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Rosso Direct

 

For the last four years, we've been sourcing our coffees directly from coffee producers around the world. Something we've come to learn from this experience is how hard it is to communicate what exactly that means. In our opinion, the term Direct-trade has become very washed in our industry, so we thought we'd take a minute and not only write a blog about it, but also release a set of defined internal certifications to send clear messaging about each and every one of our coffees. Every coffee on our menu will meet the criteria of at least one of these icons.

So let's start with a quick blurb on how we got here.

In 2011, we wanted to gain more control over our coffee menu and ultimately wanted to gain a deeper understanding of our industry. The natural transition was to get into roasting coffee and begin building our menu based on the coffee origins we wanted to feature. So we jumped in with both feet and started this journey by doing our Q-Grader, which at the time was only offered in Los Angeles and in Rosebud, Arkansas. Naturally, we chose the road less traveled and did our Q Grader in Rosebud. Later that year, we purchased a single-drum Primo sample roaster that's firetruck red and has a 200 gram capacity - which today we use to roast smaller coffee samples and profile roasts. From here, we ordered an array of coffees from importers in North America and began learning about different origins, different roast degrees and different varieties of coffee. After nearly a year of roasting in our living room or out back of our cafe in Ramsay, we decided to make the jump up and purchased a Probat L12 - the same one we roast the bulk of our coffee on today. At Ramsay, not in our living room.

Acquiring the Probat meant that we had the capacity to roast for our three cafe locations at that time. We started by roasting our coffee used for batch brew and kept our espresso with our previous roaster. When we felt we had hit consistent strides and quality had noticeably improved, we took over our full coffee menu. From there, we haven't looked back. Today, we're roasting the best coffee we ever have, with our quality consistently improving week after week.

A big differential that separates our coffee today from our coffee in 2012-14 is where we're sourcing it from. Similar to our journey into roasting, our journey into sourcing coffee began with the thought of "I'd really like to know how that works" and jumping in with two feet. 

In 2015, with the goal of moving our entire menu to being purchased direct. To us at the time, direct trade meant buying directly from the people that are producing the coffee. This is the foundation of Rosso Direct. From 2012-14 we purchased a solid chunk of our coffees 'spot', which means we were purchasing them from menus provided by importers. Please let the record state that there's nothing wrong with purchasing your green coffee from importers. It's a vital step and we'd actually encourage you build a relationship with a coffee importer during your coffee roasting journey. We decided to shift away from importers with the goal of providing more value to the coffee producers, traveling to understand their operations and always having a unique menu of offerings. So today, we purchase 100% of our coffees in a direct-trade style of business, with the goal of providing the most value to the farms we work with, while building a constructive relationship that's mutually beneficial and sharing knowledge from our side of the value chain back to their side. We also get to collaborate and experiment on the production side of coffee, and learn more about our craft of coffee.

So that's the story of how we got to where we are today with our coffee sourcing program. We're proud to work with passionate coffee producers in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, Rwanda, Brazil, Myanmar and we've just finalized our first ever purchase from Burundi, a country we visited in April, 2018. We see coffee as a seasonal product that should not be available on our menu year round, so we've strategically selected these countries to have 'fresh-crop' offerings throughout the calendar year. We've also put together a balanced menu of prominent and well renowned coffee producing countries - Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica - mixed in with under-sourced, high potential and burgeoning coffee producing nations such as Rwanda, Burundi and Myanmar. To best communicate these coffees, we're proud to launch the four certifications below.

 

Relationship. This represents the value we place in our relationships, by showcasing commitment to a specific farm, cooperative or community project. The shaking hand symbolizes the respect and the mutual relationship we have with the producers of the coffee this icon is listed on. The number above the hands represents the number of years we've visited their operations and collaborated on a sustainable future, pushing quality and maybe some experimentation. Every coffee with this icon ensures fair pricing has been paid for the coffee we purchase. With coffee, just like other agricultural crops, producers will have up-years and down-years, with both quality and yields. We believe it's important to support the producers we're working with through those ups and the downs, and ultimately purchase coffee and visit them each and every year. This is how we believe we'll build the strongest foundation for our relationships.

For example; Our average price for a pound of green coffee is approximately 3.5x today's c-market price, as dictated by the NYSE. This number is reflective of farm gate pricing and does not include shipping and transportation, storage, financing, roasting, labor or packaging of product. Our lowest input cost has been 2x the c-market price, and our highest to date is 85x. As I write this, todays c-market, or commodity price of coffee, is $1.08 USD, nearing a five-year market low. The metrics of 'x' used above are defined by this price. Yes, that means we paid nearly $90 USD per pound for four different nano-lots that scored between 90.5 and 92.5 on the cupping table and played a key role in a 5th place finish in the 2018 World Barista Championship, sourced from La Palma y El Tucan, in Cundinamarca, Colombia.

