Coffee with a Conscience

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ethical coffee

Fair trade is just one kind of ethical coffee out there on the market

by Terri Paajanen

Most people are familiar with organic products, but these days there are many different varieties of so-called “ethical” products, including coffee.

More and more coffee retailers are offering these types of products, but the terms can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with them.

Organic coffee or tea is grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or insecticides. Organic products are the best for your own health, and for the health of the environment. Since coffee is usually grown in tropical regions, excessive chemical use can effect the soil and the surrounding forests (which are in danger enough as it is).

Fair Trade
Typical workers on coffee plantations are paid extremely low wages, especially when compared to the value of their crops. The term ‘fair trade’ means that the companies growing the coffee are paying their workers a fair wage. Many fair trade coffee growers also work to improve the living standards and educational opportunities for their workers and their families.

Shade Grown
Coffee that is grown in direct sun produces more cherries (and beans) than coffee grown in its more natural, shaded environment. So many plantations clear all surrounding plants from their coffee crops. Though the plants produce more, they also require more fertilizer and other chemicals as well. Shade-grown coffee is grown in a more natural setting, with the natural forest canopy still in place.

Bird Friendly
This is a variation on the shade-grown coffee. Any plantation that allows the forest to thrive along side the coffee crops, is also providing habitats for native birds.

All of these kinds of coffee are more costly to produce than typical, industry-standard coffee. But more and more people are showing that they are willing to pay a little extra for a product that doesn’t harm the environment, or exploit its workers. It’s getting easier to find coffee that is grown under all of these ethical conditions.