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Unlocking the Potential of Direct Trade in the Third Wave Coffee Industry


Direct Trade in the coffee industry has become an increasingly popular trend, creating positive changes for the benefit of key stakeholders such as farmers, producers, coffee roasters, and even coffee consumers. In this article, we will explore the significance of direct trade and its potential advantages, as well as analyze the challenges and importance of trust in this process.


What is direct trade?

Direct trade refers to the establishment of a direct relationship between coffee farmers, producers, and coffee roasters, bypassing traditional intermediary channels. This provides favorable conditions for price determination, increased income for farmers and producers, and promotes sustainability in the coffee industry. Here are some perspectives on direct trade from coffee professionals around the world:

For Garrett Odell of Cirque Coffee Roasters, the answer is simple: "Direct trade in the specialty coffee industry is when a roaster buys coffee directly from a producer."

Patrick Murray of Finca Mahajual, El Salvador, has a similar answer but emphasizes the importance of relationships. "Direct trade means establishing a direct commercial channel between farmers, producers, and roasters," he says. "It refers to the relationships built and nurtured between the producer and the roaster. A relationship where issues of quality and pricing are defined and agreed upon, with a long-term future for mutual benefits."

Although direct trade may be difficult to define, it remains an important part of the specialty coffee industry in the third wave and has several positive aspects, such as:

  1. Establishing better relationships: Direct trade allows coffee roasters and producers to have direct contact, building relationships based on respect and close interaction. This creates a trustworthy environment and encourages collaboration to enhance coffee quality.

  2. Origin traceability: Direct trade enables consumers to have clear visibility of coffee origins. Producers and coffee roasters provide detailed information about the production process, labor conditions, and environmental impacts. This helps consumers make informed purchasing decisions and support ethical and sustainable products.

  3. Enhancing transparency: Direct trade fosters a more transparent and honest environment. Transaction agreements and contract values are directly negotiated between farmers, producers, and coffee roasters. From the perspective of the direct trade model, three specific elements ensure mutually beneficial outcomes: transparency, shared value, and traceability.

  4. A better understanding of the product: Third-wave coffee culture emphasizes understanding the origins of coffee, from the variety of plants to the land, soil conditions, farming practices, processing methods, and roasting techniques. With direct trade, consumers can easily listen to the stories of producers and learn about their challenging work, leading to a deeper appreciation and understanding of the product.

  5. Potential for greater investment: Direct trade holds more meaning when buyers feel compelled to pay higher prices and invest more in people and the land with the goal of creating greater community value rather than solely purchasing coffee. When community values, such as the well-being of individuals and the land, are developed, buyers can expect to receive better products and engage in a cycle of mutual benefits between coffee producers and consumers. Through coffee, buyers contribute directly to improving social conditions, production practices, and the well-being of the land and its people.

Alongside the benefits and potential of direct trade, there are still several challenges that need to be overcome:

  1. Contract and payment issues: Direct trade requires trust and commitment from all participating parties. The lack of formal contracts and payment control can create risks for both producers and coffee roasters.

  2. Risk of lower coffee quality: Ensuring the quality of specialty coffee is a challenge in direct trade. Close information exchange between producers and coffee roasters is necessary to ensure that the coffee meets the desired quality standards.

  3. People-focused relationships: Direct trade necessitates direct interaction between producers and coffee roasters. This requires time, resources, and commitment. Sometimes, building and maintaining these relationships can be challenging for parties within the supply chain.


The Significance of Trust in Direct Trade:

Trust is the most crucial factor in direct trade. It serves as the foundation for building long-term and successful relationships between producers and coffee roasters. Trust helps create a reliable environment, encourages authentic information exchange, and facilitates effective problem-solving.


  • Direct trade plays a significant role in the specialty coffee industry and brings numerous notable benefits. By establishing strong relationships between buyers and producers, direct trade enables collaboration, experimentation, and improvements in processing and cultivation practices.

  • This model also fosters transparency, allowing both buyers and producers to have a better understanding of quality requirements, pricing, and practical aspects of the coffee industry. This facilitates improved communication, effective problem-solving, and proposals for quality enhancements.

  • Direct trade also creates opportunities for larger investments from both parties. Producers are motivated to enhance production quality, driven by their commitment to delivering high-quality products to buyers, which leads to better feedback. At the same time, buyers feel incentivized to pay higher prices and invest in the local community.

  • Furthermore, direct trade enables traceability and origin tracking, allowing buyers to obtain precisely what they desire and producers to create products that cater to individual buyer requirements. This benefits both parties throughout the supply chain.

As iO Coffee, a specialty coffee roaster in the third wave, we deeply understand our role and responsibility in not only sourcing coffee but also creating community value by improving the land and people's lives. We constantly strive to offer new experiences to our customers and provide transparent and ethically sourced products with traceable origins. As a result, iO Coffee serves as a bridge to establish direct trust between customers, farmers, and producers, strengthening the relationships among all parties. This helps increase the acceptance and sustainable development of specialty coffee.

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