Clean beans

Toko Restaurant & Bar in Sydney: “It’s up to us to educate our customers about fair trade coffee and tea,” says bar manager, Paul Birtwistle.

Toko Restaurant & Bar in Sydney: “It’s up to us to educate our customers about fair trade coffee and tea,” says bar manager, Paul Birtwistle.

Everyone knows coffee and tea can significantly impact your yield per-head, but are consumers becoming more picky about issues like fair trade and sustainable production?

Toko Restaurant & Bar, located in the heart of Sydney’s Surry Hills, was set up to offer diners the chance to experience the informal style of Japanese “izakaya” dining. Bar manager Paul Birtwistle admits they hadn’t really given a second thought to the brand of tea or coffee they’d be serving—but when they settled on a supplier, they found themselves inspired by some of the philosophies behind the fair-trade movement.

“When we first opened, we looked at the various coffee suppliers around town and we spoke with Numero Uno, and we liked their philosophy generally,” says Birtwistle. “When they mentioned their Rainforest Alliance certification, we just thought it fitted with what we wanted to do here. It was really them informing us, though—we didn’t seek them out for that reason. It’s now up to us to educate our customers about it.”

All of the old insights about the margin on a cup of tea or coffee still apply nowadays. Perhaps more important to remember is that a cup of tea or coffee is the last thing a customer will have before leaving your restaurant—so will be leaving them with their last impression of what you offer. “I went into a pricey restaurant the other day, and at the end of the meal, tea came out with a tea bag dangling from the pot,” says Gina Di Brita, director of Numero Uno. “I was disappointed for them—I mean, you can have a tea bag any time at home.”

But another phenomenon will soon start to affect your tea and coffee menu. In line with a growing interest in sustainable business and environmental issues, large producers have been trumpeting their ‘fair trade’ principles. You can buy Rainforest Alliance Lipton teabags at the supermarket. Roasters and chains like Toby’s Estate, Primo Coffee and River Roast coffee all promote their use of Fair Trade coffee to trade and consumers. TV ads for the products boast images of smiling, well-fed plantation workers happily picking beans and leaves in exotic, perpetually sunny conditions.

Although it’s only a matter of time before consumers begin specifically requesting fair trade, organic or single-origin coffees
(if they’re not already), it seems to be distributors first, and restaurateurs second, who are driving the trend.

“I admit I wasn’t really aware of what being Rainforest Alliance Certified meant when we started,” says Birtwistle. “You read about it, but I never really had an inclination to research it further until I sat down with the Numero Uno people—and it was a really big part of why we eventually decided to go with those guys.

“Our original plan when we started here was that over time, as we settled down business-wise, we were going to use more organic, sustainable and seasonal products—it was just a matter of where we can offer it to people.”

At present, he says, “We rarely get asked about it by customers—it’s more an issue of whether we mention it on the menu itself.”

The sell

But whether they like it or not, consumers are getting educated about fair trade movements. Fair trade is simply a social movement committed to seeing produce farmers from developing nations receive fair market value for their products. The Rainforest Alliance is an international body that works with individuals, communities and companies whose livelihoods depend on the land to reduce environmental impacts and increase social and economic benefits.

Lipton boast on their website that half of their black and yellow label tea in Australia comes from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms, and they aim to achieve full certification by 2015.

Dilmah, meanwhile, boast their tea has always been ethically produced, being from a single origin, with revenue from global sales shared with tea plantation workers and underprivileged people in the wider community through the work of the MJF Charitable Foundation (if you want to find out more, go to

For her part, Gina Di Brita originally looked to the fair trade movement as an acceptable alternative to supplying organic coffee. “I saw a need in the market for fair trade and sustainable products a long time ago,” she says. “At the time we started up, in New South Wales at least, no-one was onto that. I actually introduced a 100 per cent certified Rainforest Alliance blend as part of my blend a year into starting the company. At the time the organic certification process for coffee was lengthy and overly complex, discouraging me from going down that path. The certified organic coffees are fantastic, but the appeal of a not-for-profit network such as  Rainforest Alliance was more transparent and accessible at the time, encompassing both fair trade and organic principles.”


The issue of consistency is a challenge faced by all coffee roasters, and the maintenance of consistency is a key selling point of many of the larger roasters like Grinders. For smaller outfits this could have the potential to be a problem, but according to Di Brita, the skill of the roaster can counter that issue easily.

“If one part of the blend is not available, we will source a similar but higher grade coffee that may even be slightly more in cost, but close to the flavour profile our customers are used to,” says Di Brita. “So this way we can maintain quality and unique characteristics of the blend.

“Even if an origin is different, the cupping process that we use obsessively every day ensures the flavour profiles of our blends don’t change dramatically, so the integrity of the blend remains the same.”

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