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Colombian Coffee Farmers

Dec 19

Written by:
19/12/2017 14:17  RssIcon

Coffee roasting: why current practices are unethical. Guest blog from Not1Bean 

With the number of coffee shops having doubled in the last decade - in a market estimated at £7.9billion - it's time to question why such a small amount of money actually stays with farmers in developing countries.


Image: Coffee


90% of profits in the coffee supply chain (from planting the seeds to the final cup) are in roasting, yet it seems as if the whole industry has decided that despite centuries of growing coffee to meet ever more sophisticated 1st world demands, coffee farmers just aren't capable of roasting their own produce.

The same extremely poor coffee farmers currently watch their share of this revenue disappear over the horizon along with their green (un-roasted) coffee beans to be turned into the latest coffee creation in a far richer country.


Colombian Coffee

In a country like Colombia, the worlds number one supplier of the much sought after speciality grade coffees, out of 500,000 coffee growers, less than 5% farm on plantations larger than 12 acres; in fact the vast majority scrape a living on coffee farms of less than 5 acres.  This naturally leads to farmers needing help when it comes to roasting and exporting their produce to international markets.

Instead of receiving this help, the farmers involvement is curtailed once the green coffee is packed into 70 kilo bags and loaded onto a shipping container, the massive profits achieved after roasting being simply denied to them.

Prices for green coffee, even in the speciality grade market, are surprisingly low. Speciality coffees can be as low as $2 (£1.53) per pound, depending on the grade.

At the time of writing a speciality coffee sourced from Mexico is advertised at $12.95 (£9.90) per pound, but just $2.36 (£1.80) per pound is recorded as having being paid to the farmer. 

The imbalance doesn't stop there. When this same coffee is served in a shop, the mark up is simply astounding. 

Taking into account that 1lb of coffee yields approximately 64 5-oz cups, a cup of $3 (£2.30) coffee yields $192 (£147) per pound - remember, the farmer was paid $2.36 (£1.80) per pound for this grade in the example above.

A $4 (£3) cup yields a grand total of $256 (£195) for every pound of coffee sold in the shop.


And how much coffee does a busy shop use?

It's not unheard of for a late-trading and very busy coffee shop, operating two espresso machines and baristas, to use between 35-40 lbs of whole bean coffee per day. That's $6,720 - $7,680 (£5,131 - £5,865) per day at $3 (£2.29) per cup.

Given that the average "late-trading and very busy coffee shop" will probably be able to justify $4 (£3) a cup, that's $8,960 to $10,240 (£6,840 - £7,818) per day - remember, for producing this coffee the farmer received $82.60 (£63) for their 35 lbs and $94.40 (£72) for their 40 lbs of coffee respectively.

Bearing in mind that the figures above are for speciality coffees, where slightly more is paid to the farmer given the many hundreds of hours spent cultivating to achieve the particular coffee characteristics produced on his or her farm, the prices paid for green coffee are often much lower - whether that's reflected in the final cup we'll leave to the reader.

The facilities to roast coffee are readily available in the coffee growing regions across the world, so why are farmers denied most of this revenue?

Surely some of this roasting income could be made available to farmers in developing countries - after all it's the farmer, their workers and their families that have the most at stake here. A failed crop can mean devastation for the whole region who may have no other source of income with which to feed, clothe or educate their families.

Ethical Coffee

There is a small but growing group of coffee suppliers roasting at source, who believe that employing farm workers to roast and package their own coffee should be adopted as the fairer more ethical business model. 

At not 1bean, we never roast a single coffee bean outside of Colombia (hence the name). The coffee is flown to our customers immediately after roasting.

In short, the farmer receives 100% of the coffee roasting income and the coffee drinker gets the freshest possible coffee. The only "downside" is that many of those figures up top don't materialise to the same degree.


Image: Coffee Picker


In 1835, when 2500 pounds of coffee first headed from Colombia to the United States, the transport options were a little more restrictive than today, meaning that the final roasting had to be done when the coffee reached it's destination.

Nowadays there's really no excuse for high street coffee shops to not stock at least a little coffee roasted at source, coffee from farm workers who have been employed and received meaningful wages, not for just working in the fields year round, but for roasting and packaging their coffee in the exact same manner as it's done on the high streets of the UK and the USA.

At not 1bean we're helping to lift farm workers out of poverty - it's a bold claim, yes, and realistically we don't expect the whole industry to change, but as more and more organisations claim to be acting ethically and trading fairly, we are still left asking why those working with the second most traded commodity on the planet seem to be against this tiny change that would impact so many?

It's 2017, the year 1835 was 182 years ago, that's more than enough time for a little change. 



See our guide to Ground Coffee for a comparison of coffee brands.  









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