One question we’re often asked is what certifications Ohm’s coffee beans have. Are they organic? Fair Trade certified? Gently de-pulped and massaged by hand before sun-drying on high-thread-count linen raised beds? The answer, as with many things in coffee, is complex.
Many people assume that “Fair Trade” certification in coffee means something much more than it does. It actually has very little to do with guaranteeing a farmer received a fair price for his or her crop. Rather, it sets a minimum price per pound for that coffee to be traded, and a $0.05/lb premium over the commodity price of coffee traded on the NY Stock Exchange (assuming that price is above the minimum.) There are few, if any, stipulations about traceability, sustainable farming or business practices, and other limitations including a lack of incentives for farmers to continually improve quality.
Organic has its own pitfalls—certification can be hard and costly for small farmers who may be employing sustainable, organic (or better) practices, but don’t have the financial resources to obtain and maintain certification.
There are alternative certifications out there that attempt to address some of these shortcomings, such as Rainforest Alliance and UTZ. But as of this writing, there is no unifying certification that works for the majority of specialty-grade coffee beans.
In a number of ways, which can be boiled down to two overarching principles: 1) by voting with our wallet, and 2) by demanding traceability.
Voting with our wallet means paying top-dollar for top-quality beans. We don’t throw money away, but we work hard to source the best-possible quality at prices we think our coffee-loving customers can afford. Far from a $0.05/lb premium, we routinely pay 2-4x (or more) of the commodity price for our lots. Why? Because rock star beans are hard to grow, but they’re worth it. Farmers don’t happen upon an amazing crop by accident. It takes years of training, investment, tending of the land, and commitment. And funny thing, when a farmer (and his/her neighbors) sees that commitment paying off in the form of higher crop prices, it tends to be a pretty strong motivator. The “Third Wave” coffee movement has created a strong incentive for farmers to grow higher quality crops instead of shooting for the highest possible yields off a parcel of land. And wouldn’t you know it, that mindset tends to drive investment back into land and people, creating a more sustainable future for the communities that supply us with our daily fixes.
Traceability is a similar motivator for farmers. When they can see their single estate or coop deliver quality that allows their crop to be brought to auction or market without being blended away, it builds prestige and price premiums at the same time. That creates further incentive to invest in sustainable farming practices and a more skilled workforce, thereby raising standards of living. That is why we list our bean sources in the product pages of each of our blends. We are proud of the quality that we’ve found for the price, and proud of the farmers who have worked so hard to share the fruits of their labor with us.
As an example of these principles in action, here are a few of the lots we are currently working with. Click through to our blends for more detail: