Posts Tagged ‘Coffee News’

PostHeaderIcon How fair trade coffee is changing lives in Kizi, Rwanda

If you ever wonder whether buying fair trade coffee makes any difference, read this article in the Guardian newspaper.

PostHeaderIcon Has fair trade coffee become the new “gourmet” coffee?

When I read this article at, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry…or think.

Here’s an excerpt:

Consumer Reports recently compared coffees and came up with an interesting result. According to its tasters, Starbucks’ (Nasdaq: SBUX) coffee was outdone by McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) premium coffee offering. Should Starbucks — and its shareholders — be experiencing more than caffeine jitters?

Led by a professional tester and some employees of Consumer Reports’ food testing unit, the team sampled medium plain coffees (with no sugar and cream, mind you), from two stores each of Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, and Burger King (NYSE: BKC). The team of taste testers deemed McDonald’s premium coffee the best-tasting and the best value, at $1.40 a cup. It might surprise some people that the priciest cup of that size regular coffee actually came from Dunkin’ Donuts, at $1.65.

I started thinking about this news, simply because, unless this was some cupper’s aberration, it signifies a significant shift in the gourmet coffee business.

Not so long ago one could buy what was considered gourmet coffee at Starbucks and other quality coffee shops, or junk coffee anywhere else. You know, diner coffee.

But if McDonald’s coffee really is as good as Starbucks coffee, then we have hit a taste plateau.

And if coffee shops can no longer differentiate their brew as being "gourmet", then how can they set themselves apart from McDonalds, Dunkin’ Donuts and others?

(Not with wi-fi. McDonalds is getting that too.)

Can they do it by selling fair trade coffee? McDonald’s UK is already on top of that one.

But perhaps we’ll see more coffee roasters and coffee shops selling not just a generic fair trade coffee, but fair trade coffee beans with a story.

Small companies can tell an honest, human story about their relationship with specific cooperatives in particular regions.

Big companies can’t do that. They have to buy too much coffee. And nobody believes a huge corporation when it shows a photo of one of its employees giving a paternalistic hug to a coffee grower.

In other words, large companies and small can both sell fair trade coffee…the "new" gourmet coffee. But only small companies can tell an honest, engaging story. That is, if they choose to become genuinely involved with individual cooperatives, or small groups of cooperatives.

This is one of the great things about fair trade coffee. Doing the right thing benefits everyone, from the bean to the cup.

PostHeaderIcon Interesting piece on fair trade, fair trade coffee and “trading fairly”.

I know, I have been lazy with this blog recently. But I should have an interesting book review up here soon.

In the meantime, I did come across an interesting blog entry by Tim Blangger on the Poverty News Blog – As Fair Trade grows, other trade gets fairer.

PostHeaderIcon McDonalds UK to switch to fair trade coffee.

It seems that McDonalds is about to start serving fair trade coffee at all its burger outlets in the UK. The coffee will be supplied by Kraft.

I’m no fan of either McDonalds or Kraft, but this move has to qualify as good news.

Why? Simply because it will increase demand for fair trade coffee enormously. And that, in turn, will encourage more coffee farmers to form cooperatives, become certified, adopt more sustainable growing methods and earn a higher income for their families and communities.

And, as a side benefit, consumers who go to McDonalds will get to hear about fair trade coffee, and look for it when they are shopping for beans to brew at home.

Of course, this is happening in the UK, not North America. At least, not right now.

Once again, Europe seems to be a few years ahead when it comes to “green” and socially responsible thinking and action.

I just returned from a trip to the UK, and people’s opinions on these issues are very evident…in national newspapers, on TV and in the stores. A strong focus on the environment is evident everywhere.

Why does it take North America so long to catch up?

PostHeaderIcon The other way to look at fair trade coffee.

In my last post I wrote about a recent article in the Economist, which cast doubts on the entire fair trade movement.

The economic arguments presented were familiar and predictable. “The market decides”.

I don’t think the market decides very well. And to make that argument puts the lives of millions of people into the hands of economic formulae.

Instead, I think the world would be better served by putting away the calculators and the spreadsheets, and being a little more human in its vision of ‘economics’.

Take a look at Café Conciencia.

This is a non-profit organization based in Guatemala. Its work involves supporting farmers who grow fair trade coffee. The organization raises funds and supports its cause by selling the coffee and running eco-tours.

This is fair trade in action.

Fair trade isn’t some irritating subset of mainstream economics, to be discussed in boardrooms and bars.

The fair trade coffee movement is something that happens, in real life…now and now and now. And it transforms the lives of thousands upon thousands of poor farmers, their families and their communities.

You want to argue against that?

PostHeaderIcon It’s easy to argue against Fair Trade.

In a recent article in The Economist the author does a fair job of casting doubt on the benefits of fair trade, organic produce and buying local.

As always with The Economist, the article is well written and researched. The figures are there to support the author’s arguments, as are quotes from reputable experts.

In the concluding paragraph, the author writes:

“Food is central to the debates on the environment, development, trade and globalization — but the potential for food choices to change the world should not be overestimated.”

That’s a reasonable conclusion, based on the figures in the article.

However, I came away feeling like I had read a particular good high school essay on the topic of, “Find a popular movement and debunk it using statistics and quotations from experts.”

It’s easy to find figures and experts to debunk just about any topic you can imagine. Essentially, it’s a cheap trick, journalistic legerdemain.

When using “food miles” data to undermine the benefits of buying local, there are a few things that remain unsaid in this article.

