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Coffee City

Melissa Allison follows the world's biggest coffee-shop chain and other Seattle caffeine purveyors.

August 19, 2010 at 6:03 PM

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Kuma Coffee chalks one up for direct trade with transparency statement, public disclosure of what it pays for coffee

Posted by Melissa Allison

Probat & Roasting Space.jpgKuma Coffee has become the first coffee roaster in Seattle to issue a transparency statement regarding its coffee buying and to publicly disclose how much it paid per pound for all the beans in its inventory -- part of a growing movement away from Fair Trade-certified coffee and toward a model called direct trade that many roasters say benefits coffee farmers more.

There have been questions about Fair Trade coffee for years, and they have grown more pointed as spikes in commodity coffee prices mean that some farmers who pay to be Fair Trade certified are now getting more money for coffee sold on the regular commodities market.

Mark Barany (pictured), who owns Kuma Coffee with his wife, Elizabeth, said he decided to disclose his prices after Counter Culture in North Carolina issued its transparency statement earlier this summer.

Transparency is a way to legitimize direct trade. Barany has a Master's Degree in Science and Information Systems Management that included a lot of reading about transparency "and how truthful and up-front business is good business," he said.

"Putting it out there kind of says, 'It can be done, and this is sustainable,' and also says to the competition, 'Who else out there feels so good about their business practices that they could do the same?" he said.

Barany started roasting in small batches in Magnolia in late 2007, and the next year installed a five-pound roaster there and opened a cafe at 4110 Stone Way North. Last fall, he moved the roastery to Bellevue.

About 90 percent of Kuma's beans are sold in Seattle. Accounts include Cafe Bambino, Seattle Pie Co., Magnolia Thriftway, Ballard Town & Country Market and Whole Foods stores at Westlake, in Interbay and Redmond.

He buys half Kuma's coffee directly from farms, although he has not visited them in person. He meets them online, "stuff I didn't htink was possible when I started two or three years ago." He tells them what he's looking for, and they send samples.

During a trip to Guatemala and El Salvador during the harvest this coming winter, Barany hopes to meet farmers who are not online as well. He's going with Shannon Neffendorf of Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters in Dallas.

Sometimes direct trade coffee costs more, and sometimes less than Fair Trade or the commodities market, Barany said. The key is to be attuned to the farmers' needs. He recently paid 20 percent more than he was initially quoted to a Guatemalan farmer, who explained that natural disasters had caused the cost of food and fuel to rise and that he wanted to keep that from hurting him and his workers.

"Once he gave me the well-thought-out idea, I didn't even think twice," Barany said. "I said, 'That's fine. Whatever it takes for them to feel like they're getting what they need to live well.'"

Here's a map showing Kuma Coffee's cafe, which was named after Barany's dog, who is named afer the word for "bear" in Japanese:


View Kuma Coffee in a larger map

Photo courtesy of Kuma Coffee.

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