At Equal Exchange, our concern for the quality of small-scale producers’ lives is matched only by our attention to the quality of our finished coffee. From farmers to cuppers, we’re professionals. And every choice we make contributes to the exceptional character of Equal Exchange coffees. We’re proud of how good our brews taste. And we want you to know about it!
Yes, Equal Exchange’s Authentic Fair Trade model makes a positive impact on small scale farmers’ livelihoods and on the health of the earth. But it also improves our finished coffee’s quality! EE coffee buyers communicate regularly with producers. Because we’ve built these direct and longstanding relationships, we stay up-to-date about growing conditions that may affect the beans. Our partners grow on land that they control, so they have a vested interest in using sustainable and organic methods, avoiding chemicals, and keeping the soil rich for many years to come. Agronomists within the farmer co-ops bring specialized technical training to bear. And the cooperative structure encourages farmers to share information about cultivation practices that improve harvest and yield.
In the coffee industry, international buyers dominate conversations about quality, too often leaving producers in the cold. The people who grow coffee for other companies might not know how much their crop is worth on the market or how they can produce better coffee. Our model is different! Equal Exchange works directly with producers to communicate our expectations. We pay bonuses – higher still than the high floor price for Fair Trade – when product is especially excellent. We promote opportunities for producers to learn sensory analysis techniques. This knowledge enables farmers themselves to make minute adjustments as they grow and process their crops.
Equal Exchange’s worker-owned coffee roasting operation is the largest in the U.S., with two machines in use. The members of our production team have a unique skill-set – they’re scientists of coffee as well as artists. Roasters observe the precise times and temperatures that keep our coffees consistent. But they also analyze on the fly, making adjustments when needed, with a goal of bringing out the innate qualities of the green bean – balancing acidity with sweetness, accentuating certain flavor notes, or enhancing mouthfeel. Roasters check each batch of coffee with a ColorTrack Laser Color Analyzer — using a rating system common across the specialty coffee industry — to scientifically test the classification of the roast. Our machines fire five days a week, which ensures the freshness of the coffee we ship out.
Cupping is the analysis of a coffee based on its sensory qualities — its aroma, taste, mouthfeel, cleanliness and balance, as well as our Quality Control testers’ general impression. Our QC team cups coffee every day in an on-site lab here at our headquarters. They prepare multiple uniform samples of the coffees to be assessed, measuring out freshly-ground coffee and steeping it in water that’s just under the boiling point. Each cupper appraises the aroma of the wet and dry samples, taking meticulous notes. They also aspirate, or slurp from a spoon, in order to fully experience the flavor of the brewed coffee. Equal Exchange cups three times – a sample before import, another sample when the coffee arrives in Massachusetts, and a sample of each batch after roasting. We use internationally-recognized cupping standards set by the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
Learn more about cupping!
We’ve been in the business for over three decades. Our scrupulous standards ensure that the flavor profiles of our coffees are always on point and that the roasts are consistent. Equal Exchange hosts quality seminars and our worker-owners attend specialty coffee industry events whenever we can. Our gourmet blends and single origins appear on many top-coffee lists – and they’re endorsed by discerning coffee lovers like you!
Can one coffee be fairly-traded, Organic AND gourmet quality? We say yes! Each of us takes pride in doing our part to bring expertise, attention to detail and love to every cup!
By Kim Coburn and Frankie Pondolph, Equal Exchange During the week of April 10th Equal…06 March 2018