Why Drink Fair Trade Coffee? Facts, Myths, and Brands

fair trade coffee
Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pexels - Igor Haritanovich

Though fair trade coffee is becoming more widely available, we still have to be conscientious when choosing what we brew. There is a lot of misinformation about fair trade of coffee, so let’s differentiate facts from myths and check out a few great brands.

“Coffee is America’s most beloved beverage — and for good reason, new consumer values have changed the game for coffee. But the industry is adapting — and thriving — by embracing innovation and transparency.”

National Coffee Association President/CEO William “Bill” Murray

Facts About Fair Trade Coffee

1. Fair Trade Coffee is Healthier

As a whole, environmental protection is one of the rules of fair trade. While organic farming methods aren’t mandatory, various pesticides are prohibited in cultivation. In addition, organizations such as Fairtrade promote organic farming in countries where coffee is grown by paying an organic surcharge. 

2. It’s Fairer

Producers receive guaranteed minimum prices for fair trade coffee so that they are not exposed to world market price fluctuations and can adapt more easily to the effects of climate change. They receive support to improve social working conditions. The fair trade of coffee and other products strengthens small farmers’ organizational structures and their negotiating position, provides further training, reduces child labor and much more. 

3. Fair Trade Makes a Difference

Coffee is the second most valuable export of developing countries. According to Fairtrade International, approximately 125 million people depend on coffee for their livelihoods worldwide, and they deserve to earn a reliable living.

The USA is the largest importer of coffee in the world, importing 5.8 billion dollars worth last year! This means that how we buy and drink coffee has the ability to greatly influence the livelihood of others. Purchasing fair trade coffee is a small way to do your part in making an enormous market fairer.

4. It’s More Sustainable

Sustainability does not only mean environmental protection. Fair trade attempts to reconcile social, ecological, and economic aspects. The certification criteria for fair trade coffee usually include the responsible use of water as a resource and low waste production. The use of renewable energies is highly encouraged and certain pesticides are banned – employees are also trained in environmental protection.

Myths About the Fair Trade of Coffee

fair trade of coffee
Coffee farmers take a lot of pride in their crops, and should be paid fairly for their knowledge and expertise. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay - Those_Coffee_People)

Whenever a system presents itself as “the better option” (and demands an extra charge for it), there are always people who want to poke holes to emphasize the weaknesses instead of focusing on the positives. Here are some common myths on the fair trade of coffee.

1. The Money Doesn’t Reach Small Farmers

On a 1:1 basis, this is actually true – though this is not an issue just with fair trade coffee. As consumers, we often (naively) believe that raising the prices in the grocery store means more money will reach the producers.

Fair trade is not a system that passes on a 50 cent store surcharge to the producers. It is a system that aims to establish a fairer trade. And that is far more complicated than “the farmer gets X percent of the surcharge”.

2. Buying Fair Trade Coffee Doesn’t Make a Difference

Whether you intend to or not, by drinking conventional coffee, you are promoting environmental destruction through monocultures and pesticides, payment below the subsistence level, and exploitative child labor. These problems are real and can be directly attributed to our coffee consumption.

Fair trade may not be the ultimate way to eliminate these problems, but it’s a great start as we search for other ways to help. The old saying rings true – if you do nothing, you don’t change anything.

3. Fair Trade Beans Taste Worse

People often think that because the farmers are guaranteed trade, they can sell worse quality coffee beans. However, with Fair Trade coffee there are not only minimum prices but also higher prices for higher quality. If you purchase a cheaper variety and don’t like it, just try another one that might cost a little more. We would do the same with regular coffee, beer, or wine!

4. Only 20% of the Coffee is Fair Trade

This argument often comes about because of the regulations for fair trade of blended products. Take a chocolate bar for example: in order to be Fairtrade certified, it must contain 20 percent fair trade ingredients. Any ingredient that goes into the chocolate bar that can be fairly traded must also be Fairtrade certified.

This argument simply doesn’t apply when it comes to Fair Trade coffee. Coffee is not a mixed product. If the Fairtrade seal is on the coffee, then it is 100% certified.

Fair Trade Coffee: Brand Spotlight

fair trade coffee
Whether you like to brew at home, go out to coffee shops or grind your own beans, choosing fair trade coffee benefits everyone involved in the coffee production process (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pexels - Burst)

Fair trade coffee has become a lot more mainstream in the past couple of years. You no longer have to shop specifically at organic shops or directly from coffee roasters to find it. Stores like Trader Joe’s, WholeFoods, and even Target and Walmart have several fair trade coffee options on their shelves. That being said, as is the case with anything these days, you can also purchase some great coffee online.

  • Wandering Bear Coffee Company – operating out of New York City, this coffee company focuses on strong and smooth fair trade, organic cold brew coffee. In addition to great coffee, they also prioritize sustainability in terms of organic sourcing and recycled packaging. Find it online, on Amazon**, or in a large selection of retailers across the country.
  • Ethical Bean Organic Coffee – hailing from the Great White North, this company is 100% Fairtrade Certified and Organic. A unique feature on their coffee packaging is the traceability QR code – simply scan the code and find out exactly where your beans came from. Available in select stores countrywide and on Amazon.**
  • BLK + Bold – this Iowa coffee company not only sells some fair trade blends, they are also B-Corp certified! They donate 5% of their profits to projects working to eliminate homelessness among youths, sustain youth programs, and enhance workforce development. Widely available at Whole Foods and select Target stores, as well as on Amazon**, supporting this company makes a difference on a national and international level.
  • Kicking Horse Coffee100% Fairtrade and Organic since 2007, this Canadian coffee company roasts some pretty great beans. They contribute to several charities and offer fundraising programs. Available online, at select stores across the States, most Canadian grocery stores, and on Amazon**

Being mindful of your choices is part of your responsibility as a consumer. Small changes can make big differences!

** Links to retailers marked with ** or underlined orange are partially partner links: If you buy here, you actively support Utopia.org, because we will receive a small part of the sales proceeds. More info.

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