Sustainable and Fair Trade Coffee: What to Look for In Every Sip

coffee beans

Sustainable and Fair Trade coffees are many, but do you know what matters most when making your coffee purchases? Learn what to look for when seeking out an environmentally friendly & ethical cup of joe.

Coffee is a beverage that many of us enjoy on a daily basis (considering the U.S. is the world’s top consumer of coffee) without considering its impact on the Earth or the route it takes from the farm to our morning mug. The detrimental effects of many large scale coffee growing operations is evident from the destruction of tropical ecosystems. And the fact that most of the developed world’s coffee is grown by poor farmers in the developing world, presents a moral dilemma. To add to the alarming complications, coffee is part of the commodity market, basically meaning that Wall Street controls the featured blend of the month more than any farmers ability to produce it. So what do you do to find a sustainable or Fair Trade cup of coffee? Know what to look for, and keep asking questions until you find it!

This is fairly obvious to most of us by now, as organically grown plants are far better for the planet and people. Non-organically grown coffee plants and beans are heavily treated with pesticides, which workers–and eventually coffee drinkers–are exposed to. Always choose organic coffee (and other products)!

Shade grown
Coffee is a food product that most of the Western world consumes on a daily basis, regardless of the fluctuations in season, weather patterns, pollination and environmental conditions affecting coffee crops. The high demand for this commodity has turned it into a money making scheme for many large brands, who don’t mind cutting down large forests to grow this “black gold”.  To avoid this ecosystem destroying cultivation method, choose shade grown coffee that is grown under intact forest canopy. Although there is no specific certification for shade grown coffee, you’ll likely find information by contacting the company or asking at coffee shops.

Fair Trade
Probably the most common certification you’ll find amongst coffee distributors, the Fair Trade symbol indicates that the farmers involved in growing the beans are part of a democratically run coop. This means that they receive fair wages, use no child labor and use a limited amount of pesticides. Although a Fair Trade coffee certification indicates a step toward more eco-friendly cup of coffee, it alone is not enough to call the coffee sustainable, so definitely look for organic certification alongside it.

This is a less common certification, but ensures that the coffee has been grown in a method that hasn’t disrupted the natural environment of native birds, and so is shade grown.


How was it brewed?
Brewing your own cup of morning coffee at home is far greener than driving to the coffee shop, grabbing a take out cup and tossing it once you’re done. However, hitting your favorite coffee shop on a break or outing with friends shouldn’t be out of the question, just make sure you’ve got your travel mug on you. While you’re at the counter, don’t be afraid to ask about the origin of the coffee you’ll be drinking so that you can seek out cafés that offer organic, shade grown and Fair Trade coffee. There’s a noticeable difference in coffee that has been ethically and environmentally sourced and brewed, so choose wisely to make a difference!

Brands to try:
Verve Coffee Roasters: Santa Cruz, CA
Blue Bottle Coffee Co.: Oakland, CA
Counter Culture Coffee: Durham, NC
Just Coffee Cooperative: Madison, WI
Jo Coffee: Waconia, MN
Caffe Britt: Miami, FL
Tiny Footprint: Brooklyn Center, MN

Related on EcoSalon

The Hidden Costs of Fast Coffee

11 Ways the World Drinks Coffee

Natural Beauty: What a Coffee Facial Can Do for Your Skin

Images: Kilo 66rport