As an artisan speciality coffee roaster, primarily we seek very high-quality coffee from reliable and consistent producers sourced according to our code of conduct for ethical sourcing. This encompasses working conditions that achieve International Labour Organization standards and evidence that environmental pollution on the farm is minimized. In return, the farmers who produce our green coffee need regular and reliable orders and prompt payment for their coffee.

The Fairtrade programme definitely set the tone for socially sustainable coffee. The theory behind Fairtrade is that producers are provided with a safety net, a guaranteed minimum price for their coffee.

The one thing that is never really mentioned by Fairtrade is quality, which is completely at odds with what the discerning coffee drinker wants – a great tasting cup.

At Union Hand-Roasted Coffee we have developed an initiative, which we call ‘Union Direct Trade’ that is based on excellence and ethical trade. Crucially, the model recognizes quality as the key to commercial success and we inspire farmers to focus on increasing quality for a better price, not quantity for a minimum price.

Why does our Union Direct Trade Model matter?

In 2012, 430,000 metric tons of Fairtrade certified coffee was produced, but only 30% was sold under Fairtrade conditions. Despite investment in certification, farmers would only receive the baseline commodity prices for the remaining 70% of their crop.

World markets will always limit positive social impact from a coffee value-chain that is founded on the basis of Fairtrade certification. In 2013 the average world market price for Colombian Mild Arabica was USD$1.48/lb. which is 8cents/lb greater than the Fairtrade minimum price, not including the optional 20c social premium.

Union is a roaster and importer and we paid at least double the Fairtrade base during 2013 as the farm gate price to producers. For some of our coffees we pay prices achieving ten times above the Fairtrade price. If it tastes delicious, we want that coffee.

In consuming countries, Fairtrade justifies a minimum price standard by persuading consumers that they are helping poor producers. This is achieved through marketing campaigns which requires significant investment.

We believe that a more sustainable approach, which benefits both the coffee farmer and coffee drinker, would be to develop a model based on quality, accessible to all farmers and not limited to the Fairtrade model which only operates with Co-operatives. Such an approach would encourage innovation, growth and economic progress by rewarding excellence.

Why is there a need for a focus on quality?

A farmer who produces high quality coffee and has the capacity to evaluate the quality he has produced will know how to assess what a buyer like Union is looking for and that farmer will have a stronger negotiation position compared to a farmer who trades on “ethical value added” alone.

Paying farmers more money for their coffee should not be about charity – it should be a way to reward and ensure the quality of the coffee and the circumstances under which it is produced and processed. Paying for high quality and ethics, instead of ethics alone is a way to ensure sustainable prosperity for farmers.

Union Direct Trade

Graciano-still-300x165Graciano Cruz, explains why he benefits from our Union Direct Trade approach

‘Union Direct Trade’ is based on coffee excellence and ethical trade, allowing farmers to trace their coffee as it moves upstream in the value chain. We encourage farmers to think about, and ask, questions like: ‘Who roasts my coffee? Who drinks my coffee? What price is my coffee sold in the UK?’ Many farmers in the world would not even know what country their coffee is sold to, let alone who roasts and drinks it. Likewise, many roasters in the world do not know where their specialty coffee comes from; which country or region, let alone which farm.

Looking at it from a farmers’ point of view, do you want people to buy your coffee because you are labeled as someone who is poor? Or because they enjoy drinking it and they appreciate the delicious flavours?

Even though the concern for ethical practices is as important as quality, the selling point of coffee should be centered on high quality. Consumers might buy a cause-related product once, but if it doesn’t taste great, in the long run, they will return to what they actually want to drink or eat.

Our Union Direct Trade model, with a focus on traceable and delicious tasting coffees brings responsibility for consumer, roaster and farmer. This approach is certainly not an easy way for us to source our coffee, as it requires our presence in the field almost throughout the year working with farmers. And it also introduces complexities trying to explain our trading approach to consumers.

