Some more thoughts from El Salvador:

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Coffee people LOVE coffee. With so many first dates, profound conversations and creative epiphanies had at the mercy of coffee, how can we not? And of course the fullest expression of this romanticism waits at origin. Nothing short of pure magic exists in these places for those of us that have been brought into the fold.  Unfortunately, love can quickly become a reckless liability if not balanced with a dose of reality…

As Jeff reported, Roya continues to be a real problem in El Salvador (and much of the coffee growing world).  Even though some hard-hit places show signs of recovery, the residual effects still have firm hold: aggressive containment measures of yesteryear will inevitably have a harsh effect on today’s crop yield.  Aida offered a grim example from one of her farms: Due to drastically lower yield combined with drastically higher inputs, her cost of production this year is about 2.5x what she sells her green coffee for.  Aida will survive, but it doesn’t require too much imagination to see that extrapolated over the country as a whole, the implications can hardly be exaggerated.   Simply painting a bleak, sensationalized picture offers no solutions though.  Rather, it seems this issue should draw attention to a larger reality, so let’s think about the market implications:

Coffee is a commodity, traded at an ever-fluctuating C-Market price.  For a relatively small coffee producing country like El Salvador, the market does not even blink when something like Roya decimates crop yield on a wide scale.  Meanwhile, as Aida would put it, if it doesn’t rain in Brazil for a week, the market panics (and in fact that exact thing happened: as of this writing the market had spiked about 65% over 6 weeks due to speculation/concerns over drought conditions there, and is just now trending back down).  It isn’t just unfortunate that these farmers should be so helpless over their own fate, subject to the whims of a highly volatile market.  We have markets to help us know what something should be worth, but we can’t rely on them altogether when we know better.

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Admittedly, I am only beginning to understand the nuances of this global industry, and thusly the implications of our consumer decisions.  That being said, one main reason out of many that I sought out PTs as a company I wanted to work for was the way we prefer to do business– namely, Direct Trade.  Firstly, we do business with our friends, the very best in the game.  With mutual respect and insistence on quality, we can confidently enter into contract agreements that insulate both ourselves and our producing partners from market volatility.  The benefits and responsibilities are inside out, and shared by all. Transparency and quality are the non-negotiables.  In our small corner, the world is a better place.

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The solution is still somewhat elusive, though.   Efforts to improve the world will always require a unified front.  Perhaps my point is only this: If we as consumers continue to demand a superior product, we do need to accept our responsibility and bear in mind that we aren’t just buying a better cup of coffee, but a better world.  That’s just real, good, and shared by us all. Without the love….