Direct trade is a term associated with current coffee buzz words, but what does it really mean?
In short, it’s about cutting out the middleman and providing the grower and the roaster with direct access to one other, opening up clear communication so farmers understand what the roaster is looking to purchase.
Veneziano Coffee Roasters believes that one of the best ways to ensure coffee quality is to make a commitment to buying direct from the producers. To do this, they know they have to be committed to building strong relationships with farmers, and this means two-way communication with a strong emphasis on being face to face. Veneziano’s travel schedule has become hectic, visiting India, Brazil, El Salvador, Columbia and Panama in 2011. And the schedule for 2012 is gearing up to being even busier, as February sees Craig Dickson and Craig Simon heading to Guatemala and El Salvador, with visits to Indonesian coffee regions planned for later in the year.
These visits are the best way to see how the farm is managed, to cup the harvest and discuss preferences for the following year. Developing these relationships gives growers the best price, the roaster the right coffee profile and the consumer peace of mind; quality specialty coffee that has been sustainably grown and fairly paid for.
The process works both ways. If the producer visits Australia, they experience the Australian coffee culture firsthand, helping them to plan and produce the right coffee profiles for their trade partners’ markets.
Veneziano recently signed a direct trade agreement with Kaapi Royale and Sethuraman Estates in India, meaning that now almost half of Veneziano’s green bean purchases take place directly with growers.
Sethuraman Estates is an Indian coffee grower with a proud history. Nishant Gurjer is a sixth generation coffee producer from Magundi in the Chikmagalur district of Karnataka in southern India. Legend has it that his family arrived in the area 400 years ago as part of the entourage of the great warrior king, Shivaji from Mumbai.
Nishant’s family settled in the area and has farmed the land as a coffee plantation since its inception. Today, this area belongs to what is also recognised as one of the world’s important biodiversity hotspots.
Nishant himself gained qualifications in mechanical engineering and only came back to the family farm upon his father’s death in 1995, becoming the sixth generation of his family to manage the property. His mechanical engineering background has proved to be extremely fortuitous, with his interest in farming efficiencies and quality improvements dovetailing with the rise of interest in specialty coffee.
The Indian government’s coffee excise (which relegated coffee to a commodity made into a blended chicory/coffee drink for the domestic market) was lifted in the early 1990s and gave rise to the opportunity to grow more value-driven crops and to create a brand identity.
Nishant partnered with Nithin Bopanna to form Kaapi Royale Coffee, which exports Indian Arabica and Robusta coffees worldwide and is the exclusive representative of Nishant’s Sethuraman Estate coffees.
Sethuraman Estate is the three-time winner of ‘Best Robusta’ in the Indian coffee board’s ‘Flavour of India’ competition and received the highest-ever rating for a Robusta coffee of 94 points, from coffee reviewer Ken Davids.
Recognising the eco-sensitive region that his farm was located in, Nishant has been exploring ways to improve the sustainability of the farm, investing in low water-usage processing methods and using micro-enzymes to help protect the aquatic flora and fauna of the local river. With every season, Sethuraman Estate improves its environmental outlook.
As Nishant himself says, “Our coffee is all shade grown, it uses 100 percent of our own worm-compost fertiliser and we recently deployed highly efficient, new pulping equipment that will save thousands of gallons of processing water each year – a block of certified organic and biodynamic coffee is the natural next step.”
He is also reducing the use of commercial fertilisers and in the past two years has decreased the use of chemical fertilisers by a third, planning to further increase this each year. So far, 20 acres of crops have been converted to organic using biodynamic principles and utilising preparations such as Ayurveda foliage sprays, that serve a twofold purpose of deterring unwanted insects and fertilising the coffee plants. Kaapi Royale embarked on forging business relationships with coffee buyers outside of India and began with a booth at the Specialty Coffee Association of America. From here, the company has developed strong ties with a select number of coffee roasters, and Veneziano is one of those. Craig Dickson visited Kaapi Royale in January 2011 and invited the owners to Australia to see the other side of the coin.
Nishant and Bopanna visited Veneziano Coffee Roasters in May 2011 and were astounded by the coffee scene. They sampled coffee and food at all the usual suspects around Melbourne and couldn’t believe the standard of coffee served wherever they went. From Proud Mary to Padre, from Market Lane to Cafenatics and, of course, the First Pour, the knowledge of baristas and the range of specialty coffee blends and single origins were observed with admiration. Interestingly, they note, “In many countries specialty coffee is a niche market; here it is the coffee market.”
It was an eye-opening visit and confirmed Sethuraman Estates and Kaapi Royale’s business decision to enter the specialty coffee market and to concentrate on direct trade relations with roasters. The Australian preferences were duly noted, and we look forward to more quality Indian coffee being available to Australian roasters.