COFFEE WITH A CONSCIENCE
Navigating the Maze of Organic, Fair Trade, Shade Grown, & Sustainably Grown Coffees
Just a few short years ago, the only organically grown coffees
available were mediocre, to be generous, and the people who bought
the finished product were more interested in financially backing
their commitment to the environment than in drinking the finest
coffee available. However, as a demand and willingness to pay
extra for quality organic coffee has grown, more farmers are moving
away from chemical dependence. Organically grown coffee is now
one of the fastest growing segments of the specialty coffee industry,
and in today’s market, many top quality coffees are being
grown organically. In addition to the term organic, we now have
“shade grown,” “fair trade” and “sustainably
grown” as well. What exactly do these terms mean, and why
are they worth paying a little bit more for?
To receive official “organic” certification, coffee farmers must grow their crops without chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. In addition, they are responsible for enriching soil through composting and must follow processing procedures that conserve water quality. Most organic coffee farmers are growing older, hardier varieties of coffees. Whereas these coffees generally are less susceptible to disease and insects, they usually produce lower yields. They are also usually more labor intensive because they usually cannot tolerate full exposure to sun and harvesting under the necessary shade canopy requires hand cultivation and picking.
for our Organic Beans
This brings us to the issue of “shade grown” coffee. Planting coffee trees under a canopy for shade reduces the amount of clear cutting that often precedes coffee tree planting. The canopy of overhead trees not only protects the plants from excessive sun, but the leaves that fall help to fertilize the trees, enriching the soil. The shade canopy also provides a home to native animals and birds, including the orangutans that live in the forests of Sumatra and the songbirds that migrate from North America to Central and South America during the winter.
“Fair-trade” coffee is another buzz word in the specialty coffee community. It is a certification process ensuring that small coffee farmers have been paid a fair price for their beans. In order to be certified “fair trade” by the US certifying agency, TransFair, the coffee must be grown on family-owned farms with no employees outside the family. The beans are processed and sold through local cooperatives. The sale of these beans is removed from the normal commodities market process, and a base price is established to guarantee the farmer at least the cost of production.
“Sustainably grown” coffee refers to coffee grown on farms that focus not only on the health of the present year’s harvest, but also on the long-term production of coffee. This includes agricultural and processing practices that will ensure the future health and productivity of both the land and workers. Organic coffee farms are often inherently sustainably grown, but many sustainably grown farms grow coffee conventionally.
Rock City Coffee’s Role
The specialty coffee industry has been the leader in all of these areas of responsible coffee production. Although we purchase a fraction of the coffee beans sold worldwide, those of us in the specialty coffee community care, not only about the quality of the coffee we buy and sell, but about the future of those people who grow top quality coffee. At Rock City Coffee, whether we buy certified organic, shade grown, fair trade or conventionally grown coffee, we do our best to ensure that it is not only the finest coffee available, but also sustainably grown so you can rest assured that your daily brew is doing as much for the coffee world at large as it is for you.