In many ways, coffee makes the world go round. Literally, not only does it fuel millions of people around the world on a daily basis. Coffee also represents a massive, global market that employs countless individuals from local farmers and middleman roasters all the way to baristas who man the bars in the coffee shops.
This, naturally, makes coffee a hotspot for potential economic corruption and abuse, making it essential that you drink each cuppa in a thoughtful, sustainable manner.
The Growing Coffee Crisis
Coffee has gone through its ups and downs in the past, with multiple coffee price crashes taking place in the latter half of the 20th century alone.
While the Third Wave movement has certainly brought coffee back into the spotlight, it was only so long before the crushing grip of economic entropy in the larger global economy managed to drag the coffee world back into a state of crisis. In 2019 that looming catastrophe began to unfold as yet another coffee crisis was declared, this time hinging around things like overproduction and environmental concerns.
The steep reduction in the current price of coffee — it dropped from $2 per pound in 2014 to $.89 per pound in 2019 — has led to untold effects on the farmers struggling to keep up their livelihood.
With the ongoing pandemic only adding fuel to the fire, there’s no doubt that the coffee world is reeling from the challenges that it’s currently facing. Fortunately, there are a few ways that consumers can ensure they’re doing their part to help the coffee farmers, support the industry, and keep that smooth java flowing.
Always Look for the Label
There are countless labels that mean a variety of different things in the coffee world. If you’re looking for ways to make sustainable, consumer-conscious decisions in your coffee purchases, though, these are the most important labels to look for.
The Fair Trade Label Is Good
Due to its popularity and largely accepted status, the Fair Trade label has come under fire for various things, such as ignoring the environment or only being good for business.
However, most of these accusations have been dispelled as myths over time, and the Fair Trade Certified label continues to remain a bastion of quality that indicates rigorous social, economic, and environmental standards were met in the growing and distribution of the coffee itself. The particular emphasis on workers’ rights is important, as it has the potential to promote humanitarian conditions for coffee farmers and push for things like reasonable workdays, fair wages, and work environments that don’t contain harmful substances like asbestos, mold, or lead.
The Rainforest Alliance Label is Good, Too
The little Rainforest Alliance frog label is another sign that the packaged coffee has been provided for your brewing pleasure via strict guidelines. A Rainforest Alliance certification means the coffee was sustainably sourced by an organization that takes worker’s livelihoods, human rights, the climate, and the rainforests themselves into consideration.
Shade Grown and Direct Trade Coffee Labels Are Also Important
Two other less common labels are shade-grown and direct trade. Shade-grown coffee takes a holistic approach to growing coffee that considers the environment that the coffee is grown in. Rather than taking a production-focused farming approach, shade-grown coffee lets the coffee trees grow in their natural state, supporting the local forest ecosystem in the process.
Direct trade coffee also indicates that a coffee roaster has purchased beans directly from the growers themselves. Rather than purchasing through larger organizations and co-ops, the roasters develop relationships directly with the farms. This typically indicates a higher level of quality and a concern for the workers on the farms themselves.
Consider the Middleman
Along with the label, it’s also important to consider what roasters you choose to patronize. Often the attitude of this middleman can make a huge difference on how your coffee is sourced and handled.
As a general rule of thumb, if a coffee roaster is transparent about how they get their coffee, you can typically trust them to uphold higher values when it comes to the sustainable nature of their efforts.
Buying Sustainable, Safe, and Fair Coffee
With so much at stake for so many farms and operations around the world, it can be difficult to truly know where your coffee-purchasing dollars should go. However, if you do your homework and dig into the options, it’s still possible to make wise, sustainable choices whenever you go to purchase a bag of beans.
From opting for the right labels to choosing the right middlemen, purchasing coffee that is sustainable, fair, and safe, is well worth the effort for everyone involved. It also helps to ensure the long-term survival and continual improvement of an industry that keeps countless individuals employed each and every day.