Ever Meister, Managing Editor of Cafe Imports, has wrapped up the 13th instalment of Toby’s Estate Knowledge Talks.
Meister travelled to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth from 27 March to 2 April to talk about traceability, its relationship to quality and price, and the ethics of sharing producers’ information.
Meister approached Knowledge Talks as more a discussion than a lecture, posing questions instead of answers, and inviting crowd involvement. She began by commenting on traceability’s importance in modern coffee marketing.
“Specialty coffee was born out of a degree of traceability: the ability to buy and identify coffee, but how we share that information has changed,” Meister says.
“In this presentation, I want to bring up some of the ways traceability has grown and ask critically what it means going forward.”
Meister identifies traceability information as including elevation, processing method, variety, price, supply chain, and the story of the coffee. She says consumers form a correlation between traceability and quality, which may not always prove accurate.
“Kenyan coffees always score the highest on the cupping table and are usually the most expensive. It is also some of the least traceable coffee in the world,” Meister says.
She says this also calls the link between price and quality into question.
“In specialty coffee, our main goal is to incentivise quality. We want to pay more money for better coffee,” Meister says.
“[However, in Kenya] producers bring their coffee to the washing station who then sell it on. Regardless of the score, the farmer gets the same amount of money. The more we create this link [between coffee quality and price paid to farmers] the more confusion we create.”
Meister says in her role at Cafe Imports, she sees traceability be a more important factor to certain growing regions than others.
“I started to realise higher quality coffee from certain places didn’t sell as quickly when traceability wasn’t attached to it,” she says. “An 85-point coffee from Colombia sold faster than a 90-point-plus coffee from the same country without the same degree of traceability. Kenyan coffee sold regardless.
“This makes me wonder what information my customers need to purchase and then sell this coffee.”
Meister says coffee traders and roaster are often willing to share information about the producer and the prices paid to them but are less willing to share this information about themselves.
“Somewhere between green and roasted coffee, the price jumps. That information doesn’t get shared,” she says. “We don’t tell consumers the wages of the baristas and roasters, or the money we spend on electricity, but how much we pay for coffee is shared.
“What this does not demonstrate is how many hours [the producer] worked, the conversion rate, their cost of life, and whether it is enough.”
Meister says disclosing prices paid to farmers can also be detrimental to them, letting other buyers know if they could be paying less.
“Traceability is a way to keep tabs on a producer, we get jealous if a competitor has access to the same coffee. This takes marketing value away from producers,” she says.
“All the farms you know by name you are aware of because the farm can market itself. We pay for the coffee but not this information, and we should. Coffee and traceability are two separate products.”
Meister adds that consent is often not obtained when this information, or images of the producers, their families and workers, is used for marketing purposes.
“One of the things I want to broadcast is that consumers who gather information and take photos, should then pay producers to use it,” Meister says.
“We’ve been taking producer for granted for too long, which is why we’re worried now about what they are getting paid.”
After the Melbourne show, Meister told BeanScene she seen a positive response to her ideas from the Australian coffee community.
“Australian audiences have listened in a way I haven’t really experienced anywhere else,” Meister says.
“There also hasn’t been a lot of defensiveness, which I think shows people here want to do better.”
Meister says, ultimately, the industry needs to work together to return marketing and traceability to producers.
“We really need to consider producers,” she says. “We tend to think of producers in terms of what value they can give to us. Instead, we need to think of producers as people we can contribute back to.”
All proceeds from the ticket sales of Knowledge Talks will be donated to the Las Nubes Daycare and Afterschool-Learning Centre. The centre supports the education of over 40 children aged between three and 12 in the coffee community of Acatenango.
On a daily basis the centre provides much needed education, nutritional meals and a safe and nurturing environment while allowing the parents to continue working or to complete their education.
For more information, visit www.tobysestate.com.au