Fair Trade Coffee is coffee certified as having been produced to fair trade standards by fair trade organisations.
This means that a trading partnership between all stages of the coffee making process, from harvesting to selling and making the coffee, has been formed. This is based on dialogue and respect, as well as all stages having a clear understanding of how the beans are sourced and made, how the workers are treated, and where the coffee is sold and for how much for.
Before the fairtrade agreements were brought in, prices were regulated by the International Coffee Organisation based on the International Coffee Agreement of 1962. This was an initial meeting held at the United Nations.
In 1976, the price of coffee increased due to severe frosts in Brazil, causing a proposed suspension of price caps if supply could not meet demand and enforcing them if the price became too low.
This did indeed happen in 1988, when a severe coffee crisis meant that supply was greater than demand. Price quotas had not been reintroduced, so the market was flooded.
Fair Trade Certification was founded in the Netherlands, and the aim was to raise coffee prices to a suitable level in order to ensure growers sufficient wages to turn a profit. This instead puts the growers and makers as equal to the sellers and consumers.
There have been a few bumps along the way, such as quotas and prices not being appropriate for demand and production, and there are criticisms of the plan, but in general it has boosted the welfare of growers and pickers, and made people more aware of their sourcing of beans.
Speciality coffee, by nature, is fairly traded. Rather than being treated as a commodity on the futures market, it is traded on its quality, which in turn demands a premium price for the farmer.
For example, in May 2006, ‘Hacienda la Esmeralda Geisha’ coffee from Panama set a record of USD50.25 per pound at an online auction. Then in 2017, it fetched a whopping USD601.00 per pound, the highest price ever paid for green coffee. We explain why this is good news for all involved below.
It is important to remember that it is not only third world countries which grow coffee, as developed nations such as Australia and the United States (Hawaii) also have established industries.
Kopi Luwak is now technically said to be the world’s most expensive coffee because it is rare, but the civet cat is often kept in bad conditions for its production to meet demand. The Fair Trade Certification may not cover animals, but this has meant that it’s not recommended.
As mentioned above, the Hacienda la Esmeralda Geisha broke records. And the best news is that it has benefited the growers and all involved in the fairtrade journey.
Many people imagine coffee to be grown in large plantations akin to vineyards, with row upon row of coffee bushes. This may be the case for the beans that are sold to make your jar of instant coffee, but speciality coffee tends to be grown in smallholdings by the indigenous people of the land.
In contrast to the monoculture of plantations, these smallholdings are bio-diverse. The farmers cultivate the land with self-sufficiency in mind. They have to feed their family and their livestock as well as growing coffee and other produce they can sell.
This approach has great benefit for both the quality of the coffee and the sustainability of the land. The bio-diversity of the smallholding attracts natural predators to eat the pests, so chemicals are not needed. The nutrients of the soil are not drained as the different species of plants require and produce different nutrients. And so, although most farmers choose not to pay to be certified, their produce is organic and therefore better for us.
So you should feel good when you buy speciality coffee. Not only is it fairly traded, but it is grown in a sustainable and organic manner. You get great tasting coffee which is ethically sound.
You can always alter speciality coffee to your tastes by home roasting.