Monday, March 02, 2009

Fair Trade vs. Cup of Excellence

No, this is not so much a debate between the two, as I very much think both have their place in this vast world of coffee.

Mark (CoffeeGeek) had a Twitter post that tipped me off to this article, in which I found a pretty offensive and disturbing quote that begs to be confronted with such cheesiness as "Why can't we all just get along?".

Gasp, Guffaw, I know. Me? Saying something like, "Why can't we all just get along?"?

Yes, and if you think this is inconsistent, then you've probably misread, or have been a part of the audience who may or may not be defensive of comments or thoughts I have had in the past.

Really. Why CAN'T we all just get along?

Okay, enough of the lengthy prelude.

Here is the quote:

Simon Wakefield is sceptical of the elaborate tasting notes which accompany the Cup of Excellence auctions: “It is clever marketing. But after the beans have been roasted, ground, kept on somebody’s kitchen shelf, made into coffee, and then milk and sugar have been added can you really tell me that you can taste a difference?”


Which seems like a nice enough article
, but at what point does it become necessary to bash the Cup of Excellence as nothing but marketing?

It seems pretty clear to me that this guy has either never tasted a cup of excellence coffee, or he has an agenda to promote certification LABELS over Quality. (which would be to the benefit of many FT coffee sellers, as well as TransFair.. and let's not get into the discussion of why Fair Trade is not always fair, and how there are purchasing practices that are far more fair than Fair Trade)

I mean, really, how many of you readers have ever thought you might one day buy an extravagantly priced coffee, just so you can have it pre-ground for you to make at home. Oh, and you'll naturally add milk and sugar to this high-priced coffee, because it's "just coffee". And, since it's "just coffee", it will taste like "coffee" (whatever that tastes like), and even pre-ground, it will exhibit no brilliance beyond what an ordinary "good" coffee can offer.

I have tasted some CoE coffees, and they are high priced and scored highly for a reason. Marketing was NEVER the purpose, and Mr. Wakefiled is most probably aware of this fact.

So, my question is this. What does he hope to accomplish with this comment? Especially when there are others saying things like this about Cup of Excellence in the same article:

“It is the absolutely highest echelon of quality coffee,”

As stated by Stephen Hurst, the founder of Mercanta. (If you live in the US and don't know about Mercanta, you probably will soon, and if you don't, then you should)

Now, I'm not saying that Fair Trade sucks, or that Cup of Excellence is the premier coffee solution for everyone, but I don't see any major buyers of CoE coffees smack-talking Fair Trade in public articles from financial publishcations.

Someone send this guy any CoE coffees you have left, and film the tasting. I fail to see how supressing the reward incentive for quality can be of benefit to ANYONE (except for those who build a profit based on a label and misdirection of good will).

ugh. Thoughts? ..ugh.


CoffeeGeek Bloggin' said...

Sure. Write the guy a polite, yet straightforward email regarding your thoughts on his comments

Jason Haeger said...

Yeah, that's a good idea.

I appreciate the link, Mark. Am I safe in assuming that you have done/will do the same?

Yose said...

I think this is the common result for all kind of product certification.

Base on my experience as auditor and consultant, I could say that most certification are pushing the producer to become "just good enough" a.k.a the average level . They never will encourage toward the "excellence" direction.

The certificate on the coffee bag don't have any indicator of excellence.
Only competetion will tell, the product or process are the best or not.
I believe the market is the most *fairest* trade mechanism ever invented.

Aaron said...

I would be interested to know how many FT auction lots go next to CoE, and what the price difference would be. More interesting, just having tasting notes without certifications and see the results of a blind auction where a good FT were next to a CoE.