“Ah! How sweet coffee tastes!
Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
sweeter than Muscatel wine!
I must have my coffee...”
- Johann Sebastian Bach (1732, an aria from his ‘Kaffee-Kantate’) -
Recently, a very good friend of ours brought us a few pounds of coffee beans from Canada as a gift. He had been living down the street from this small coffee roaster and each morning on his way to work he was captured by the heavenly scent of fresh brewed coffee. He told us that this was the best coffee he had ever tried and with an air of anticipation, we made a pot. The coffee was extraordinary; it had a great flavor, well balanced and a great taste. He was right, it really was the best cup of coffee we had tried.
The package was marked “Fair Trade/Organic Coffee” and listed its website...” “Cool... I thought, I will just order a few pounds…” Unfortunately, it was not that easy, the coffee was in the same price range of what we had been spending on coffee at Starbucks per pound, but the freight charge was going to be around $ 25.00 and it was going to take at least 3 weeks... I did not want to wait that long, and just could not justify the cost unless I bought 10 lbs. Therefore, we thought, “if they can get this great coffee in Canada, we should be able to find it in the US.”
Diane and I have been drinking fresh ground coffee bean since we were married over 26 years ago. A friend had given us a pound of beans and a grinder for a wedding gift and that is where our love affair for great coffee started. Like most of you, we grew up on percolated “Maxwell House” Folgers , Chase and Sandborn and sometimes the occasional 8 o’clock coffee. However, the coffee our friend had given us was different... We do not drink coffee excessively, usually just the one pot in the morning, unless we are on deadline. In addition, we are definitely not professional coffee cuppers.
As I began to research the Fair Trade Organic Coffees, I began to understand more about the concept of Fair Trade. Although, we had been buying some of the Organic Coffees from Starbuck’s their selections were limited. I decided to inquire about product samples from some of these Fair Trade Organic companies. However, as they responded and sent samples we discovered it was much more than just the practice of Fair Trade Organic coffees, but an entire culture of small batch Micro Coffee roasters, similar to the Micro Beer breweries.
It was like getting a Birthday present everyday! Each day as the samples arrived, we opened up the packages getting a new blast of the sweet aroma from freshly roasted coffee. Sometimes the packages felt like they were still warm. This was going to be a fun project. The different Coffee samples had bright informative labels, interesting artwork and an introduction to these Micro Coffee Roasters corporate philosophy on Fair Trade and sustainable business practices. It was great to see that these companies even followed sustainable practices right down to the packaging and shipping.
This story started organically on its own, and seemed to have manifested itself into a both an environmentally friendly, socially responsible issue that is sustainable as well.
Coffee is one of the world’s most traded commodities, many smaller countries; depend on coffee as its only foreign exchange currency. It is a complex commodity in that production involves both agriculture and industry. The cultivation of coffee -- a broad-leaved evergreen perennial plant -- normally is of considerable benefit to the global environment.
Coffee producers, like most agricultural workers around the world, are kept in a cycle of poverty and debt by the current global economy designed to exploit cheap labor and keep consumer prices low. Throughout an entire season, a coffee tree yields only enough beans to make about two pounds of roasted coffee. Most of the larger commercial brand companies use coffee beans primarily supplied by Brazil, which is the largest coffee producer of the world.
From an environment standpoint coffee is a crop that is easier on the environment than most competing crops. Most of the smaller coffee farmers have never used chemicals, and because a lot of the coffee produced in the world comes from smaller trade farmers, So it was a nature fit to develop a Fair Trade Coop, that is sustainable, both for the farmer, roaster and the ultimately the consumer. Organics coffees are certified by third-party agencies as having been propagated, grown, processed, transported, stored, and roasted without contact with synthetic chemicals particularly without contact with pesticides and herbicides.
Fair Trade is essentially an alternative way to do economics, based on mutual respect instead of one party taking advantage over another. Fair Trade seeks to build bridges between consumers and producers by promoting transparency, accountability and sustainability in the process of how goods are bought and sold from farmers and producers in the developing world. Coffees are completely traceable to origin. Farmers, importers and roasting companies who sell and buy Fair Trade certified coffees all contribute to the relevant Fair Trade certifying organization. These moneys are used to administer the Fair Trade programs, maintain traceability for Fair Trade products, and continue to raise public awareness of Fair Trade’s particular answer to poverty in coffee-growing regions. Fair Trade certification has been extended to other products, from bananas to cotton, but coffee represents about 80% of all Fair Trade Certified products imported into the United States.
