How do we guarantee the quality of your cup of Oxfam Fair Trade coffee?
As the most sold fair-trade coffee in Belgium, Oxfam coffee has the biggest impact on the coffee farmers’ living conditions. That’s why we do it. But we also want to provide you with the very best coffee. Because it’s thanks to you choosing Oxfam coffee that we’re able to achieve so much in the South. How do we ensure that the fair-trade coffee you serve your customers and employees is of the highest quality? Read more here.
In theory, coffee seems like a simple product. The berries grow on a plant, are picked and the beans removed. The beans are then dried, roasted and ground. Voilà…ready for consumption! Of course, in reality there’s a lot more to producing good coffee than just this.
Focus on the quality of both coffee farming and processing.
Where and how coffee is grown influences the flavour and aroma. This is why we work with small-scale coffee farmers in cooperatives rather than enormous plantations. It’s also why we select sustainably-produced coffee from the best coffee regions in the world, such as Yirgachefe in Ethiopia, the Kivu highlands in the Congo and the flanks of the Andes Mountains in Peru.
In addition, every step of the production process requires thorough quality control: from berry to cup. We, our coffee cooperatives and coffee processors all take this very seriously.
Oxfam Fair Trade coffee is tasted and approved at least 5 times before it arrives on the shop shelves. This is done in our own coffee lab, our producers’ lab in the South and at our roasters here in Belgium. And always according to a standardised method developed and certified by an independent control institute.
Producing high quality is extremely labour intensive. From the harvest to roasting, this is only possible with continuous strict control and selection.
Only the best coffee berries
It starts in the field: our producers only pick the ripest, darkest red coffee berries. By hand. To get the best quality, processing the coffee as fast as possible after picking is crucial. They are washed in large basins of water the very same day. The berries that float to the top are no good and are removed.
The flesh of the coffee berries is then removed by machine so the pits – the coffee beans – can ferment. After one to one and a half days, they are laid out to dry. During the drying period of a few weeks, specialised people work daily to remove the bad beans by hand. This is done based on the colour of the beans.
Determining quality using calibrated methods
After the drying period, the cooperative’s coffee specialist roasts and tastes a sample of the coffee for the first time. This is a quality control to estimate how the end product will taste. When the producer’s professional cupper is satisfied, a sample of the coffee batch is sent to Oxfam Fair Trade.
In the Oxfam Fair Trade coffee lab, we roast and cup the sample from our partner. According to the SCAA protocol, we taste the coffee to determine all the flavours it has to offer, from honey to raspberries, chestnuts to whisky. You won’t believe how many different flavours an experienced cupper can discover in a cup of coffee.
During the tasting, we also search for any possible ‘defects’. These are flavours that you should absolutely never find in your cup of coffee. The worst is a potato taste, caused by beetles that bore through the coffee berries (see video). But a fermentation taste – mould or phenol – are clear signs that we must reject the batch that the coffee sample came from.
Thanks to excellent monitoring by our coffee cooperatives, after cupping we almost always give the green light to have the entire batch shipped. Even more: we purchase coffee that has been awarded SCAA’s ‘excellent’ score. And did you know that 2 out of 3 of Oxfam Fair Trade coffees are also fair trade bio?
Taste, roast and taste again
As soon as the coffee arrives at the Port of Antwerp, Oxfam Fair Trade tests another sample. The results are compared with the sample scores before shipping.
In order to serve our customers the freshest coffee possible, we never roast massive amounts at one time. It’s not until the stock of roasted Oxfam Fair Trade coffee starts running low that the green coffee is sent from the port warehouse to the coffee roaster.
The master roaster checks the green coffee just before roasting. He wants to be certain of the quality before he starts roasting larger batches, and sometimes blending. He cups one last time after roasting to ensure that the flavour, degree of roasting, etc. meet the criteria agreed upon with Oxfam Fair Trade.
Quality check and double check
The coffee is now ready to go to the customers, but there’s still one final check to be done by Oxfam Fair Trade’s coffee experts. We ourselves taste the coffee from every single batch produced before a single package lands on the shelves.
All boxes ticked? Then our drivers set off on their way to deliver the best fair-trade coffee to your customers, visitors and employees.
Our coffee aficionados the world over independently confirm this quality. Renowned baristas in Belgium choose Oxfam Fair Trade coffee for their creations. Our Congo coffee from the Sopacdi cooperative enjoys international success: once the winner of the SPP Café Awards and a finalist in other years. Members of Comsa, our coffee partner from Honduras, frequently win the ‘Cup of Excellence’ award in their own country.
In addition to the highest quality, we of course also provide the fairest coffee with great service. “As a large company, we can certainly recommend a collaboration with Oxfam Fair Trade. Not just for the fantastic service and quality but also the sustainability that this partnership endorses,” says Mady Verlaeckt from our client Den Azalee.