The Perfect Cup of Joe

Fresh Coffee Beans

Fresh Coffee Beans

The perfect coffee is hard to find. The crema needs to be exact, the milk needs to be thick and glossy and nowadays the beans need to be certified by some sort of environmentally friendly association. I always snort laugh when a customer asks if our coffee is Fair Trade after they have placed an order. Perhaps it’s just curiosity but I think it would be wise to seek ethical clarification before you purchase a product.  Just to be clear, Atomica follows the certification process that is set out by the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand. Our coffee however, is not Rainforest Alliance or Shade Grown; you’ll have to venture elsewhere to find those stickers.

Fair Trade is probably the most well known out of the three I mentioned above. The ethical emphasis is on a decent wage and satisfactory work conditions, but they do set forth rules for cultivation so production methods are not too detrimental to the environment. It costs $3,406 AUD to be a part of a fair trade organization and an annual payment of $851.60 AUD to stay involved. That’s a lot of money for small time farmers. Yet it comes across as a lucrative business which can persuade people to join the coffee making brigade. This could lead to more farmers making coffee instead of focussing on the local food market. There is already enough coffee on the market, who wants Guatemala to be one big coffee farm?

Rainforest Alliance is a tricky one. It is supported by McDonald’s which has greatly popularized the organization.  It seeks to “conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.” So it wants the ecosystem to be protected and the businesses in the area to prosper while it caffeinates the world. A lot of that is done through tourism and being associated with a name that will lure people to coffee farms. But only 30 percent of the coffee needs to follow the guidelines in order to be certified. What about the other 70 percent? That seems deceiving. I went into Mc Café to find out how much of their coffee really was certified, the lady thought I was nuts, I got an apple pie.

Shade Grown is old school. Before coffee became ‘the world’s second most traded commodity after oil, it used to be grown beneath rainforest canopies. Unfortunately, a lot of those rainforests are no longer with us due to deforestation. Growing coffee in this very natural way allows the beans more time to ripen making the end result full bodied and rich. Shade Grown hopes to strengthen ecosystems and create biodiversity by this method of production. Yet it is a time consuming process and doesn’t offer that much protection for the waiting farmer.

These organizations have a few faults, but they all seek to better the world in one way or another. I can only make your coffee as ethically perfect with the tools I am given, if you really want to make a difference don’t ask, just do. Actually going to these farms will boost their national economy and go a whole lot further than a question followed by a single espresso shot.

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3 Responses to “The Perfect Cup of Joe”


  1. 1 bondshavemorefun August 25, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    See, coffee to me pretty much IS capitalism, so I find it all so trying when people want to try to ‘ethical’ it up. Basically, anything that needs to be produced on the scale that coffee beans are will encounter issues along the way and the best way to protect coffee workers is to either opt out and encourage a huge amount of people to do the same or grow, harvest and roat your own.

    It could just be me with my cynicism and pessimistic view of the world, but I think that most people don’t really care about how bad someone else has it unless that fate is staring them in the face. An essential part of human nature is the inclination to exploit or manipulate those weaker than you and I can’t see the West and now emerging world giving that up so long as there’s profit to be made and a certain quality of life to aspire to or maintain.

  2. 2 Bill August 25, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    I wonder if the tea industry is beset by similar ethical problems. Those tea leaf pickers I saw in Java (the island) certainly didn’t seem to be raking the rupiah in with the tea as they sweated in the big drying sheds. And those women that Dilmah and sons show smiling into the camera; I wonder how much they earn for their efforts. I cannot see how giving up the beverages can help these people, though. It will just give you a caffeine withdrawl headache and leave less money to dribble down to the workers.
    As for the environment,tea is monoculture of the first order. No room for biodiversity there.
    You could give up the hot drinks but it won’t help much. If you care about the state of the workers or the environment, or both, you have to make a bigger effort and get involved.

  3. 3 Humphrey September 1, 2009 at 5:48 am

    I’m not as fussed about those “labels” but more about quality. But I also don’t want to be ripping off the people who grow the beans.

    I buy a lot of my beans from coffeesnobs.com.au
    They set aside a part of the price that you pay into a special fund called fair crack. Then, once there is enough money in the fund, they network with farmers, etc and use the fund to help them out. The most recent (i think) project they did was to buy a wet-processing machine for a community of farmers. That way they could sell processed beans for a much price than they were getting for raw/unprocessed beans.

    Also, I’ve come across a few places that are buying green beans straight from the farmers instead of through a merchant. The beans cost a similar amount, so much more money is being injected back into the farming community. I know of a local roaster near me who is buying beans straight from a farm, in one of the America’s.

    Also, there is another plantation that I’ve heard of in PNG, who have sent some of their family to Australia to be the wholesalers for their beans. That way they don’t get ripped off by the large coffee merchants.

    So it’s good to hear that there are many different ethical things happening!


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