Spill the Beans
The coffee samples that we tasted (a new one each morning), came from different coffee growing regions all over the world. Every coffee bean has unique flavor characteristics to the beans. Depending upon the soil, the curing processes, and the roasting each coffee bean and blend has incredible distinctive characteristics that can wake up your palate. Several of these were “single origin coffee beans” like Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, (Ethiopia is said to be the “birthplace of domesticated coffee”) El Salvador Sunrisa, Costa Rican, Sumatra,or from a complex blend of different complimentary coffee beans combined and roasted to bring out the special characteristics and nuances of those beans. Each of these Micro Roasters has their own methodology/philosophy/ on roasting; which creates unique differences between roasts. We had sampled four amazingly different Ethiopia Yirgacheffe’s from four different roasters, each bean with its own delightfully different tastes.
One of the first coffees samples to arrive was from a company called “Higher Grounds Trading Co” (www.highergroundstrading.com) We opened a bag of single origin bean called “Ugandan Gumutindo’, a medium roast “silky smooth with a rich full body” to us It tasted like we were drinking the best cup of Hot Cocoa ever. Higher Grounds has developed very specialized relationships with some of its growers, enabling them to offer these very limited handcrafted small batches.
Some of the Micro Roaster create their own unique blend. Using different beans to complement and balance the flavors. “Bongo Java Coffee” of Tennessee (bongojava.com) offers their “Bible Belt Brew” which has been featured on David Letterman and the Food Network as well.
Another company “Dean’s Beans” from Massachusetts (www.deansbeans.com) offers “the world’s first carbon Neutral Coffee!” NoCo2 a sweet velvet Roasted Peruvian from Pangoa, Dean’s also features a blend called “Ahab’s Revenge” the first Fair trade Sumatran Robusta ever in the US and billed as loaded with caffeine, an incredible tasty full bodied coffee.
Down south in North Carolina, “Larry’s Beans” (larrysbeans.com) has created their own“Cowboy Blend” which has a unique smoky flavor created from a special roasting trick as well as several other single origin beans. Larry’s Beans also sell Green Beans in case you want to try your hand at roasting them yourself.
“Doma Coffee “(domacoffee.com) in Idaho uses a new ecofriendly coffee roaster that uses 80% less natural gas enabling them to reduce their carbon footprint... Doma uses a biodegradable Kraft bags with Soy based inks and roasted dates stamps on the bag... Doma has an incredible selection of single origin bean, their Organic Sumatra makes a great afternoon coffee.
We tried another single origin coffee from “Desert Sun Coffee Roasters” desertsuncoffee.com The coffee is roasted in the high desert sun in Durango Colorado was a Ethiopia Sidamo“ the rich blueberry aroma gave the coffee a sweet juicy flavor with a chocolate coating. Desert Sun coffee is on the menu at the James Beard House in Greenwich Village in New York City
When we tried “Vermont Artisan Coffee”(vtartisan.com) we knew we were in for a treat. The founder Mané Alves, is a professional coffee taster, judge,and teacher. Mané travels the world meeting the growers and personally hand selects the beans before shipping them back to Vermont to roast.
Equal Exchange Coffee” (equalexchange.coop) is a worker owned coop business that is probably the largest of the Fair Trade Coffee companies; their Coffee can be bought locally at Newark Natural Foods on Main St.
During one of my trips to our local food market “Zingo’s” I met a local roaster whose coffee I have enjoyed from time to time while in the market. “Pike Creek Coffee Roasterie” (pikecreekcoffee.com) a locally owned Micro Roaster, their coffee is sold at Newark Natural Foods and at Zingos Supermarket in Pike Creek where they have their own coffee bar. Pike Creek Coffee roasts daily and carries a large selection of Fair Trade and Organic coffees. You can special order coffee online and pick them up in their store. Try their Fair-trade Organic Ethiopia Limu, or the Organic Peruvian Norte a very nice coffee to get your day started on.
Buying coffee from these independent “Fair Trade, Organic Coffee Roasters” helps to sustain the work they are doing worldwide, as well as the environmental friendly business practices they have incorporated in the United States. These Coffee Roasters have perfected their own signature handcrafted styles of roasting, creating a welcome indulgence for the rest of us. Try some of the Fair Trade Organics Coffees yourself, and give them as a gift this holiday season.
I guess the best conversations and ideas have started over a cup of Coffee! Between the incredible aromas, and maybe a little excessive caffeine, these coffees will definitely fuel a new creativity.