Six years ago, Seattle-born brothers Tommy and Tim Thwaites borrowed some money from their parents to launch Coda Coffee, a metro Denver roaster that drew on the their combined three decades of experience in the industry. A year or two into their venture, the brothers started focusing more on the people who were growing the beans they were roasting.
"We do origin trips a lot, and we developed relationships over time," Tommy explains. "We wanted to get more involved."
And they didn't want to just work through something like Fairtrade International, a multi-national organization that evaluates businesses and tries to secure better deals for producers. "Organizations like Fairtrade do a good job, but we wanted to get out of the bureaucracy," Tommy explains.
So instead, the brothers began investing in communities where they knew the growers personally, helping producers improve their coffee and spread wealth around the community. And now they've rolled out the Farm2Cup program, which will help their consumers connect directly to those communities.
"We decided to brand those specific coffees that we can track down to the farm level," Tommy explains. The brothers pay a premium for those coffees and in return, he notes, "We ask several things from the farmers."
Things like reinvestment at the farm level. "When we go visit that farm again the next year to cup and analyze it, we ask that quality always be on the rise, whether that comes from new equipment or technology," he says. Improving the coffee on a community level benefits everyone, he adds, because better coffee pulls in higher premiums. So while they're paying for top-notch beans, they're also encouraging cross-pollination between growers so that everyone can raise the caliber of their production.
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But this move isn't just about coffee quality, either. "If we're going to pay a premium at the farm level, they need to reinvest in both infrastructure and quality of life," says the roaster. "We also want them to invest in community -- do their schools have enough books? Desks?" He cites fundraisers in El Salvador that benefitted local schools and building projects in Guatemala that came as a result of the money Coda infused into the community.
Eventually, the brothers want to have this kind of involvement in every community that grows coffee beans for them. "It takes time," Tommy explains. "It's not all of our coffees. We have six or seven under the Farm2Cup line." Buying those coffees, though, ensures that money will return to the community from which those beans came, fostering growth and development.
Coda is mostly a wholesale line, so you can look for Farm2Cup coffees at any restaurant or coffeeshop that serves Coda. You can also purchase beans directly through the Coda Coffee website.