Finding Purpose in Coffee
Posted by hookcoffee on June 7, 2016, 10 p.m.
Analysing and stereotyping millennials seems to be the trend now, and many times they were unfair generalisations. But there's one thing they were right about - that we millennials seek purpose in the things we do. Our purpose is simple. To make coffee better (#makecoffeebetter), not only for our customers but our farmers too. This means that our customers get ethical and quality coffees, while our farmers improve production methods while enjoying better working conditions and more generally, better standards of living. Last week, we told you why we support Direct Trade, but we haven't said how. Read on to find out!
Sourcing and Buying
Relationships are crucial to sourcing high-quality coffee. Our approach to sourcing starts with the coffee itself. We seek out the best quality beans, and we expect to pay premium prices in return. When we find a coffee we like, we work to build a lasting relationship with that producer in order to establish a reliable supply chain, away from the unpredictability of the commodity market. We pay premium prices, and we treat our producers as long-term business partners, regardless of how large or small a farm. As newcomers to the coffee industry, Hook has sought mentorship from experts from the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE). (If you're wondering why SCAE, it's because one of our two founders, Ernest, "studied" at the London School of Coffee after graduating from the London School of Economics!). We've also partnered a UK-based merchant that has been doing Direct Trade for over 20 years. Working closely with these organisations that go directly to the farms, we buy coffees from the world's best, and traverse seas and mountains with our partners, to visit our growers, their farms, and their communities. (We'll be sharing about our trip to Java in Part 3!). We even send roasted beans back to the farms, just so the growers get to see the final product of their labour. :) (To read about the origins, farms and growers who have made our extraordinary coffees possible, go ahead and browse our coffees and click on “More Info”.) Another perk of Direct Trade is to cut out the unnecessary middlemen and our ability to "negotiate" prices. Our policy in negotiating prices is to adequately compensate our producers for the production of specialty grade coffee with prices above their cost of production and far above the internal or external commodity-grade price. Typically the farmers are paid 30-150% more than the cost of production and 10-25% of the final retail value - invariably higher than the Fair Trade price. (Again, refer to our last post to understand why this is so.) The premium prices encourage farmers to reinvest in the quality of their coffees, a safe and ethical working climate, and environmentally sustainable coffee production. More importantly, a higher income means that farmers can improve their living standards, send their children to school, afford quality healthcare, and eventually break the chains of the poverty cycle.
When it comes to the perfect cuppa, our shared love for coffee means that quality is as important to us as it is to you. (What's the point of delivering the freshest coffees, when the beans aren't the best right?) And through Direct Trade, we're able to have greater quality control and ensure the best coffee is delivered to you. We communicate what we value in a finished cup, and growers can pick out batches that they think we'll like based on the particular patch of land they were grown on, the degree of ripeness at picking time, the amount of washing/ drying/ fermentation and so on. Our partners travel to the farms to study the production and processing of the coffees, and if weren't able to join in the fun, they present detailed reports to us with beans to sample too. Cupping (coffee lingo for the formal, multistep tasting process used to evaluate quality) is an important step in quality control. Cupping helps growers understand what buyers are looking for and also helps buyers like us select the cream of the crop. In fact, our partners hire certified cuppers, or what the coffee world calls "Q Graders", that can verify the quality of a bean with just one slurp. We'd like to think we have pretty discerning taste buds too, but Q Graders are in a league of their own. It takes years of experience and training to be a certified Q Grader, which is why we're grateful to SCAE, our partners, and our friends in the coffee industry for guiding us as we learn the ropes and pick out the best coffees for you. Other ways to determine the quality of a bean is its size and whether it has defects. However, the size of the bean also depends very much on the region, for example, beans from East Africa are much bigger than beans from South America, and is therefore not a very accurate measure of quality. Bean defects like "insect bites" (ew, we know...) are pretty apparent, and help in the selection process. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2hyqEAYleE Sustainability of Direct Trade Though our purpose to make coffee better drives our commitment to Direct Trade, a purely romanticised view and altruistic approach usually has a short lifespan. Ultimately, there has to be a balance of social, environmental and economic objectives. The Direct Trade model is inherently sustainable because it incentivises all parties involved to practice sustainability and focus quality, while reinforcing lasting and mutually beneficial relationships.
Apart from Direct Trade, there's so much more that we can and hope to do for coffee-producing communities everywhere. If you know us, you'll know that we dream of introducing programmes and infrastructure aimed at directly helping communities to improving production and quality of life. Such programmes can come in the form of education and scholarships, or the design and building of water irrigation systems which double up as water-saving mechanisms that would bring water to an entire village. We're all about effecting permanent changes in an industry that needs it and if you're with us, you know where and how to show your support. At home, the social injustices, though less drastic and apparent, shouldn't be overlooked too. We want to make specialty coffee accessible in every sense of the word — we want specialty coffee to be something that is inclusive, fun & relatable, an affordable luxury for everyone to appreciate, and not let great coffee be yet another thing that reinforces the social divide between different classes of society. If you've read till here, you're probably a real coffee lover with a warm soul and a heart of gold, and we think you'll like our upcoming post on our Origin Trip in Indonesia — so stay tuned!