As a comparison, Fair Trade Standard pricing sets a fixed amount above the c-market price at approximately +30 cents. They'll pay further bonus for organic certifications in the realm of +15 cents.

 

 

Project. This indicates that Rosso has established a goal with the corresponding farm, cooperative or community project. A coffee reflecting this icon means that a set monetary value, per bag sold, will be donated by Rosso toward the established goal set out in collaboration with the coffee producers. Projects will differ from country to country, need to need, and will ultimately lie in places we see opportunity and/or believe there is need. Be it for quality of life or quality of coffee, each project will aim to fulfill a mission that benefits human lives. Yes, we believe coffee benefits human lives. The details of the project and their respective objectives will always be located on our website.

For example, we're establishing a project based on Water Filtration Systems in Myanmar, with Behind the Leaf Coffee based in Pinlaung, Shan State, which will launch with our fresh-crop offerings from our recent trip in February 2018. This particular project will impact a coffee producing village called Hti Ta Maung, where clean water is not easily accessible. Our goal is to provide a more sustainable lifestyle to the members of this village by providing Water Filtration Systems and ensuring access to clean drinking water. By donating $1 per bag, we're able to fund a Water Filtration System for every 15 bags, donating up to 140 systems by the end of this season.

 


88+. This is a quality marker. In our practice, we use a 100 point scale to quantify the quality of a coffee through a process called cupping. This process is an international standard for tasting and evaluating coffee quality, and we ultimately use it to select and purchase coffee when visiting producers, to profile and understand how to best roast a coffee, then to ensure quality control standards are kept up through our production roasts. The Specialty Coffee Association defines Specialty Coffee as a clean, sweet and defect-free coffee that scores above 80 points on this scale. We use 85 points as our baseline for coffees we purchase. If you see this 88+ icon on a bag of beans, that means it's a dynamic, more intriguing and more thought provoking cup of coffee that quantifies a higher quality score than the average. These are the creme de la creme offerings within our menu, with just a handful coming from each country we source per season.

For example; Let's say a coffee scores 90 points on the cupping table. In order to garner this score, this coffee is evaluated in 10 categories - fragrance/aroma, flavor, acidity, body, aftertaste, sweetness, balance, uniformity, cleanliness and overall. Each of these categories is out of 10 points, based on intensities and complexities. A coffee that scores 90 points, will be complex, expressive and will continually call you back for another sip. Similar to a high end wine or whiskey, where sip after sip, the flavor shifts slightly, the experience changes and your left with a thought provoking flavor sensation. Using the example of La Palma y El Tucan coffees described above, the Natural Sidra lot 129 which we used at the 2018 World Barista Championship has complex flavors derived by citrus qualities like orange blossom, fresh mandarin orange and candied citrus, there are green grape-like qualities that define the acidity, a creamy and coating presence to the mouthfeel, and a long after taste with big, luscious sweetness. That's a 91 point coffee. This coffee, as well as all coffees on our menu are not flavored artificially, but instead are naturally occurring flavor compounds impacted by variety, terroir, processing, roasting and brewing.

 

Green. This icon indicates a coffee producers dedication to sustainable agriculture and respect for the planet. It's challenging for a small scale coffee producer to put up the financial investment of Organic Certification, or Frog Friendly, or Rainforest Alliance. We created this icon to represent the producers who put the Earth first, respect their surroundings and avoid the usage of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. This icon is for the producers who don't see the return on investment when certified by a large entity like listed above. 

For example; we've been purchasing from a farm in Costa Rica, called Anonos, for three seasons now. The first year we visited brothers Marvin and Felipe, they were organic certified and their farm was incredibly lush, with fertile soils and beautiful, healthy plants. The next year we visited, they told us they were no longer certified but they were still practicing organic practices. The plants and the soils looked identical, and the coffees we tasted from that season were consistent or improved over the previous year. The only difference was they weren't paying into the certification anymore because they felt they didn't receive any of the promised assistance or support. So this is our way of showcasing to you and to them, that we trust their practices are organic and we as an industry can continue to thrive without large scale corporate certifications.

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For now these four icons will roll out with each bag of coffee that we launch going forward. Every coffee on our menu is and will be qualified to take on one or more of these icons. As we continue to source coffees, learn and develop best practices, we'll continue to build on each of these certifications seeing them through to their furthest potential. They'll live as ever-evolving, ever-developing and never-quite-finished concepts. We believe they'll help us establish our relationships with the passionate people who produce the coffees we get the opportunity to work with and ultimately bring the best coffees to our community, while working to brighten theirs.

Hopefully this brings light to coffee's value chain and clarity to our buying practices. Making it easier for us to share and communicate the unique story behind each bag of wonderful coffee.

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