Zoka Family Direct Trade vs. Fair Trade Coffee

Hello.  My name is Dana.  I am the Coffee Specialist and Assistant Buyer at Zoka Coffee Roaster & Tea Company.  Beginning today, you will receive my updates on the many new and exciting coffee projects happening here at Zoka.  We are delighted to have you along on this journey with us, and we hope you are ready to enjoy a boatload of exceptional and unique coffees.  They are truly outstanding.

As you may have seen on our website, we just launched an incredible new program: Zoka Family Direct Trade.  Here at Zoka, Family Direct Trade means that we create and maintain personal relationships with the coffee farmer and his or her family.  It’s a step above Fair Trade Coffee, which only mandates that beans have been acquired at a fair market price. Zoka Family Direct Trade takes the concept a step further — integrating our search for the world’s best coffees into the lives of the farmers and communities that make that coffee their livelihood.

These relationships are based on trust, a commitment to the superior quality coffee, and long term ongoing sustainability.  The Zoka family is made up of all of us from Zoka: Our baristas, our coffee roasters, our production team, our coffee buyers, our sales and management staff, the coffee producers at origin, as well as YOU, our Zoka customers and your families.
  
Because we buy coffees based on quality, many of these relationships began as a result of our participation as judges at the Cup of Excellence competitions over the past 10 years. These relationships have now grown into our Family Direct Trade partnerships.  We visit these family owned farms at least once a year and choose the coffees we would like to bring home to you.  This idea is not a new one, and here at Zoka we have been purchasing coffees in this manner for several years.  However, it is our goal and commitment to you as well as the farmers with whom we work, to purchase 100% of our coffee through the Zoka Family Direct Trade program by the close of 2013.

Jeff Babcock with farm owner Erwin Mierisch

Jeff Babcock with farm owner Erwin Mierisch

Zoka Family Direct Trade allows us to find the highest quality coffees by visiting farms directly, connecting with producers, learning about their practices, sharing ideas and creating and maintaining long term relationships with famers.  In addition, because we are buying many coffees from different farms, we can often import these coffees ourselves.  This significantly shortens the commodity chain, which returns a greater percentage of profits back to the producers, where it belongs.  The Zoka Family Direct Trade program will create a closer producer-consumer relationship as well as develop strategies that promote a more equitable distribution of benefits from trade. Click here to read our Zoka Family Direct Trade Statement.

Who is Dana?

My love of coffee began while serving as Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador.  I worked as an Environmental Education volunteer, while also pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Conservation and Development.  My thesis project focused on the creation of an alternative coffee trade network as a means for overcoming some of the limitations associated with mainstream coffee markets.  I lived on a 250 acre coffee farm in the Apaneca-Llamatepec Mountain Range in the department of Ahuachapán.  I had previously worked as a barista, but like most baristas, I only had experience with coffee as a beverage, not as a livelihood crop.

Dana Foster picking coffee at the farm on which she lived, Finca Talnamica

Dana Foster picking coffee at the farm on which she lived, Finca Talnamica

I was the only American in my rural village of 1,200 people, 90% of whom are seasonal coffee pickers.  Over the next two years, I existed exactly as the people in my community.  I lived in a small brick house with no electricity and no running water.  I woke up early with the roosters and carried water in jugs on my head.  I battled the rodents who were stealing my food and rode on buses packed five times above maximum capacity. During harvest season, I worked alongside pickers and farmers on steep hillsides, learning all that I could about their craft.

I quickly discovered that life as a seasonal coffee picker is far from glamorous.  However, I was amazed at how content my community members were despite their lack of what most Americans consider basic necessities.  During my time abroad, and while completing my thesis after I returned home, I became determined to have a career in the coffee industry.  Yearning to return to the areas I had become so familiar with, I wanted to continue establishing relationships that would benefit not only the coffee producers, but all people involved in the coffee lifecycle from crop to cup.  I created and still maintain amazing relationships with the people in my, and surrounding communities.  Through my research and thesis work, I found that a direct trade coffee link demonstrates one approach to overcoming the limitations associated with mainstream coffee markets.  After more than two years of designing and implementing this project, I found that breaking down the barriers of trade can empower the farmer, roaster and coffee drinker alike, as well as provide a more equitable distribution of benefits.

When our next container arrives in just a few short weeks, I invite you to taste five incredible new Single Origin Salvadoran coffees.  These are all part of our Zoka Family Direct Trade program and better yet, they are by far the best Salvadoran coffees we have ever had!  Stay tuned, because I will be giving you all the details on these spectacular coffees, three of which have finished in the Top 10 Cup of Excellence rankings over the past few years.

Jeff Babcock reviewing the dry mill processes at the Mierisch Beneficio.

Jeff Babcock reviewing the dry mill processes at the Mierisch Beneficio.

Coffee Spotlight:  Nicaragua’s Got it Going On

If you haven’t yet tried our Nicaraguan Single Origin coffees that arrived last month, you are sincerely missing out!  Owner and Founder of Zoka Jeff Babcock, visited Nicaragua earlier this spring and purchased two extraordinary coffees from the Mierisch farms as part of our Family Direct Trade.  I urge you to try these remarkable coffees and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

More to come soon,

Dana
askdana@zokacoffee.com