Roasted Brown x The Pledge

If you’ve been following us and drinking our coffee over the past 6 years you'll have picked up one of our biggest values: to buy coffee that we love and do our best to make sure you do too.

On the surface it can look very much like it’s all about the coffee. But as much as we love coffee the truth is that it’s actually more about people and quality of life.

We started Roasted Brown as a coffee shop in Temple Bar in 2012. The main reason for it was people, community and being there for each other in a space that gathered around great coffee. When we moved out of running our own shops and into roasting and supplying to shops, this community shifted from our own coffee shop to the great community of coffee shop, restaurant, deli, and bakery owners and staff that we work with on a daily and weekly basis.

These people and their businesses play a crucial role in the livelihoods of another community within the supply chain that often gets overlooked or forgotten, but without whom we wouldn’t even have the lovely coffee comforts and rituals we do - the producers. Businesses that choose Roasted Brown as their coffee of choice are pretty well clued in that they are a part of a bigger story. In selling our coffee they are a part of something deeper and more important than a flat white or a cup of filter. They know they're working with a company doing its best to get as much money to the producers we buy from, so that their lives are enjoyable and sustainable.

We could say that Roasted Brown pays producers really well, but coffee pricing and who gets paid what can be complicated. The coffee industry is complex and so is following the money. Because of this, it’s more accurate to say Roasted Brown is doing its absolute best to pay as much above the minimum required rate. We also diligently build pathways where we know that more and more of the money we’re paying is getting to the producer.

This is a journey, and as much as we know how much effort and money we put into this we also know there is a long way to go. It can be discouraging at times. But when we look at it in terms of lives and smiles, or lack thereof, it’s a motivator to keep going, keep digging, keep making new ways. 

As a small roastery we’ve always tried to have some sort of relationship with the producers at the other end of the coffee we use. We bought our first container of direct trade coffee back in 2016 and have worked hard to do this more and more. That being the case, the risk on us high, particularly as a smaller roaster. It’s hard to take the plunge and go 100 percent direct trade. But we are working on it - we hope some day in the next 2 or 3 years we’ll be able say that 100 percent of the coffee we buy is in direct relationship with a producer - that the producer is getting all our money.

In the meantime, a significant chunk of our coffee we buy direct. Where we can't, we work hard to have a relationship or even a visit with the producers.

Our importers and exporters have played a huge role in leading us to where we are and so there is also something to be said for continuing to support them as much as we can. The way we see it is, everyone is trying to live, pay a mortgage, feed a child, progress in life, and we try our best to see all relationships along the chain this way. We’ve always committed to working with middle companies that we know we can trust to lead us in the right direction in terms of quality and also getting good money to producers. We owe a lot to these people for the great coffee and connections we have this far.

So what are we paying for our coffee?

As we’ve said, it’s complicated! So what we’ve done as a step forward in this is that we’ve signed up to The Pledge.

In simple terms The Pledge is an accountability and transparency community and platform that helps us take the first step in costing, measuring and publicising what is being paid for the coffee we buy…to the producers.

A bit about The Pledge

The Pledge is a reporting initiative of Transparency Coffee, to develop a community of best-practice in pricing transparency. The goal is to “...ensure a sustainable supply of coffee by working towards a living income for producers so that they will continue to invest in the future of their businesses.” 

The Pledge initiative has created a common standard for transparency reporting. The commitment of The Pledge on the part of the participants, is that we report on a fixed set of variables in our green coffee buying, and that we publish this information. This not only showcases buyers’ accountability, but also allows producers to look across the pricing landscape for information they can use to compare like-for-like prices and use that when negotiating their own prices. It also allows buyers to see how what we pay compares to what other green coffee buyers pay.

Reporting the price...

An important part of the reporting required by the terms of The Pledge is the Free On Board (FOB) price of the coffee. The FOB price is the price ($ /lb) paid for the coffee up to the point it is in a container on the ship in the country it is leaving. It is the amount of money that stays in the country of origin. How much of the FOB is paid to the farmer, depends on what stage of post-harvest processing the coffee was when the producer sold it, and this will depend on what processing resources the producer has on the farm. It does not include any onward shipping and transportation costs.

