A week at Twin

Posted by Alice Penn on 3 June 2019

Last week Alice Penn was in the office for a week of work experience. Alice is 17 and studying for her A-Levels. She wanted to get a taste of working life in an international NGO, so we welcomed her and introduced her to the world of coffee. At the end of her week at Twin, she wrote some reflections about the sector and the work we do.

Before spending time at Twin, I had never considered how many variables contribute to my daily cup of coffee. Nor had I considered the pressure the industry is under to remain sustainable, nor the extent to which it is profitable.

Speciality coffee (and ground coffee as a whole) is new to me, and I have loved learning about the different varieties available and the techniques to ensure you achieve the best taste. I’ve had an amazing opportunity to experience this first-hand by standing in on a coffee cupping and discussing the individual flavours of a range of coffees. It’s something that has made me think about and the way coffee tastes in a completely different, unique way.

During my week at Twin I also spent some time researching the industry. I learned about the significant pressure the industry is facing, with producers now earning some of the lowest rates ever for their coffee. This was confusing to me due to the high prices I see coffee being sold for on the high street. It caused me to question the ethics within the industry, and the conflicting importance of producer welfare and consumer satisfaction.

The current unsustainability of the coffee industry has pushed many young people to move away from coffee farming, pursuing jobs in urban areas which can give them a guaranteed income and livelihood. This move would cause the number of coffee producers to significantly decrease, making the commodity more rare and therefore more expensive. Such fluctuations provoked me to view the price and availability of coffee in a cyclical way - it can be seen to vary depending on the amount of coffee being grown.

This would perhaps indicate that the price producers are being paid for their produce is expected to rise. However, I believe, farmers should be given a fair price irrespective of the amount of coffee available, as well as a price that will allow them to sustain a livelihood for both their families and communities.

I am now beginning to understand more about the relationship between producer and consumer and how companies such as Twin actively improve this dynamic. Research into cooperatives that Twin works closely with such as Pangoa in Peru and Vuasu in Tanzania has allowed me to learn about the work being done to close this gap; whether this is through gender work using Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS), or trading with a ‘fair trade’ mindset. Perceptions within the industry are changing and the focus on improving this further is inspiring.

The knowledge I have gained over the past few days will influence my choice of coffee in the future - prioritising sustainability and taste over affordability and even ease. I now realise that it is our role, as the consumer, to dictate how we want the coffee industry to look. We can do this through buying responsibly sourced, environmentally friendly and ethically bought coffee which actively promotes justice and fairness.