I have had a long association with coffee, going back to my first cup in high school. Served black and sweet, in the ubiquitous “It’s Our Pleasure to Serve You” paper container, that first cup was 25 years ago. I still drink it the same way—and preferably in that Greek takeout cup whenever I can get it.
Back when I got by first editorial job in 1995, Starbucks was three years into its IPO, and opening a few stores a day, slowly creeping over to the East Coast. My job was with a trade publisher, and one of the titles was called Tea and Coffee Trade Journal. I got to learn a lot about coffee, and even got to visit a few coffee companies in Central America and the Caribbean. I saw some of the back-end of the coffee business first hand, and it amazed me how much sweat equity went into it. With over 500 billion cups of coffee consumed every single day, it takes an estimated 25 million small producers to bring it to the market. Growing and picking coffee beans is probably one of the most back-breaking and labor-intensive jobs in the world, and it all happens in the extremely poor parts of the world. That means the potential for a lot of abuse for both the land and the people working it.
So, how to make your daily cup of Joe better for you and the planet? Here are three things to look for:
- Organic certified: Many chains (even my favorite Dunkin Donuts) are starting to make sure a portion of the whole beans and brewed coffee drinks they serve come from certified organic growers. Since the specialty coffee movement basically grew up in progressive Seattle in the early 1970s, the coffee business has always been on the forefront of the organic movement, which lessens small producers’ impact on the environment.
- Fair Trade: There is a healthy debate on how much “Fair Trade” certification is helping small producers in the 3rd world but, for now, it’s one of the few ways to try and make sure your morning cup of coffee isn’t coming at the expensive of slave labor. Fair trade coffee is purchased at a guaranteed $1.41 per pound, which means that even tiny producers are paid a living wage.
- Bird Friendly: Want to step it up a notch, and make your coffee good for your fair feathered friends? Insist on Bird-Friendly coffee, which comes exclusively from shade coffee plantations that are friendly habitats for migratory birds.
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