Return to Origin: An Experiment in Mutual Aid in the Coffee Industry

When we began the Return to Origin article series, we envisioned a space of dialogue. One that would inform, listen, and discuss ways to decolonize our coffee mentalities. The logical progression was to create a tangible manifestation of that vision; to return value and equality to producers. This is why we decided to create our Return to Origin Blend. 

Our intention behind this blend is based on the idea of Mutual Aid. Which is a very straight forward idea to understand: co-operation for the sake of the common good. But when understood as a concept, it takes on a deeper meaning.

The modern world is a capitalist one. And yes, capitalism can uplift people out of poverty can inspire people to do amazing things. BUT, capitalism is motivated by profit. Full stop. And outside of a profit motive, there are many tasks that capitalism cannot and will not accomplish: addressing the climate crisis, eliminating preventable diseases, or eradicating poverty. 

Humanity has a natural inclination towards Mutual Aid, yet our society often works against that idea. Ultimately capitalism is just another power structure that prefers an atomized populace as to better exert control and exploitative practices. In the coffee industry, such exploitation manifests as inequality in wealth, security, and agency. The depth of this inequality runs so deep that producers receive only 5-10% of profits from a coffee industry that is projected to be worth over 237$ billion by 2025.*  

For us, this is unacceptable. Something needs to be, and can be done. While the idea of giving increased profits back to producers isn't a new idea. Many coffee companies donate portions of sales back to producers—50 cents, a dollar. These acts of kindness are great first steps in equalizing the relationship between origin and consumers, but we want to change the game.

With the Return to Origin blend, we are attempting an experiment of sorts. The intention is to see how much profit we can give back to origin, while still running a financially viable business. Unfortunately, as a small business, we cannot dismantle capitalism on our own—we can't necessarily affect the price paid for the coffee at origin. But we do have options available to us, and this is where the Mutual Aid aspect comes into play. 

For this blend, we are asking our customers to pay a bit more for coffee. While at the same time, for each bag sold, we are taking a minimal margin to cover rent, salaries, and operating costs, the rest of the profit will be split 50/50 with the origin. Here is a more detailed breakdown of what will be returned to the producers for each size of bag sold**:

  • 227g --- 3.50$
  • 1 lb. ----- 6.50$
  • 2 lbs. ---- 15.00$
  • 5 lbs. ----- 30.00$

The reason we want to do this is simple. The relationship between producer and consumer is unequal. Nearly all quality originates at origin. And producers are wholly responsible for that creation of that quality. That means, cultivation of low-yield, high-risk geshas, sophisticated wet mills, sorting facilities, etc. are nearly all on the producers to finance. All this on less than 10% of the share of profits. 

Again, this is unacceptable.

So, for this first Return to Origin blend, we will be working with our partners at Yunnan Coffee Traders to help with infrastructure development. While discussing the needs of the producers in the Guiben region with Josh from Yunnan Coffee Traders, he informed us that their next immediate need are new drying installations. These installations are realistically attainable—6000$ total. So the money committed from this blend can make a real difference in these people's lives. 

We want to work towards a more equitable form of capitalism. One where everyone can fairly share in the benefits of their labor. Where business can not only be run sustainably and ethically, but prosper. We want a coffee industry where acts of mutual aid are not the outlier, rather it's just the way business is done.

___

Footnotes:

* "Coffee Shops - Global Markets Trajectory & Analytics," report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc.

** This is an average return we estimate. Factors like shipping destinations could alter the amount. 

Leave a comment