Why buy coffee from a supermarket?

The furore created by the decision of Sainsbury’s to ditch FairTrade has raised two separate but interrelated questions. Why FairTrade, why buy coffee from a supermarket? Which leads to another, are there not superior alternatives?

Since the furore arose I have checked out the shelves of three UK supermarkets, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, and for comparison a little indie food shop Food for Thought.

Asda and Sainsbury’s were stacked with rubbish undrinkable brand coffee. Only a small section with what could remotely be called quality coffee.

In Waitrose, half the shelf space stocked with an attempt at quality, the other half rubbish brand coffee. If nothing else, exposing the lie Waitrose shoppers have good taste.

One of the criticisms of Sainsbury’s pulling out of FairTrade, was that in Waitrose will find FairTrade.

I did not, maybe I should have looked harder.

I did though find coffee from Union Hand-Roasted Coffee. Quality coffee, not FairTrade but direct trade. It was the only coffee with a roast date, old coffee, past its best.

FairTrade is little more than a brand to make buyers feel good, they have done their bit by picking up a bag of FairTrade coffee.

Coffee is traded on international commodity markets, Arabica in New York, Robusta in London. It has no intrinsic value, it is a commodity to speculate on. Unfortunately the price speculators will gamble on, impacts on the livelihoods of coffee growers, as everything is pegged to that price.

Coffee roasters in search of quality coffee, speciality coffee, will pay for quality, the higher the quality the higher the price. There is an incentive to produce higher quality as a higher price will be paid. FairTrade offers no incentive for quality, it locks farmers into poverty dependent upon handouts.

Coffee roasters want quality, not only this year but next year, the year after. They will enter into long-term agreements with farmers, partnerships, help them improve quality, adopt better agricultural practices that improve the soil fertility, safeguard forests.

Kew Gardens have been mapping forests in Ethiopia to establish the impact of climate change and what mitigation measures to take. To safeguard the forest, which is an important genetic resource for coffee as contains many wild coffee trees, the forest has to have value. The forest has value by Union paying a higher price for the coffee, not only paying a higher price, working with the farmers to help them improve the quality, establishing a cupping lab in order that the farmers themselves can assess the quality of their coffee.

Another example is the Los Nogales Project on an estate in El Salvador owned by the Salaverria family. One estate, three farms, different varieties, different plots, different processing of the beans. Taylor St Roasted and Horsham Coffee Roast are sourcing from Los Nogales Project.

Square Mile has a similar project, though not as ambitious. Short Stories, same varieties of beans, grown at different altitudes.

Indie coffee shops want quality coffee, as that is what their customers are demanding. This feeds back to higher prices for coffee.

If you want quality coffee, coffee that is freshly roasted, then buy the bags of coffee from the coffee shop, or failing that, little shops that specialise in quality, or direct from the roasters.

If you want to support growers, drink quality coffee, why are you buying from a supermarket?

Little shops like Grocer and GrainThe Deli at 80, Food for Thought, have quality coffee in stock, as does the slightly larger Infinity Foods.

Indie coffee shops that are brewing quality coffee, will often have coffee for sale, often they roast their own.

Failing that, there are many quality coffee roasters, Has BeanUnionSquare Mile, Taylor St Roasted, Horsham Coffee RoasterThe Roasting PartyKaruna Coffee, to name but a few.

The furore relating to Sainsbury’s pulling out of FairTrade should be turned around, why are people buying coffee from Sainsbury’s, when if you like coffee, want to support growers, you should be supporting the coffee trade by supporting the local indie coffee shop, the little shop stocking quality coffee or buying direct from the coffee roasters who engage in direct trade. In doing so you are not only supporting the coffee growers with higher prices, you are also supporting the local economy.

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