B Ben Schuyler

Olympia Coffee's Fair For All Program: An Interview with Honor Forte

Olympia Coffee's Fair For All Program: An Interview with Honor Forte

You talked about Direct Trade. Olympia is introducing a Direct Trade requirement called “Fair For All.” What exactly is that, especially for those who may just think of it as Fair Trade? That’s one of the first things we talked about: is this just going to evoke images of Fair Trade? We think the answer to that is yes, and that’s good. Customers are so familiar with it and think so highly of it, we think it’s okay for people to think about that. Let’s talk about Direct Trade. It’s this awesome thing that happened in the industry as we moved away from this idea of working with huge co-ops and having coffees blended together. Fair Trade was a response to unfair values, slave labor, and people being taken advantage of at farm levels. But Fair Trade has always been limited to co-ops, big groups of people, and also has set values. There aren’t necessarily scales that depend on how high the quality of the coffee is. Direct Trade is a response to that. It’s awesome. What Olympia Coffee has been doing for the last seven years is building relationships to create new coffees at the farm level and pay prices appropriate to the quality level of that coffee. That’s resulted in us paying more that double Fair Trade prices to all of our coffee farmers. We crossed a point in 2016 where one hundred percent of our coffees, including our decaf, were Direct Trade. That’s where every single coffee in our lineup is built from the ground up, with the coffee farmer, paid at more than double Fair Trade price, and with continued partnerships existing around those coffees. We return year after year to build new coffees or new systems in place to make that relationship better with the farmer. If you would’ve asked me two years ago—this is the dream. You know people aren’t being taken advantage of and farmers have an opportunity to grow a better quality of life through working with our company. They have incentives to want to increase the quality of their coffee to make more money. Oliver, our green coffee buyer, started to see a breakdown into who was still left out of this story. That’s what Fair For All answers. Fair For All is our commitment to work not just with coffee farmers, but also with laborers. This includes coffee pickers, coffee processors—any hand that has a role in creating one of our products. We want to make sure that those people are making sustainable wages. A really easy to understand example is that a Geisha can go for more than $50 per pound as opposed to a more traditional coffee at $2-4 per pound. But the people who actually picked that Geisha varietal might be making a less than sustainable wage at the farm. So, we’ve always incentivized farmers, farm owners, and co-ops wards to create higher quality coffee. But we’ve really left a whole group of people out of the story as an industry. So Fair For All is us creating written and verbal agreements depending on the culture and the location where we say we aren’t going to purchase coffees where people were taken advantage of in any part of the creation of that product.

How is the quality control maintained when these farms are all over the world?

We’ve already visited our coffee farmers for years. Since 2016, one of our standards of Direct Trade is that we visit each of our farmers at least once a year. So we’re already aware and in contact with those farmers. We will now guarantee a sustainable minimum wage to all laborers involved in the production of our coffees (pickers, processors, and farm workers), set seasonally with the farm owner or cooperative board. The thing that makes this possible, I think, is a lot of our exporting partners—people like Totally. What kind of changes will customers see? Will prices increase? They are going to see labels on our bags that say “Fair For All” instead of Direct Trade. We’ve decided to move away from using the phrase “Direct Trade” just to simplify it and give people one thing that they can trust and know exactly what it means. Fair For All encapsulates everything that we want to be. Our goal is that every single coffee that we offer will fall under the Fair For All program. I don’t think prices are going to increase. This is really a system of verifying what has already been happening at a lot of our coffee farms versus adding a new price level. What you’re going to have as a customer is more traceability and clarity on what you’re buying rather than a higher price.

Right on. What exciting coffees are coming down the pipeline that people can expect to see soon?

Our very first Fair For All coffee was roasted on January 22nd. That coffee is called Colombia Aldemar Rodriguez. It is a micro lot from a single producer in Colombia. It’s very traceable already, so we’re able to have it meet our Fair For All standards because we know this person. Aldemar has created coffee specifically for Olympia Coffee and his micro lot is fully traceable by Caravela in Colombia. After that you’re going to see a string of several micro lots in Colombia that all meet our Fair For All standards and are labeled as such. All of them from single producers. All of them scoring more than 90 points on Coffee Review. Beyond that our Colombia San Sebastian Resereva, which is a product we have about 80% of the year, is also meeting Fair For All standards but is not labeled as such yet—because it’s brand new. And then slowly throughout the year, we are going to add that to all of the coffees we can verify. Hopefully within the year you’ll see it in the entirety of our line. Burundis are here too and are also Fair For All from Long Miles Coffee Project. You might see those in coffee competitions through out the year as people often compete with our Burundis.

Any other exciting things we should be keeping an eye out for?

We have the two shops opening! We just opened our West Seattle location. Our Proctor location in Tacoma should also be opening within the first half of 2018. More info on that on our social media!

Thanks for sitting down with us Honor!

Purchase coffee from Olympia Coffee Roasting Co. here!

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