Today’s New York Times featured an article on how the upper echelon of coffee roasters pursue the finest cup the world over: To Burundi and Beyond for Coffee’s Holy Grail – New York Times. Introducing a number of America’s celebrity roasters, including Stumptown and Intelligentsia, the article touches on some of the key tools of today’s trade: direct trade, professional coffee cuppings (no shoehorned wine-tasting metaphors allowed here), and coffee tasting competitions such as the Cup of Excellence.

Bypassing co-operative-based systems such as Fair Trade, Direct Trade (a term popularized by Intelligentsia’s buyer, Geoff Watts) is a model for how individual roasters can directly buy from farmers. The roasters help ensure living wages, sustainability, social infrastructure, and environmentally friendly practices for the growers they work with. But, unlike Fair Trade, there is a stronger incentive to create truly better quality coffee in the process. (This is precisely the sort of niche green coffee buying that Starbucks is too large to do anymore.)