Direct trade is a term used in the coffee industry to denote coffee bought straight from the growers, cutting out some of middlemen in the supply chain and also the organisations that control certifications (eg. Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance). Advocates of direct trade say their model is the best because coffee roasters build mutually beneficial and respectful relationships with individual producers or cooperatives in coffee-producing countries. The overriding reason roasters build direct trade relationships is the quality of the coffee. However, because of the relational nature of direct trade they also invest heavily in social and environmental support, and often pay premium prices.
The main difficulty with direct trade coffee for consumers, is that there is no standard agreement about what it means, so the consumer has to make their own judgement about each coffee they buy. This issue is fast being reaoslved by modern communications technologies making for more transparent supply chains. Many of the leading specialty coffee roasters name their coffees by farm origin and have active blogs showing their latest trips to partner farms. Often a simple question about the source of the coffee is met with a warm story about the farm from which the coffee comes. These specialty roasters want their customers to take an interest in the whole story of the coffee bean, and to educate themselves about great coffee, both in terms of taste and ethics. Direct trade is a very labour intensive and expensive approach, and therefore you can expect to pay a premium price for the coffee.