Relationships are a crucial part of any supply chain; you will have heard us say this plenty of times before. When “responsibly sourced coffee” is part of your mission, the beauty is that it becomes easier to achieve as time goes on. As much as we are invested in roasting delicious coffee, we also want to put in the time and effort to sharing the stories of the people who make it possible.
How did this coffee relationship begin?
This story starts a couple of weeks before Christmas in 2021.
It was a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of a pretty mild winter. Although the Roastery was freezing, we were feeling pretty excited as we had just received a delivery of coffee from Burundi. For a roaster, the first bags of Burundi through the door indicate winter as much as the first frost on your windscreen.
This was all happening as we were making headway with our sourcing strategy – feeling extremely positive and very fortunate to be building on some already established relationships. Then, out of the blue, we received an exciting call from our café manager about the possibility of a relationship a lot closer to home – from our very own Bedford St. Coffee, no less...
Raised beds for drying coffee at Rwamatamu
One of the team, Marie Bernice, was studying at Teesside University for a degree in project management. Her goal – taking over her family's coffee farm - Rwamatamu - in Rwanda once her parents retired! Naturally we jumped at the chance to have a proper catch up with Bernice in the roastery, and we arranged to meet with her and her fiancé, Luke.
What we expected to be a casual chat about the family farm ended up being half a day of intense conversation about supply chain logistics, sustainability in coffee and plans for the future. By the end, green coffee samples were on the way, and we had the potential for a truly direct relationship on our hands. This sort of communication is one in a million in the coffee world. It's rare to have a direct link to the owners of a farm; rarer still to be able to have those meetings from the comfort of your own roastery!
What is 'Direct Trade' in specialty coffee?
This leads us to the question of 'direct trade'. No doubt you've seen the term banded about by coffee roasters: on the surface it implies that the roaster gets their green coffee straight from the farm, without anyone else's involvement. The reality is that coffee just doesn't work like that.
We talked at length about logistics with Bernice and Luke. Initially they considered taking care of every step themselves: not just coffee production, but exporting, warehousing - all the way to the roaster's door. In the end, they realised that it would be a much better use of their time, money and effort, to leave this in the hands of someone they trust: enter Jim, from Omwani Coffee (who had brought in those bags from Burundi earlier on).
Rwamatamu farm, overlooking Lake Kivu
Ultimately, we want to be as transparent as we can about how coffee is sourced, because it's such a long and important journey. So long as each person along the chain is adding value, we should be celebrating their input, rather than hiding it behind ambiguous terms like 'direct trade'. In other words, we don't do direct trade, but we do trade as directly as we can.
What's the future for Rwamatamu?
What we can do directly is have meaningful dialogue with Bernice and Luke, and build a strong relationship with the Rwamatamu team. With the help of Omwani, this amazing coffee now has a home in the roastery, and you can try it for yourself here.
The coffee itself is incredible. With juicy notes of peach and apricot, brown sugar sweetness and a creamy body, Rwamatamu is already amongst our favourite washed African coffees to date. There is a bright future ahead for Rwamatamu, and we're looking forward to showcasing it for years to come.
To give Rwamatamu the warm welcome it deserves, we're heading back to Bedford St. Coffee for an evening of coffee conversation and cupping. Join us from 15:00-18:00 on Friday 10th February: tickets are free, and can be reserved here.
As well as Bernice and Luke, we'll be joined by Jim from Omwani Coffee, who helped the Rwamatamu team find a route to the UK market.
This is a rare opportunity to learn about specialty coffee directly from the source, and we'd love for you to be there. Tickets are limited to 30 places, so book yours quick!