The goal of Union Direct Trade is to maintain our engagement in long-term sustainable relationships with producers. Farmers and roasters should be friends and collaborate. And to achieve this we must share goals and visions. If not, the relationship becomes co-ordination, or co-operation which is driven by one party. Driven by one party it will most likely serve the needs of just one party.

Huehuetenango, Guatemala – an example of a successful non-Fairtrade certified Co-operative

Mountain-view-0843Todos Santos mountain view


Iliana Martinez has been the driving force behind many of the positive developments we’ve observed with the coffee producers we source from in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Iliana oversees the production, quality and exportation of the coffee produced by 216 small coffee producers of Esquipulas, located in the highlands of Huehuetenango. We have seen this cooperative strengthen, and increase yields of higher quality coffee over the past few years.

For us, this cooperative is a good example of a non-Fairtrade Co-operative that invests significantly in its community. If we take Coffee Leaf Rust disease as an example; this disease causes coffee trees to lose their leaves, resulting in fewer beans and inferior quality. It is estimated that 70% of the coffee crop in Guatemala has been blighted. However, Esquipulas has been able to reinvest profits in its farmers and in 2013 created a Coffee Rust plan to mitigate from the effects of the disease. The cooperative provided members with agricultural tools such as fertilizer and protective equipment for the farmer. The results are highly noticeable when comparing their healthy farms against their disease stricken neighbours who are not members of the Co-operative.

Besides investing in quality and good agricultural practices, the cooperative has worked on improving the socio-economic circumstances of its family members. When we started working with this cooperative in 2009, they were trying to extricate from an unhealthy trading relationship with other buyers. Today, they can proudly say that export volumes have increased 2.5 times since 2009, and they have established sustainable prices for their coffee – at an average of double the Fairtrade minimum price.

Understanding our trading initiative will require extra effort from consumers compared with buying a pack of coffee with a succinct logo; but we think it’s more effective for the farmer and more pleasurable for the customer.

Pascale Schuit
Union Sustainable Relationship Manager

Before this week’s UKBC Superheat, we caught up with another UKBC newcomer to find out about his journey to this year’s competition.

Meet Adrian Bytniewski

Adrian 23, is from Poland and worked as a bartender and then as a chef until his friend introduced him to great coffee. Since then Adrian says ” I just got addicted to it”.

Adrian decided to enter this year’s competition after his friend showed him the World Barista Championship videos on Youtube.

“After watching some videos, I started to look for something like that in UK. For me this competition is an amazing chance to learn and meet new people in the industry, I think that made me enter the UKBC this year.”

Adrian got his first taste of the world of barista competitions at the 2013 Union Barista Championship. He enjoyed the competition and it gave him the confidence to enter UKBC.

Having worked with our coffee for the last 20 months, selecting coffee to use in the competition was quite easy.

“I always loved coffee with fruity notes, also I’m a big fan of coffee from Latin America. When I tried Los Lajones for the first time I knew that’s going to be the one to use for the UKBC.

Adrian is taking the competition seriously and tries to practice everyday.

He has worked as a barista for over 2 years now and enjoys every minute on the job.

“After joining Urban Coffee Company I got a chance to get to know coffee better. I’ve started to drink more, and more different coffees, and then my ”mentor” Arthur Pach (former head barista at urban coffee) explained to me what’s important in this industry “.

In his spare time, you will probably find him reading a book, at the cinema or cooking a nice meal for friends (with a freshly brewed coffee on his aeropress).

For anyone who wants to be a barista he says,

“Listen carefully to who mentors you, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes, without them you won’t learn.”

Once again we are sponsors of this year’s UK Barista Championships (UKBC) and the UKBC Newcomer Award. This year we decided to follow some newcomers to the competition.

Meet Jana Slamova

Jana is entering the UKBC competition for the first time. We got in touch with her to find out a little about her and her journey to UKBC.

Jana will be competing with Don Altizo, also from BaxterStorey. Don placed in the top 6 of the 2013 UKBC.  After trying several coffees, she has decided to use  our Fazendas Bobolink, Natural, the coffee that won her our barista competition last year.

