Monday, June 28, 2010

A Fairtrade Coffee Complex

Yesterday, the unthinkable happened.

We ran out of coffee!

And since the food-dude's household was kindly loaned a proper barista's coffee machine we've been really enjoying the daily cup. 

So I headed down Little Collins to the venerable Quists Coffee to top up supplies.

I struck up a conversation with the friendly barista and asked if Quists had any fairtrade blends for sale.

“No, but we do source from suppliers that provide a fair return for growers”

Fair enough, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and plunked down some cash for 250 grams of their finest Miscela Italiana - delicious. But is it guilt free?

Now obviously it had a few food miles on it, but I have yet to find an Australian grown coffee I enjoy, so sometimes we have to make concessions. I do however, like to make sure the coffee is bringing at least a modicum of benefits to the growers.

Wanting to find out a bit more about how Quists provide their "fair return" I thought I'd drop them a note.

Kudos to Doris at Quists for her quick responses. It seems that Fairtrade is a complicated area and although the official label does bring a degree of credibility, there are companies out there trying to do the right thing.

What do you think? Should Quists subscribe to the Fairtrade Association or are you satisfied with their position.

You can follow the email exchanges after the jump.

Subject: Fair Trade

From: eco-food-dude
Date: 28 June 2010

Dear Quists

I support local businesses and would like to continue to buy coffee from Quists.

However, I will need to seek an alternative coffee supplier if you are unable to offer a fair trade option. I don't expect all Quists products to be fair trade, but I would appreciate the option to choose.

I understand from your employees that the buyer of Quists coffee endeavours to source beans in a way that provides a fair return for growers, but I would prefer if Quists worked with a recognised organisation such as Fair Trade Australia and New Zealand

Please consider this request.

Kind regards,


Date: 28 June 2010 16:19

Hello eco-food-dude

Thanks for your email.

Attached, please find a document I have prepared regarding our stance on Fairtrade.


Doris Niesen-Baruta
Quists Coffee

Quists Coffee was established in 1938 as Melbourne’s first coffee roaster and for over 70 years has developed a reputation as a coffee institution. Guided by a heritage of European expertise, Quists found its niche by focusing on quality with regard to coffee bean selection, roasting and blending. 

At Quists Coffee, we align ourselves with reputable Coffee Merchants who offer us the best available quality coffee whilst eestablishing lasting relationships with major producing countries and local growers. Our buyers pay a good price for good quality coffee. There is no negotiation in price when you are buying top quality.
We and our suppliers, believe you can’t just buy coffee off people because they’re impoverished. That isn't sustainable. We have to sell high quality coffee because that's the only thing that the consumer is going to enjoy and come back for, cup after cup and thus sustain the market.  Our suppliers have made a conscience decision to associate with plantations that promote good working conditions and have measures in place that encourage positive attitude.

We believe that we must contribute in further developing our coffee growers, which is definitely our industry’s best resource. If we can help in any way to offer a better quality of life to the women, men and children of our nominated plantations, we feel we are also contributing to the future of coffee.

Fairtrade is a scheme that gives a minimum price to farmers. Most farmers never taste coffee as a drink. They're kept in the dark about quality variations so they can't demand a better price for higher quality bean. If you're credited as a Fairtrade producer it doesn't matter if your quality is outstanding or indifferent you get the same badge and the same price.

Fairtrade was conceived as a safety-net to protect farmers in case the bottom fell out of the coffee market, so way back at the beginning it offered security to people that were economically vulnerable. It also raised awareness of the poor deal coffee farmers were getting and created a market for the consumer to change that. But it was not ever intended to be the endpoint in terms of coffee pricing. Saying "I pay the Fairtrade minimum for my coffee beans" is like saying "I pay all my staff minimum wage" and thinking that's a good thing.
It takes a savvy consumer to know which questions to ask. Fairtrade has developed as a badge system that people can identify, buy the product and abrogate responsibility. Fair trading is a wide area that is complicated but if you want to find out a little bit more about it, do so and make an informed decision.

To re-iterate, Quists Coffee prides itself on providing the best quality coffee for our customers at the best prices possible whilst sustaining the livelihoods and future of the suppliers.
From: eco-food-dude
Date: 28 June 2010 17:40

Dear Doris Niesen-Baruta

Thank your quick response and the information you provided. I heartily
support Quists goal of focusing on quality.

I appreciate your suggestion that a savvy consumer should know what
questions to ask.

My primary reason for wanting to support Fairtrade products is to
achieve positive environmental and social outcomes because I
understand that Fairtrade rewards and encourages environmentally
sustainable farming and production while also providing a fair price
for farmers.

For example, today I purchased some Quists coffee from Costa Rica.
However, I have since learned that if I'd purchased the Fairtrade
equivalent, I would have contributed to future positive environmental
and social outcomes. In 2008, the Australian and New Zealand Fairtrade
group paid the Costa Rican farming community an extra AU$26,000
derived from Fairtrade premiums which funded a conservation project
chosen by the farmers. The project has reduced deforestation, river
bank erosion and water extraction to improve environmental outcomes.

Can you give me an example of the kinds of measures the plantations
Quists work with are undertaking to "promote good working conditions
and encourage positive attitude" and also positive environmental
outcomes? What systems do Quists have in place to sustain the
livelihoods and future of the suppliers and achieve a healthy
environment for suppliers.

I would very much like to continue my support Quists coffee and make
informed decisions.



Date: 28 June 2010 18:08

Hello eco-food-dude

I understand your wish to achieve positive environmental and social outcomes from your coffee purchases.

As per my previous correspondence, Quists Coffee and it's Brokers believe that we must contribute in further developing our coffee growers, which is definitely our industry's best resource. If we can help in any way to offer a better quality of life to the women, men and children of our nominated plantations, we feel we are contributing to the future of coffee.

We have made a conscience decision to associate with plantations that promote good working conditions and have measures in place that encourage positive attitude. Therefore we focus on farmers that provide scholarship assistance for the workers' children and give financial support to cover healthcare plans for the members of their staff and families.

In the farms that we buy coffee from, children do not work during the harvest season while their parents work. Children receive education; they play games and build mutually respectful relations with the local community. The farmers that sell coffee to our brokers cover the operating costs such as food, educational material, daily transport services from and to the education centre, and even the teachers' homes are included.

For the purposes of efficiency and reliability these local organizations aided by NGO's, assesses the students' experiences and knowledge acquired at the end of each period. Afterwards, the farmers that sell coffee to us implement the recommendations for the next period, thus, following up the education process.

Our brokers ensure that growers are paid for their coffees at the highest possible level and we work together with them in developing their qualities.

Our Brokers also take part in the preparation of their coffees, from the tree through to the "green bean ready to roast" stage, making sure that the qualities of the bean meets the highest world standards and as such attract a high price and a high return for their work.  This is not an "aid" program that sees the growers as peasants, rather we view the coffee growers that deal with us as our partners and specialists in all agronomic and agricultural meters on the coffee chain.

We hope this helps answer your questions.
Thanks again for yor enquiry

Kind regards

From: eco-food-dude
Date: 29 June 2010

Dear Doris

Thank you for your quick response.

I really appreciate the time you have taken to consider and respond to
my questions.

I will continue to support Quists in the knowledge that you are
working with producers to achieve positive outcomes in the plantation

Thanks again for taking the time to provide me with information on your work.

Kind regards,


1 comment:

  1. hey mate...just did a new blog after my trip to the footscray market.