When we first started Blue Pine Coffee we were known as Wilderness Coffee. We thought that in order to provide the highest quality bean we needed to buy the most expensive coffee, but we quickly realized that expensive does not mean quality. Below we want to illustrate the illusion the coffee industry has created and highlight the importance of partnerships down to the farm level.
Specialty Vs Fair Trade Organic
The coffee most Americans consume is considered commodity coffee aka C-market ("C" for commodity). It's so widely available and unregulated that certifications such as Fair Trade and Organic have come to mean nothing and they're something people put that doesn't guarantee that they are fair trade or even organic for that matter. Let's be scientists and look at the materials and methods for these 2 types of certification.
Fair Trade Organic Certification
To get FTO certified it's extremely easy. Let's look at some simple math. 25+ million coffee farms in the world. Less than 5 Fair trade partners in the world and less than 10 organic certifiers. Now what are the odds 25 million farms can game a system that small? Extremely high. Yes being Fair Trade and Organic certified means farmers can make more money, and since there is not an observer there daily from the Fair Trade/Organic certification companies - the majority of farmers in poor parts of the world don't abide by these principles on a regular basis. It's often reported that the farmers will sell non-organic coffee to importers and the importers will secondarily mark it as Fair Trade or Organic and sometimes both - so the farmer doesn't even see the premium, just the importer.
Specialty is Supreme
After we tried different importers, we realized we needed to go the specialty route (S-Market). Why? Because the specialty system is set up directly with farmers and results in incentives that actually work. We pay our farmers a premium for the beans they set aside; up to 10 times more than coffee on the C-market. S-market takes into account that the higher quality the bean the more it is worth. Well, how do farmers get higher quality beans? They pay their labor higher wages, they don't use pesticides, they do all the things we have been trying to get them to do since the beginning because they get paid more when their coffee is supreme. Specialty grade is the best. It doesn't go through the typical Fair trade or organic certification processes; because those processes have become nullified. To be certified specialty requires much more scrutiny. The coffee must cup (score) a certain score, pass a taste test, and score highly on a spectrometer.