Sustainability in Speciality Coffee - Ensuring Fairness and Support for Growers

Raluca Judele
Sustainability in Speciality Coffee - Ensuring Fairness and Support for Growers

The speciality coffee scene is about exploring diverse flavours and cultures tied together by a love for great coffee. But as this industry grows, it's facing a big challenge: ensuring it lasts. Sustainability in coffee leans on three main areas: the environment, society, and the economy. 

Environmental care means growing coffee in ways that protect nature, like farming without harmful chemicals and saving water. 

Social responsibility ensures that coffee growers and their communities receive fair treatment and support, such as fair pay and help with education and health.

Economic stability is about ensuring coffee growers earn a steady income, encouraging quality, and building strong relationships between growers and coffee companies.

There's been a significant shift in how we perceive and value what we buy. Gone are the days when novelty and exclusivity were the main drivers of consumer interest. Instead, there's a growing appreciation for consistency, sustainability, and ethical production methods.

Let's start with the basics: People love their coffee

But it's not just any coffee; it's the familiar taste they can count on morning after morning. This consistency is becoming a critical factor in driving sustainability. Suppose customers stick to a product they love. In that case, it encourages practices that ensure the product's long-term availability and environmental friendliness.

However, as industries mature, the excitement for the new gives way to a deeper appreciation for reliability and quality, coupled with a desire to know more about the product's origin, its impact on the environment, and the people behind it. 

Producing high-quality, sustainable coffee is challenging and often less profitable in the short term than conventional methods. Yet, certifications and sustainable practices can provide vital additional income and security for these producers, ensuring their livelihoods and allowing for the production of both speciality and conventional coffee. This dual approach supports educational and developmental goals for the producers' communities, highlighting the importance of viewing coffee production through compassion and understanding rather than strict consumer preference.

Making the coffee industry sustainable should be a team effort. As we become more mindful of these factors, we prepare for a more sustainable and equitable future, one that is underpinned by the values we cherish.

Eddie Twitchett, the director of Round Hill Roastery, shared his opinion regarding sustainability in the coffee industry. 

Photo credit to the Danche washing station in Chelbea - posted by Round Hill Roastery

If you can't watch the video, here's the transcript:
Sustainability in Speciality Coffee - Ensuring Fairness and Support for Growers

Radu: If this is the case for you, but with the sustainability, hopefully, because people will want the replication, they want the same coffee over and over again, that is what will make them more sustainable. It's an extreme kind of interpretation of the quote, but it will be driven by the fact that they want the same thing, and it just so happens that sustainability is how they will achieve it.

Eddie Twitchett - Director Round Hill Roastery
Very much so. But it's also like our customers. I was always nervous that they would want to try something, but they love it when the same familiar coffee comes back.
There's always been that view of like.. I want... the coffee...and the wine industry, I always refer back to this, it's like you know, I'm in mid-30s so I wasn't really drinking wine in the late 90s, early 2000s but like that was like peak snobbery in the UK.
You know, like TV and tasting notes. and, I think that the coffee industries was there really when I started and it was like new, exciting, hard to approach hipster. But actually it's like, it's gone through that growth phase now into maturity and actually people are looking for different things in their coffee and they're also looking for different things in their purchasing. So you say out of the greed of the baker and out of the greed of the butcher, I think that the coffee industry is 100% been there, probably on an even more greedy level, deep down, historically. But I think that that won't cut it in the future. You know, people want to know where their produce is from. They want to know how people are being treated and they will spend considerable amount more money for things that tick what they're looking for in a product. And that's really interesting that's becoming more mainstream and more norm, like a more normal way of purchasing than what's your most mental tasting coffee. But I think that's something that I've seen really, like really a big change in the past few years. And actually, I think those core values is long-term so much more beneficial for the industry as a whole.
But it's also so much more beneficial for like consumer understanding and also so much more beneficial for like happy customers because they're going to get consistent results they're happy with and they are, they feel positive about what they're buying as a feeling like, "I didn't know how that tasted right, I didn't quite get that right, I don't know if I'm tasting lavender and palma violets and I don't know, cedarwood like", but if they're getting something different from their coffee and they're feeling positive about the impact they're having, I think that's far better.

Radu: I also think that it's fine for things to occasionally go too far a little bit as long as they overcorrect to where they should be. So and I think we're probably in a bit of that stage.

Eddie: And it's also, it's also like, as I've travelled more and more and met more producers, I realized how hard it is to produce volume, high volume specialty coffee. And actually then those systems like the rainforest and oots and things which give those producers a bit of extra revenue and some more security in a different marketplace. Great. So good. So much work will go into producing 40 bags of 86 point coffee that you could produce two, three containers worth of conventional coffee that's certificated. And there's a buyer for it who will pay you the money today. And actually that's...
And they're not going to come and be like, oh, well, yeah, I'm not getting as much mango as this. And actually, that's really important to not overlook. It's like those, that's revenue. That's money, it's people's lives, it's people's jobs. It's, and like, actually, it's not, for me, it's not smart or mature to critique that. It's an essential factor. You need your bread and butter.

Radu: And I think we also should be very mindful that we are having these opinions from a very privileged place.

Eddie: Definitely, completely.

Radu: And we are not in position to judge those people because it's very easy to... the whole Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, right? We've got a bunch of things already met and we can think about things, but if these people worry about not starving, because they're not starving, but maybe sending their children to a better school or like getting those what we think they're facing needs, they're working to get them, I will forgive them for not thinking specialty first and to get those three containers because they will actually pay for school for the next four or five years or something like that.

Eddie: I know, but it's also like those conventional coffees will pay for them to produce specialty and to do it from a place of love and also a place of wanting to learn how to do more volume in that and actually it's like I think that you know it's like I'll go back to cars. I mean, Lamborghini is owned by Fiat. You know, you have a base product. And I think that like some of these, and I think it's, yeah, I've banged on about this, but I think there's a lot of people that are like, oh, you shouldn't do that. But it's like, that's just, that's your opinion on what you like. It's your preference, but it's someone's livelihood. And they can do both things. We know we work with some producers that grow some really amazingly average conventional coffees and they grow some truly exceptional specialty coffees but they do both well, so...

Radu: yeah, could not agree more

Eddie: you know, i can go and someone else can buy that and i could buy this, great.