There is no mention of the human benefits of reaching across a wooden table in an outdoor market, with the wind in your hair, and no fluorescent lighting, and taking a bag of produce from the man or woman who actually grew it.

There is no mention of taking your children and explaining that the person behind the table actually grew all the food on sale, and got up at 4 o’clock that morning to pick the vegetables and drive them to the market.

There is no mention of the underlying social and human benefits of supporting small, local farmers in your own community.

And when it comes to fair trade, while heavy with the expected economic arguments, the article fails to talk about the coffee farmer who has had the opportunity to buy school books for his children for the first time.

In the West we are addicted to the rational and the measurable. It comforts us to use figures and experts to support our views.

But our compassion, our human spirit and our ability to see what is actually in front of our own eyes withers and dies.

You want to know what fair trade, organic growing and buying local are really about?

Take your child to a farm market and watch his or her eyes as he or she reaches out to take a bag of fresh vegetables from the person who actually grew them.

PostHeaderIcon More from Starbucks: “What’s important is what it says about our brand.”

The headline for this post comes from the following quote, taken from an article in Business Week.

"What’s important is what it says about our brand," said Brad Stevens, Starbuck Corp.’s vice president of U.S. Marketing.

The Seattle-based coffee giant recently kicked off an effort to hand out 10,000 cards called "cheer passes" daily, asking recipients to perform one act of kindness for someone else and pass the card along. The drive is not tied to any cause and the cards are not redeemable for merchandise, but recipients can track their card’s progress online.

"It says that we at Starbucks are willing to use our resources to try and start this chain of good will," said Stevens.

The Cheerpass campaign isn’t about fair trade coffee. But Mr. Stevens’ comments are very revealing.

When he says, "What’s important is what it says about our brand,” he is showing us that the motivation behind the campaign is entirely self-serving. He’s trying to make Starbucks look good. (Note to Starbucks: The best and only way to ensure that you look good is to BE good.)

This self-serving approach to goodwill and social responsibility is also what separates companies which have a genuine commitment to fair trade coffee from those which don’t.

Ask vice presidents from Starbucks, Nestlé and other giant coffee marketers about their involvement in the fair trade coffee movement. I can imagine each and every one of them saying, “What’s important is what it says about our brand.”

Now take a look at companies like, which have genuine commitments to the fair trade coffee movement, and to supporting small coffee farmers and their communities.

There’s a vast difference between promoting fair trade simply to make money, and supporting fair trade because you believe in it.

PostHeaderIcon Starbucks continues to fight Ethiopia over the country’s plan to trademark the names of its coffees.

Starbucks doesn’t like the fact that Ethiopia plans to trademark the names of its most famous coffees.

There is a stunning hypocrisy here, going far beyond just Starbucks and Ethiopia.

For decades now Western corporations have been guilty of biopiracy around the globe…patenting genetic materials from food plants that have been grown by indigenous peoples for generations.

As one example, this year the University of California-Davis received a Captain Hook Award:

“For patenting a blight-resistant gene extracted from a rice variety developed by the Bela peoples of Mali, and for failing to deliver on the Genetic Resources Recognition Fund to benefit Mali’s farmers. The Philippines-based public plant breeding institute – the International Rice Research Institute – handed over the blight resistant rice sample to UC-Davis researchers in 1990. But when IRRI requested access to the blight resistant gene derived from the sample, UC-Davis demanded a $10,000 fee.”

Western companies, abetted by their governments, have been patenting plant genetics all around the world for a very long time.

And now, when Ethiopia takes a step to protect its own coffees by trademarking their names, Starbucks throws a tantrum.

As always, the West wants to take everything, and give nothing.

U.S. companies and academic institutions continue to seek control of the developing world’s basic food plants through patents, but fights when any of those countries seeks legal recourse to protect its own assets.

Whatever the outcome, Starbucks will come out looking like a large corporate bully, and its brand will suffer. And quite rightly so.

As Douglas Holt of Oxford University puts it, quoted from this Times article:

“In their rash attempt to shut down Ethiopia’s applications, [Starbucks] have placed the Starbucks brand in significant peril. Starbucks customers will be shocked by the disconnect between their current perceptions of Starbucks’ ethics and the company’s actions against Ethiopia.”

Further reading:

Coffee Politics

Oxfam America


PostHeaderIcon The Coffee Politics Blog.

Read the Coffee Politics blog. The information there is important, and it is written with feeling..

PostHeaderIcon Would you buy healthy food from a sick company?

The headline to this post comes, more or less, from an article in Mother Jones by Bill McKibben.

What he actually wrote, with Wal-Mart in mind, was, “There’s something gross about buying a healthy carrot from a sick company.”

How true.

And no, I wouldn’t buy fair trade coffee from Wal-Mart or from Nestlé. I wouldn’t buy it from Starbucks either. For exactly the reasons McKibben writes about.

In that one sentence I think McKibben has put his finger on a fundamental guideline for anyone who supports fair trade, organic foods, buying locally or any other green initiative.

It’s no just the products or produce you buy that matters. Consumers can also make a difference by being careful about which companies they buy from.

The future of fair trade and fair trade coffee lies in supporting companies which are involved not just for profit, but also because of a genuine, honest commitment to social justice.

Why support small coffee farmers by buying fair trade coffee from Wal-Mart when the company now has over 870 stores in Mexico, causing untold damage to local small businesses?

What would the Wal-Mart flyer say…”Buy here – Support a small coffee farmer and close a local business”?

To support fair trade in the long term we need to identify and buy only from those companies which are founded on a base of moral decency.