Why Direct Trade Coffee Leaves a Better Taste in Your Mouth

Celine Asril

What is direct trade coffee and how different is it from fair trade? Bettr Barista Coffee Academy founder, Pamela Chng, explains.

Pamela Chng, Bettr Barista - Asia For Good

“Direct trade coffee is coffee bought directly from farmers. The roasters are usually the buyers,” says Pamela, founder of Bettr Barista Coffee Academy.

Direct trade coffee benefits farmers: “By going directly to the farmers and paying them higher prices than they would otherwise get, we can help send their children to school, invest in better machinery, and therefore give them better livelihoods,” Chng adds.

There are two main differences between direct trade and fair trade coffee: firstly, anyone can do direct trade, but fair trade works exclusively with cooperatives. Chng explains, “Cooperatives are made up of farmers who are owners of small land plots. As coffee has to go through a lot of processes after the berries are picked, cooperatives help provide the smallholders facilities, and therefore support, to process the coffee.”

Direct trade also has no certification, while fair trade has a certification body. This means that cooperatives have to pay to use the Fairtrade logo. This cost has been increasingly controversial as people are beginning to question how much actual money goes back to the farmer. With direct trade coffee, the money goes directly to the farmers.

Despite the differences, the spirit of how both direct trade and fair trade coffee originated is the same: the intention was to put more money into farmers’ hands so that the farmers and their communities can have better livelihoods. “If farmers are able to experience direct returns, they will be encouraged to invest in infrastructure that will result in better quality coffee. If they don’t see the returns, they won’t invest in making the coffee taste better,” says Chng matter-of-factly.

Coffee roasting Bettr Barista - Asia For Good

Pamela even goes so far as to say direct coffee trade tastes better. “From what I’ve tasted, yes,” Chng answers. BUt it's more because of circumstance than any inherent taste. “Direct trade coffee can mostly be found at specialty coffee establishments. These are the ones taking the effort to brew direct trade coffee. They are also more invested in the quality of coffee.” She is quick to dismiss the idea that there are different grades of coffee: “Direct trade coffee is just a way of buying [sustainably], not a grading or certification system,” she affirms.

Due to the effort placed in sourcing direct trade coffee, it will often be backed by ethical and sustainable practices. That includes transparent practices.

For those reasons, it should also be fairly easy to identify direct trade coffee. “Roasters would usually tell you they use direct trade coffee. They can usually give more information about the farm, farmers and practices. It won’t be a nameless coffee that simply appears at your door,” Chng reveals. Bigger companies who invest in buying direct trade coffee are also easy to spot: “They would likely have reports on the effects of direct trade.”

It’s important to note that direct trade coffee is usually more expensive to consume. “Direct trade coffee is fairly expensive to brew because boutique roasters are taking on the cost of logistics like transport, shipping and licences. For small scale practices, these work out to be relatively bigger costs,” explains Chng.

For all the effort that goes into bringing (direct trade) coffee to us, consumers, ours is a small price to pay.



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