Q&A with Equator Coffee Roasters
Hailing from Almonte, Ontario, a small town just outside Ottawa is Equator Coffee Roasters. We caught up with Craig Hall, the Founder, to learn how the coffee industry has changed since they started (25 years ago!) and their Fair Trade and B Corp certifications.
-What is Equator’s origin story?
I learned about Fair Trade Coffee in 1998 while studying international development. I love the idea of participating in a business that could benefit people in the South and provide a product that was needed in the North.
We started roasting with a small cafe, and then when we moved into our current facility in Almonte in 2011 and put in a larger cafe. We began roasting on a 10-kilo Toper roaster and now use a 90-kilo Probat. We now have five cafes in Ottawa.
As we have progressed, buying coffee has become more sophisticated. We now make sure we get really good coffee but consistency with long-term relationships with farmer cooperatives is what we are really focused on.
-What is your green sourcing ethos?
We source most of our coffee through Cooperative Coffee. It is a unique operation owned by roasters. We purchase containers directly from the cooperative and then share those lots amongst our roasters. We really focus on having long-term relationships with the producers we work with. We also have a cupping staff at our Montreal-based office that tastes all the coffees.
Cooperative Coffee exceeds Fair Trade standards, but we keep the name and the logo. The strange thing about the industry is that if the coffee price is low, the coffee farmers can actually be under the cost of production. That means they're subsidizing our coffee in Canada or the United States and losing money. The idea with Fair Trade is that it tried to give a basic minimum price that covers the cost of production. An interesting thing about some changes in how we write out contracts, which are more like direct trade, is that we increase our price for an increase in quality. We're trying to incentivize higher quality and maintain our long-term relationships.
-You guys are B Corp certified. Can you tell me more about that and the process?
B Corp is interesting because it makes the company's stakeholders and employees an important aspect of the whole business. It is trying to raise the standard of how businesses perceive themselves by saying other stakeholders, besides the shareholders, are an important part of the business. I used to say, 'I am not a capitalist,' but capitalism is the best system; it has just been divorced from ethics. So with B Corp, you have that ethical part.
The process of becoming certified is quite involved. You go through an audit, and once you receive B Corp certification, there's a requirement to improve your base score every year. So there's a continual improvement aspect, which I think is valuable as well.