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July 2012 Newsletter


My apologies for the late start this month, but it's pretty normal for
July. We spend the first week working for the government doing end of
financial year stuff.

There has been a fair bit of celebrity divorce buzz going on lately,
but in the coffee world there has been a much quieter if no less one
sided divorce. Transfair USA has split from Transfair FLO (the world
body) and has announced that the organization will be known as Fair
Trade USA with the motto "Fair Trade for All" from now on. There are
various reasons given for the split (fortunately, Scientology isn't one
of them) but it really comes down to profound political differences
between them.

I've personally never been a fan of the "Fairtrade" economic model (see
my February 2007 newsletter) but to understand the why of it you need
to understand the roots of the Fairtrade movement, and "Movement" it
is. In the coffee world, in order to be a "Fairtrade Certified
Producer", the farmer MUST be a member of a cooperative. The co-op can
then sell their product via Transfair FLO at a price set above the
existing market price. Transfair FLO then sells both the green coffee
and the rights to label it as Fairtrade and to use the associated logo.

At base the whole system is built around a cooperative socialist
political model which makes a valiant attempt to ignore the realities
of supply and demand. It is also quite exclusive. If you happen to be a
small farmer with happy, well paid workers producing  premium coffees,
you can't be Fairtrade certified unless you join the co-op.

Given the current ultra-right-wing political climate in the USA, trying
to push a left wing inspired political trade movement was getting a bit
difficult. Keeping it exclusive and ignoring other commerce models such
as Direct Trade and Farm Gate (where green coffee buyers and roasters
interact directly with the farmers to improve their lives and promote
their coffees) was getting even more difficult.

In the end, Fair Trade USA has opted to split from the world body and
become more inclusive, allowing smallholder farmers and high quality
producers to join. This may mean that, for instance, Hawaiian Kona
coffee farmers, all of whom have miniscule plantations worked by people
earning USA wages, will now be able to use the Fair Trade USA logo.

On the other side of the coin, Fair Trade USA has already been derided
as "Capitalist Sellouts" and "Imperialistic Exploiters" so it will be
interesting to see where both movements end up.

As one who has a single criterion for the coffee I buy, TASTE, I'll be
remaining outside both systems. I've recently cupped half a dozen FTO
certified coffees and came away less than impressed with the current
level of quality. The only standout was the Organic Timor Maubesse, and
I'm already selling it.

Which means that this month's special coffee won't tick any feelgood
boxes, except for the one that says "Tastes Great!" It is

Java Arabica
$44.00/kg

Typical Indonesian rich, heavy body with a touch of light front palate
acidity and a little spicy nutmeg in the middle.

I actually prefer this as a brewed (syphon, drip, plunger) coffee
rather than an espresso, but one of my industry peers reckons it's
better as an espresso, so people will have to make up their own minds.

Until next month

Alan