Roasters Rock

In Times of Turmoil – Turn to Quality

Brexit – Trump – ISIS – Syria – Poverty – Legalization of Drugs – Global Warming – SCAA/SCAE merger.

We are getting so much information and are asked to care about so many things that it is easy to stagnate and not know where to start. It is also easy to get discouraged because it does not feel like you are doing enough to make a real difference. It is even easier to get angry at ‘the other guy’, who you can easily blame for the problems you can’t fix on your own.

If you watch the media, you would think every problem is the end of the world and that every issue must contain a villain. It is hard not to get caught up in the often manufactured drama that sells commercials. This creates a reality all its own, where any opposing viewpoint is dismissed as ‘stupid’, ‘irresponsible’, and the person who said it must be EVIL!

My fellow coffee professional, to you I say: RELAX!

Even before the 24-hour news cycle and social media, the world survived without a lot of our help. The reason for it is simple: People figured out what was most important to them and concentrated on making that better. People found their passions and exerted massive effort in pursuing them. The best among us found balance in life by being healthy, learning something new, being a good neighbor, taking care of finances, and finding peace in a relationship with a ‘higher power’.

In short, the world improves when people lead quality lives because those people rub off on the rest of us. They influence change not by shouting or getting angry, but by example.

This simple premise will move the world forward – improving quality improves lives. As part of their life balance, coffee professionals find passion in waking up and making great coffee. This simple act of pursuing quality every day in your part of the coffee supply chain makes the industry better for all of us.

Quality is the purest form of a sustainable project. The pursuit of quality in coffee is a noble endeavor that will start to address all of the problems mentioned above. ALL of them!

Here is how it works: When you pursue quality, you add value. When you add value, you increase profits. When there are more profits, efforts are made to keep the momentum going. Jobs get created, assisting to end poverty. Social and planetary responsibility emerge as inextricably related. Your effort just to do ‘your part’ helps to ensure a solid supply of coffee as well as a healthy planet and healthy customers.

Changing the world with Quality in the Supply Chain

Growers: We ask the impossible from them. Please improve the quality of your coffee, grow with a care for the earth, pay your pickers a fair wage, and do all of this without a guarantee of a price premium. And you know what? They do it! They take a risk because it is the right thing to do. They lead by example for their neighbors. In the end (most of the time) they are rewarded with a price premium because they deserve it and there is a market for it.

Exporters / Importers: We ask them to source coffee from responsible growers and pay a premium they deserve, to transport it leaving the smallest carbon footprint, and to absorb the risk of ownership knowing that the coffee could be refused for any number of reasons. They do all of this while we try to get one more penny off the price. And they do it because it is the right thing to do. They lead by example for other industries on how to be great partners without exploiting producers and in the end they (usually) get rewarded for it by roasters paying for the responsible service and quality coffee.

Roasters: We ask that they craft the raw product into a beautiful bean worthy of an extraordinary price. We ask that they pay the importer well enough and take it on faith that the importer will in turn reward the grower. We demand that they reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses produced, pay above minimum wage to staff, and provide benefits so employees can support a family. We beat them up on the wholesale price and demand more and more services. And they do it because they understand that with their product the retailers will be successful. Roasters are (most of the time) rewarded with prices well above a commercial rate because the product and service deserve it. They lead by example to their customers that quality deserves a premium.

Baristas: The shop they work for is being asked to sort their trash, use compostable products, less harmful detergents, and pay a living wage. We ask the ‘front line’ to perfect the art of extraction and presentation so they can look a customer in the eye and know that when they ask for an 800% mark up over the cost of goods, it is an appropriate price to pay. It allows not only the retailer to keep their doors open and people employed, but to also reward the rest of the supply chain by paying a little more for the wholesale coffee.

It does not, in the day-to-day pursuit of our passions, matter who the next president is, whether ISIS will attack again, or if the SCAA SCAE merger goes well. Yes they are factors, but know that there are people that find their passion in dealing with these things and they are more likely than not going to get it right because they are driven to do so.

They are just like you, my fellow coffee professional: adding quality where they can and nudging the world forward a bit and leading by example. You may not like they example set by others, but you combat that by leading in your own way in your day-to-day activities.

Add quality to your product, your life, and lead by example and the world will tumble along just fine. We as an industry are leading the world by example, and for that you can be proud!

Rocky Rhodes is an 18 year coffee veteran, roaster, and Q-Grader Instructor, and his mission now is to transform the coffee supply chain and make sweeping differences in the lives of those that produce the green coffee. Rocky can be reached at

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