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As you walk around the SCAA Atlanta show today, you will likely see a group of Royal Coffee traders, suppliers, and roasters wearing green shirts proudly emblazoned with the word MIDDLEMAN. While this is undeniably tongue-in-cheek, there is an underlying message we hope to convey.

Over the past decade no single term in our industry has been as bandied about, or as misunderstood, as Direct Trade. Does it mean vertical integration? Importing your own coffee? Cutting out the Middleman? If that were the criteria, only a handful of very well-heeled firms could claim the mantle as their own.

For most, Direct Trade now has a lot less to do with logistics, and a lot more to do with principle. Simply put, Direct Trade is about rewarding the people who produce excellent quality coffee by paying them excellent prices. Now, more than ever, Middlemen are essential to this process. Without the sourcers, millers, exporters, importers and warehousemen who link the chain together logistically, financially, and qualitatively, there would be no coffee industry to celebrate. It is a business of relationships, after all.

So this weekend as you walk the floor and see a Middleman or Woman in one of those green shirts, go ahead and thank them for what they do. And after that, thank yourself. Because, really, unless you are the guy who grew the coffee or the person drinking it, you are a Middleman yourself.