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The Buzz on Fair-Trade Coffee

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Fair-trade, organic coffees offer environmentally and socially conscious alternatives to typical beans. Produced without pesticides or herbicides, organic coffees promote long-term ecological health. Organic practices build soil fertility through techniques such as composting and companion planting.

Grabbing that morning cup o’ Joe comes as naturally to many of us as brushing our teeth. Yet all coffees are not created equal, say some aficionados. Fair-trade, organic coffees offer environmentally and socially conscious alternatives to typical beans.

Coffee is the second most widely traded commodity in the world (after petroleum). Seven million tonnes are produced worldwide, but only 25 per cent are actually consumed by the producing countries themselves. The United States, Japan, and Europe are main importers. Coffee is Canada’s most popular beverage, after water. The average Canadian consumed 102 litres of coffee in 2002 according to Statistics Canada, up from 97 litres in 1996.

Despite continued popularity, the coffee market has slumped in recent years. The estimated 25 million families that grow coffee in 50 developing countries have been hit hard. In 1999, a pound of coffee on the world market cost $1.40; now the cost hovers between $0.50 and $0.65. As a result, many producers make barely enough money to survive.

Organizations such as Transfair Canada, an independent certification group, are attempting to counteract current coffee market conditions by monitoring standards set out by the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International. Look for Transfair’s Fair Trade Certified logo, which ensures, among other things, that coffee prod-ucers in regions such as Latin America, Africa, and Asia are paid a set minimum price for their coffee (about $1.26 per pound, $1.41 for organic); and that the company bearing the logo is committed to long-term, democratic trading relationships. The website, transfair.ca, lists qualifying coffee-related companies across Canada.

Fair trade, organic coffee takes this process of accountability one step further, for - despite a common misconception- not all fair trade coffees are organic. Produced without pesticides or herbicides, organic coffees promote long-term ecological health. Organic practices build soil fertility through techniques such as composting and companion planting.

“Sustainable” is a common term used in coffee marketing, yet it possesses no concrete definition. Generally, it means produced in a way that’s friendly to both people and the planet. In actual practice, this could translate into as small a contribution as recycling plastics or as much as building a water-conscious, pollution-free, solar-energy-based farming operation.

When in doubt as to whether a coffee brand is truly sustainable, also look for the certified organic label. (Sustainable is implicit in organic.) The most common third party certification group for organic coffee is the Organic Crop Improvement Association.

In the end, even though we’ve all heard about or experienced the effects of too much caffeine, there remains something savoury about that familiar brew. When it comes to flavour, let your taste buds do the choosing. As to the rest, sip sagely.

The Coffee Cup Runneth Over

Percentage of adult Canadians who drink coffee on a daily basis: 63
Average adult coffee consumption per day: 2.6 cups
Percentage of coffee consumed at home or in a private setting: 70
Percentage consumed at work/school: 15
Percentage consumed in a restaurant or take-out setting: 8
Percentage of coffee drinkers who regularly drink decaf: 9

Source: coffeeassoc.com.

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