Roasted Brown x The Pledge

If you’ve been following Roasted Brown and drinking our coffee over the past 6 years you may have picked up along the way that one of our biggest values is 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.

When 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 commit to using Roasted Brown as their coffee of choice are pretty well clued in that they are a part of a bigger story, and that 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 that they are working with a company who is doing their best to get as much money to the producers we buy from so that their lives are enjoyable and sustainable.

To say that Roasted Brown pays its producers really well though is a lot more complicated than that. The coffee industry is complex and so is following the money. Because of this, it’s more accurate to say that Roasted Brown is doing its absolute best to pay as much above the minimum required rate and to 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. This can be discouraging at times but when we think of 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 from very early on we’ve tried very quickly 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, so it’s hard to take the full plunge and go 100 percent direct trade but we are working on it and 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 and that producer is getting all our money.

In the meantime, a significant chunk of our coffee is bought direct, and those that aren’t we work hard to have a relationship or even a visit with those producers who we use exporters and importers to buy from.

These 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 and 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 an 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 we each compare to other green coffee buyers.

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 money, equipment, and labour. 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 and quality

So how did we do?

According to the Specialty Coffee Transaction Guide 2021, the highest average price paid for specialty coffee in the 2020/21 period, and across all specialty grades (80+), was $3.72/lb.

The guide then breaks down prices paid per cup-score category, as per the table below, and the highest average price paid for coffees in the 85-85.9 category was $3.40 (our average cup-score in 2021 was 85.25, so this is the category we're in).

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...

• Our average cup score for 2021 was 85.25 spread over a range of 84 (large lots: house espresso; decaf) to 90 (micro-lots), and the average FOB price we paid for those coffees was $3.54. This is 14¢ per lb higher than the highest average for that score category according to the SCTG 2021.

• 98.66% of the coffees we roasted in 2021 have transparency that qualifies as per the terms of The Pledge.

Going forward...

1.34% of our coffee purchases, by weight, could not be included in the transparency figures for 2021.

Occasionally a producer will not provide an FOB for publication, and we have to respect that. Our score for 2022 so far is 99.66%...a shortfall because of a small amount of the coffee that we bought in late 2021 that was carried over into early 2022, and is therefore included. By the end of the year our overall score on transparency will be even closer to 100%.

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.

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