You are here

Purchasing Principles


How We Work: Building Relationships

Relationships. At Counter Culture, we believe in pushing the potential of every aspect of our business, including coffee-buying. Direct communication and transparency help us to build long-term relationships in the supply chain. And those relationships allow us to work with coffee farmers and farmer groups on projects to improve quality, encourage ecologically sustainable agricultural practices, and assess social issues—all of which help us to learn more about the cultures and people who produce great coffee.

Shared value. Shared value can be a bit of a buzzword, but all it really means is that we strive to create initiatives that benefit both us and our supply chain partners. We've learned that relationship-building and good communication are the keys to creating shared value.

How We Measure and Communicate: Increasing Transparency

We visit. We work with a lot of excellent importers. While we can usually get a good bit of information about the coffees we buy through them, we’ve found the best way transparently trade information and build strong relationships with farmers, co-ops, washing stations, mills, and exporters is to meet them in-person. We visit almost all of the places we buy coffee from every two years and keep in constant contact via phone and email. To learn more about our visits in depth, visit our archive of trip reports.

We value quality. We know that people come to us first and foremost for the taste of our coffees. In order to maintain our high quality standard, we stick to Counter Culture’s cupping philosophy. Following this ethos, our weighted average 2014 single-origin cupping score was 87.5 in 2014.

We evaluate environmental conditions. Many of the coffees we sell are certified organic, which is a pretty good indicator of environmental sustainability—especially as it relates to soil health. Starting this year, we are taking our evaluation of environmental conditions at origin to a more nuanced level with the use of Root Capital’s Environmental Scorecard. We’ll share the data gathered through this tool as we roll it out in conjunction with our origin visits over the next few years.

We pay. The average FOB price we paid for a single-origin coffee last year was $3.37, 50% above the 2014 average commodity market price of $2.03.

FOB stands for “Free on Board” and represents the price of a coffee when it gets on the boat at port. This price, although not what the coffee farmer gets paid and not what Counter Culture pays for coffee, is a point which occurs in every coffee contract and therefore, the most common metric used in the industry to talk about prices. For a more detailed explanation of coffee pricing, see our 2014 Transparency Report.

We seek continuous improvement. While we see value in certifications, we also recognize that reliance on these metrics alone does not fully capture incremental improvements made along the way. As a one-harvest-per-year (with a few exceptions) agricultural crop, improvements in coffee quality and sustainability are often small and gradual. That’s ok. Our relationship model allows us to find coffees that we think have potential and move them along the spectrum of continuous improvement in ways that create shared value.

We share information. We share information for the sake of transparency, to back up the claims we make, and as a way for consumers to make more informed decisions. For information about all of the coffees we sold as single-origin last year, check out our 2014 Transparency Report.

Related Updates:
At Counter Culture, we talk a lot about transparency and partnership in relation to how we buy coffee. Both are essential to improving the quality and sustainability of the coffees we purchase in direct ways: Transparency builds trust and trust helps us build the partnerships that make continuous...
A few weeks ago, I was part of a meeting with other coffee roasters in which one company kept referring to producers as "suppliers." In a strict definitional sense that's true, but the word "suppliers" struck me as negative. I think part of that has to do with my past—I interned in college for a...
When I started this blog back in the spring, I began with trying to answer "What is sustainable coffee?" I knew from the outset that this was a bit of a rhetorical question, but I thought I could at least put some parameters around an answer—I needed to for my own piece of mind. Almost a year later...
We were first introduced to the Durham Living Wage Project back in May during our 2015 Sustainable Spring event series. Our support team was asked to find businesses or organizations in their communities doing inspiring work in sustainability and invite them to speak at our training centers. Our...
Sustainability Manager Meredith Taylor visited East Timor last month. It was the first time anyone from Counter Culture has visited the country. Since 2002, coffee has been a major export for East Timor, and Meredith was excited for the opportunity to check out this under-the-radar origin. Read...