$18.50 | 12 oz box
Let's be frank. Since the release of our first Transparency Report in 2009, we have continued to dig deeper, going beyond the simple “yes or no” of certifications to identify and understand the complex sustainability challenges of our supply chain. A fundamental issue is the ability of farmers to make a profit growing coffee—and understanding the ways we can address that issue. With this limited-release blend of coffees from Mexico and Kenya, we explore what it means to have transparency about the prices farmers receive and how that transparency can transform supply chains. Look for notes of clementine, green grape, and cane sugar.
It's time to get real—to be frank!—about price transparency and what that looks like in coffee supply chains. As an industry, we're good at telling stories about coffee farmers, but these stories don't tell consumers about the economic sustainability of those supply chains. Coffee consumers can and should be able to learn about where their coffee comes from and who grows it, but the reality of procuring coffee from economically vulnerable farmers is an important discussion to have as well.
Right now, across the coffee industry, farmers are not making a profit. The causes of this issue—like climate change, high labor costs, and low prices—vary place to place, but the common outcome is that farmers are leaving coffee. As a roaster that buys coffee through long-term partnerships, we have a responsibility to those partners to help address this issue.
In order to do so, however, we need to have information about our supply chains beyond the name of the farmer, the certifications that farmer has, or the varieties of coffee they grow. We need to know, of the price that we pay an importer for a coffee, how much of that money makes it into the hand of that farmer? The answer can't and shouldn't be 100 percent. Other supply chain partners like importers and exporters play an important role in preserving the quality of a coffee, and they need to be paid for that role. However, the answer also can't continue to be "We don't know," because that means we're going to run out of coffee to buy as farmers continue to leave the industry.
The two coffees in this blend represent the two ends of the "we know and we don't know" spectrum. This is our second year buying coffee from the Ozolotepec cooperative, located in the Miahuatlán District in the south of the Sierra Sur Region of Oaxaca, Mexico. We know how much we paid our importers for this coffee, and we know price of the coffee at the time of export, but that's where our transparency ends. We don't know how much the exporters of this coffee are paying the cooperative, or how much the cooperative is paying their farmers. The other coffee in this blend, in contrast, is one where we negotiate prices with individual farmers. Not only do the farmers of the Kushikamana group—from Embu and Kirinyaga in Kenya—negotiate directly with us, they also have the choice of which exporter they use and receive information about the costs and services each one provides. In other words, Counter Culture, as well as the Kushikamana farmers, know or have access to all of the prices in this supply chain.
To continue to be frank, just knowing these prices doesn't change the profitability equation for Kushikamana farmers. That change requires action. Some farmers in the group are working on lowering their input costs by reducing or eliminating herbicide use through inventive methods that are not only cost saving, but more environmentally conscious. We also worked with our exporting partners to minimize packaging export costs—a change that lowers the cost of certain lots of Kushikamana—which allows us to pay more and increase the farmers profitability.
Talking about the economics of the coffee supply chain is not as romantic as telling the story of a coffee, but if we want to continue to have high-quality coffee in the future, it's a necessary conversation. Counter Culture will continue working towards the level of price transparency we have for coffees like Kushikamana and use our voice to push the industry to do the same.