of work. For each bean. I have this in the back of my mind every minute when I am doing this job, to ensure I am always bringing justice to the product.”

“We want to do justice to the smallholders that cultivated it."

The Complexities of Coffee

Numerous factors affect the flavour of coffee. Arran told us: “Whenever I get a new tender, I need to add all of these things up in my head very quickly to build a roast profile. I have done this by drinking more coffee than anyone you have probably ever met.”

Arabica is grown at high altitudes, which tends to be sweeter. Meanwhile, Robusta is low grown, which means twice the caffeine and twice the bitterness. Caffeine is inherently a bitter compound, so when we notice an overwhelming amount of sugar in a can of Red Bull or Monster, that’s to veil the fact that the drink has so much bitterness inside of it. As a result, Robusta tends to be used in small amounts – usually as part of a blend – to reduce the cost of goods for businesses.

Next is the varietal. Arran showed us two varietals: Caturra and Orange Bourbon. Whilst both are from the same region of Colombia, both taste incredibly different. To explain the concept of a coffee varietal, Arran compares an apple: you have a granny smith and a gala as two examples of between 200 and 250 varietals of apples. In Ethiopia alone, there are over 10,000 varietals of coffee.

Given the unfathomably diverse taste profiles of coffee, it is easy to understand how so many intricate factors affect the end-product. Where coffee is grown is one of the most important variables. Coffee can be grown on one mountain, but on two different sides – however, if there was some previous volcanic activity on one side of the mountain which had affected the soil, the coffee there will taste completely different as a result.

Charting the leaderboards for coffee-growing countries, Brazil sits at the top-spot, accounting for 30% of global coffee supply. There was a frost in Brazil several years ago which destroyed 25% of the crop, and this lead to spiraling coffee prices due to the added strain on supply and demand. Meanwhile, Vietnam sits in second, followed by Colombia, Sumatra (Indonesia), Ethiopia and Honduras.

An Adventure through the UK Coffee Market

What is specialty coffee? On the table before us, we were met with five different coffees, each, a specialty grade. Arran told us: “Specialty coffee is anything that is graded 80 or above on a scale to 100, and it is graded by Q Graders.” 

During the training process to become a Q-Grader, an individual must grade multiple qualities of coffee out of 10, including its acidity, sweetness and bitterness.

From a producer perspective, the result of this process means that their coffee is professionally graded at origin, meaning they know what price they should be receiving for their coffee quality. From a consumer perspective, Q-Grading can dictate how much flavour is in the cup. A score of 80 will mean the coffee is coffee-flavoured. 

To begin, we sampled the Organic Espresso Landscape Blend by Grumpy Mule: a high-grade specialty coffee and one of Cafédirect’s proudest blends, as it earned multiple awards at the great taste awards for several consecutive years.

Next, we tried Machu Pichu, the biggest-selling single-origin coffee in the United Kingdom. Carrying a darker roast, this coffee derives from a single area of production in Peru. “The roast profile on this one is perfect”, Arran said.

The flavours would become progressively more unique as we moved along the table. Next stop: Colombia Cafe Equidad, a higher-grade, single-origin coffee which carried a fruitier, more complex taste.

Finally, we arrived at Oscar Hernandez. A top-level, premium coffee with an indistinguishable flavour and notes of cherry. This coffee is deemed incredible for circulation, whilst it affords zero-caffeine. However, Arran told us that this one is a bit like marmite - you either love it or you hate it!

Innovation through Decaffeination

In the UK, coffee needs to be 99.5% free of caffeine to be classified as decaf. Meanwhile, in the USA and some countries in Europe, the figure stands at 99.2%. The process of decaffeination can prove laboursome, but immensely rewarding, with the market for decaf growing year-on-year. Typically, decaffeination is performed by intermediaries, and the process can strip coffee of its flavour. However, with some innovative techniques, Arran explained how some coffee co-operatives will soon be able to maintain much of the flavour, whilst offering the added value of decaffeination and in turn retaining more value at origin.

These developments are incredibly exciting in the world of coffee for many reasons. Arran said: “This means that decaf can taste just as good as any other coffee, and it is a growing sector. What is most special is that decaf coffee drinkers are the pure coffee drinkers – they are not necessarily drinking it for the caffeine.”

Collaborating for a Fairer Future

Cafédirect are an ethical retailer of high-quality coffee with over thirty years of long-term partnerships with coffee farmers and an unwavering commitment to a better planet, better tasting coffee and the betterment of the lives of smallholder producers.

Our relationship with Cafédirect spans over a decade. In 2013, we joined the charitable arm of Cafédirect - Producers Direct - along with like-minded organisations in an initiative which reached 16 co-operatives from eight different countries. The ‘Joint Futures’ initiative aimed to provide a platform for shared learning and collaboration, result in a legacy and example for the host co-operative and add value for Cafédirect and its producers and partners. 

Meanwhile, in 2019, we participated in a joint strategy meeting in Pangoa, Peru, with Producers Direct, Rikolto, Bewleys, Falcon, Social Enterprise UK and farming co-operatives. We developed a strategy built on our shared themes: involvement of women and youth in agricultural activities; coffee and cocoa quality; coffee price volatility; and climate change adaptation strategies. That same year, Cafédirect also delivered a talk and presentation at an event in Cambridge to Shared Interest supporters.

On World Fair Trade Day and beyond, we are reminded that we are stronger together than we are apart. Like an award-winning brew, when we blend our best intentions and collaborate towards a joint goal that extends beyond serving ourselves, truly amazing things can happen for the world around us. 

To purchase coffee from Cafédirect, you can visit their website here.

To support fair trade coffee producers, find out how your investment with us can make a massive difference by clicking here.

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