Drink Your Cup of Coffee and Feel Good About It by Scott McFeron, Coffee Sales Manager

Did your last cup of drip coffee support an orphanage in Honduras?  Did your latte help build a new medical clinic in Brazil?  Or did that cappuccino give back to raise the value of life for a poor farmer trying to raise his family in a small village in Ethiopia?  In my line of work I come across many different labels and stamps placed on coffee that claim to represent this or that.  Fair Trade Certified, Certified Organic, and Rainforest Alliance are all labels that claim to provide support for certain causes.  What do these labels mean and is it worth the extra cost?


Fair Trade Certified

There is a lot of information on this certification and even some that is controversial.  With this certification, coffee must be grown and handled according to “Fair Trade” standards.  In 1988 a voluntary program was established, designed to help small scale farmers in less than advantageous regions.  A fee, or premium, is paid by importers that pay for the inspections to make sure the farmers and importers are operating Fair Trade practices.  This premium also guarantees the farmers are getting a fair price for their coffee.  And most importantly, the surplus of the proceeds of these premiums that are paid, go back to the communities to build orphanages, train doctors, build parks and schools, and many other ground root causes to bring a better life to the region the coffee comes from.  According to Darrel Frisch from Café Vittoria, “99.9% of the F.T. Certified coffees available, are very, very good quality (the best) so you are getting what you’re paying for, plus helping farmers trying to earn a livable wage.”


Certified Organic

The biggest criteria for having a coffee stamped with this label, is in the way it’s grown.  To be specific, it’s the fertilizer used.  Chemicals cannot be used on the farm the year of harvest, or the previous three years up to the harvest.  There is also a buffer zone of which no chemicals of nearby farms or land can be within a certain range of the crop.  The USDA travels to production sites on a regular basis to certify that these standards are in place.  When it comes to price, Organic coffee typically is only 5-15% more expensive.  In my opinion, it’s worth the investment. 


Rain Forest Alliance Certification

Here’s one of the latest certifications trending in popularity that happens to be growing quite rapidly.  According to the Tropical Commodity Coalition, “The Rainforest Alliance was formed in the early 90’s as a certifier of environmentally friendly coffees.  Its mission was to integrate productive agriculture, bio diversity conservation, and human development.  It certifies both large and small coffee producers in tropical countries.”  The Rainforest Alliances website states their goal is, “to train coffee farmers in methods that boost yields while protecting the land for future generations”.  This strategy is to ensure long-term health of farming communities, forests, and the wildlife in their respective regions.

There is nothing better than enjoying coffee “your” way.  Next time, consider taking that “feel-good” feeling a step further, by knowing your purchase made a difference.  Let’s make a difference together, one cup at a time. 


If you would like to know more about the above three certifications, you can check out the following links:,,,

You can also see the other side of the Fair Trade conversation by reading an article called “The Problem with Fair Trade Coffee” by Colleen Haight.