“It really is one of the best I have tried, and I am excited to compete with it because I feel like I know it well.”

Training for the competition is intense as she gets one or two days per week in the BaxterStory Barista Academy in central London.

Jana says “I am always thinking about my routine and my signature drink.”

Jana 26, comes from a diverse creative background. Before moving to London, she worked as a dance and fitness instructor in her home country; Czech republic. So how did she then develop her love for the coffee world?

Getting started in coffee

Amazingly, Jana was not a coffee drinker before moving to London, but now she enjoys her favourite coffee drink; a flat white.

Her first job in the UK was working at Gail’s Artisan Bakery. During her time there she developed her passion for good coffee.

 ” The first job I had in London was with Gail’s, they were using Union Hand-Roasted Coffee and they provided great training that really inspired me to learn more.”

Jana has only worked as a barista for 2 years but her skills have developed quickly, making her a valuable employee at her current job with BaxterStorey.  She enjoys this role because they are passionate about coffee and also have their own barista academy which is unusual in contract catering.

We asked Jana for the advice she would give anyone who wants to become a barista her response was,

“Love coffee. Be willing to learn and if they aren’t teaching you, find a job where they will. Being a great barista takes skill, I didn’t know that when I started….”

Training on the job

In her spare time Jana is still involved with dance, but is really enjoying learning about coffee.

“I am in the BaxterStorey Coffee Specialist program, which is an 18-month development program.  At the end of it, I will be a certified “coffee geek” with a Coffee Diploma from the SCAE. This is cool because it is also the same qualification I can achieve back home in the Czech Republic.”

Last year,  Jana was asked to compete at UKBC by the Head of the Barista Academy, Tim Sturk but was too scared. This year, she feels a lot more confident which she attributes to Tim who saw great potential in her and was persistent.

“He was impressed by my skills and desire to learn more and to be better.  He convinced me to compete.”

Rising star

In November 2013, Jana entered our Barista Competition.

“This was my first taste of a coffee competition and I won it! Initially, I think Tim wanted to enter a few baristas from BaxterStorey but we were only allowed one barista per company. He asked me because my managers were very supportive and keen for me to compete.  I still can’t believe I won; someone saw this potential in me that I didn’t see.”

Jana’s signature drink for Union Hand Roasted Barista Championship: a delicious combination of organic dark morello cherry compote, Fazendas Bobolink espresso and double cream.



Maricela Elizabeth Ochoa de Valdivieso runs a very special farm. Although their output is small, just a few bags of beans each season, they focus meticulously at each stage of production.

All the grandchildren called their grandmother Mama Dalia, and when Maricela inherited the farm from her, she renamed it in her memory. Maricela lives on the farm with her husband, Javier and four children. She has been growing coffee for four seasons; producing Bourbon and some Pacamara varietals.

The soil of the farm is extremely rich in organic material which supports the coffee that is grown under shade-trees; most are leguminosae of various species and also  Cyprus, Tangerine and Plantain. The farm employs 8 men and 2 female full-time workers.

All the coffee is produced as Honey process which means that during milling, the mucilage from the pulpy fruit is retained and dries to produce a sticky honey residue on the bean. This contributes fabulous sweetness to the cup which results in this wonderfully sweet and fruited coffee.


How to serve

As an espresso: very juicy and syrupy, has red berry coulis notes with silky milk chocolate notes finish.

With milk: we recommend it as a Macchiato, Piccolo, Flat White (between 3-5oz). Has notes of ripe cherry jammie dodger, hint of cocoa powder and caramel.

Served as a filter: starts with winey red apple, followed by kiwi and toffee notes. Syrupy body. Clean and mouth-watering finish.

Reminds us of

Discover the beans

Mama Dalia, Natural, Pacamara, El Salvador

Beautifully balanced tart blackcurrant against sweet mango-like flavours. Depth is from base notes of milk chocolate with a long syrupy sweet mouthfeel.

Varietal – Pacamara

Process – Honey

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