Once harvested...

...the fruit needs to be wet-milled and dried. This is a process which can involve a lot of resources, in terms of money, equipment, and people. Wet mills can be a separate business, the farmer may have that capability, or sometimes groups of producers form co-ops for this stage.

Once the coffee is dried it needs to be dry-milled. This means another set of processing and sorting procedures involving labour, equipment, and costs. Once the coffee is dried, sorted, and bagged, it is traded and sold (if it is not already sold), and when ready for exporting it is put onto the ship.

FOB is the price paid to the exporter…who may or may not be the producer.

As you can see, the FOB price is not a perfect metric of what the producers actually receive, but it is at least an indicator of whether the buyer paid a fair price.

The buyer is responsible for all shipping and onward transporting costs from there, and therefore the FOB is not the price that the roaster pays for the coffee. At Roasted Brown, we have coffees that we buy directly, and pay FOB price for. The shipping and transporting costs are ours, however, and that adds to the actual cost of buying that coffee.

Some others of the coffees we buy, we buy from trusted green coffee importers. The price we pay to them per pound or kilo includes their shipping costs and whatever mark up they add. The suppliers we use provide us with the FOB price that was paid to the exporter, and the other data points required by the terms of The Pledge.

Other transparency tools...

The Specialty Coffee Transaction Guide is another initiative that allows both buyers and sellers to look at pricing across the industry. This annual guide generates relevant pricing benchmarks for differentiated, high quality coffees, which provides context for price negotiations based on quality scores, amongst other things.

It is a tool that can be used for buyers and sellers of green specialty coffee who want to see increased equity and economic sustainability for producers. An example of how this is useful for us as coffee buyers, with equity for producers in mind, is that we can look at the coffees we buy and see how the prices of coffees we are considering buying tally against coffees that are similar according to origin, lot size and quality. 

So how do we use the guide?

The guide presents pricing information in various ways, by cup score, by lot size, by country etc. The average prices are banded into Low Average, Middle Average and High Average prices paid, in US$/lb of green coffee bean.

Using this information and the information we collated for The Pledge, we can look at the reality of our coffee sourcing against best-practices.

The key takeaways...

• 99.96% of the coffees we roasted in 2023 have transparency that qualifies as per the terms of The Pledge.

  • The high average price for specialty coffee in 2023 was $4.50/lb, a marginal increase from 2022 of 3¢/lb, or less than 1%. The average price Roasted Brown paid was $4.68/lb, and increase of 48¢, or 11%.

  • 51% of the coffee we buy is in lot sizes of 40,000 lbs or more. The high average price for this lot size band is $2.64/lb, a drop of 14% from 2022. Roasted Brown paid $3.20/lb, 56¢ higher than the high average, and an increase on what we paid last year for these lot sizes of 57¢, or 17.5%.

  • 42% of the coffee we buy is in lot sizes between 10,000 lbs and 40,000 lbs. For these coffees, the high average price is $3.70/lb, a drop of 1.5% approx from 2022. Roasted Brown paid $3.77/lb for the coffees we bought in this lot size band, an increase of 35¢ on 2022, or 10.5%

Going forward...

Occasionally a producer will not provide an FOB for publication, and we have to respect that.

0.04% of our coffee purchases, by weight, could not be included in the transparency figures for 2023. This is up on last year's figure of 0.12%, again due to a small lot of coffee from Kenya for which FOB could not be provided.

We continue to look for opportunities to look at operations through the lens of transparency and fair pricing, and commit to upholding best-practice in this regard. Going forward, we have committed to only buy coffees that come with a provided FOB. We are also requesting pricing information on the coffees we buy in 2024 that goes further back than FOB, for example prices paid to producers/producer groups for parchment, the green equivalent prices, and where possible and/or relevant, prices paid for cherry.

see all the numbers...

Your café or business can be part of the community too!