Serving Those Who Grow Coffee: A Barista’s Perspective

Barista Guild of America volunteers who served exceptional coffees at the Fair Trade USA Producer Forum

by Richard Sandlin, Fair Trade USA – Coffee

For most of us living in the global North, working in coffee is a choice. Regardless of your association to Specialty Coffee–barista, roaster, importer, etc…–you’ve made the decision to pursue a career in coffee. We can switch companies, and still be in the coffee industry. For coffee producers, coffee is not a job, it’s a way of life.

At Fair Trade USA, I work with coffee companies big and small and help them buy, source, market and sell Fair Trade Certified™ coffee. In 2013, Fair Trade USA hit a major milestone, certifying over 1 billion pounds since 1998. I’ve helped add to that amount alongside a great team building on the momentum of the organization since our inception over 15 years ago.

But before that, I was a barista. I was on the front lines of the specialty coffee industry. Each day, I woke up early to serve exceptional (I’m proud to say I worked in cafes that served Fair Trade Certified) coffees to those who frequented the coffee shops I worked in. Each day I would hope to share my passion for coffee with our customers and talk to them about where it comes from, how to prepare it, and how to better experience coffee. Each day, I represented a long supply chain made up of millions of farming families around the globe, importers, roasters and the rest of the chain. In each cup I served, I was the chain.

At the 26th Annual SCAA Expo in Seattle in 2014, I witnessed the closing of that loop at the 15th Annual Fair Trade USA Producer Forum. The Producer Forum is an all-day symposium for Fair Trade coffee producers—including coffee farmers and farm workers—from around the globe to come together with varying industry partners (importers, exporters and roasters) to create a vision for taking Fair Trade to scale. This past April, we helped bring over 300 producers from 12 countries to Seattle for the SCAA EXPO. This group represents nearly ¾ of a million of farmers and farm-workers from around the globe.

And each year we served them convention center coffee.

Zoey Thorson from Gimme! Coffee serves one of the Fair Trade USA Producer Forum attendees

We wanted to change this. This year in Seattle, we invited the Barista Guild of America to serve our distinctive audience exceptional Fair Trade Certified coffees. As a Barista Guild of America member myself, it was humbling to have the opportunity to serve coffee producers, a group of people whose livelihoods enrich my daily life and so many of those close to me.

Fair Trade USA was also lucky enough to have Ric Rhinehart, the Executive Director of the SCAA deliver the keynote opening speech at the Producer Forum. Upon asking Ric his opinion on the event, Ric said, “The Fair Trade Producer Forum once again provided a great venue for dialogue and for action in using the Fair Trade model to improve producer access to markets, building meaningful partnerships and delivering on the promise of an equitable participation for everyone in the coffee value chain. The Barista Guild of America’s participation provided producers with a real taste of how their coffees are presented to consumers, and really closed the loop on producer and consumer interaction.”

Echoing Ric’s statements, The Barista Guild of America’s Vice Chair, Julie Housh of Intelligentsia Coffee and the coffee service manager stated, “The Coffee Service was an awesome opportunity to work alongside talented baristas, who provided a smile and delicious cup of coffee to the producer attendees, and was hopefully the truest test of a producer’s labor. In turn, it connected us, as baristas, to the fantastic individuals who provide us with the key ingredient of our livelihood. I couldn’t have asked for a better morning!”

The Barista Guild of America served coffee from three Washington State Fair Trade USA partners; Caffe Ladro’s Peruvian Aprovat, Dillanos Coffee Roasters Guatemalan Rio Azul and Tony’s Coffees & Teas Peruvian CEPICAFE (now referred to as NORANDINO).

One of the Barista Guild Members, Matthew Barahura from James Coffee Co. and the San Diego Coffee Network said, “The most rewarding experience of volunteering at Fair Trade USA’s Producer’s Forum was bringing the coffee service full circle and brewing the finished product for those who make it possible. Some attendees hadn’t seen a chemex, let alone had coffee brewed by a professional barista. It was very humbling to see how excited they were to taste the coffee and learn about what we were doing as baristas.”

Miguel Paz Lopez representing CEPICAFE (NORANDINO), Peru holds the final product roasted by Tony’s Coffees & Teas. Miguel’s brother, Santiago Paz Lopez, is co-manager of NORANDINO but was unable to attend

Another one of the Barista Guild Members, Zoey Thorson from Gimme! Coffee echoed Matthew’s experience stating that serving producers “truly touched (her) heart” seeing the loop closed.

As luck would have it, one of our partners, Tony’s Coffees & Teas graciously donated coffee from CEPICAFE (NORANDINO) from Peru. Miguel Paz Lopez, the representative of NORANDINO at SCAA this year was thrilled, “The coffee service was excellent –served and brewed beautifully. We’re very happy with the people who served coffee from NORANDINO (formerly known as CEPICAFE) and how everyone contributed to the event. This inspires us to come back next year and continue representing our high-quality Peruvian coffees in any way we can.”

Each day baristas have the opportunity to serve coffee and represent the global supply chain to the customers that frequent their cafes. How often can a barista serve the producers who grew the coffee they are about to serve? It is connections like these that inspire all of us in the specialty coffee industry. I’m thrilled I got to see it happen.