Whether you're new to the coffee game or not, you've probably heard the term Fair Trade Coffee before. But is it some shallow marketing phrase to make you feel better about buying coffee or is there real substance and value behind the certification? In this article we take a look at two main topics. First, what is fair trade coffee and why does it matter. Second, what are the best fair trade coffees currently available.
What is Fair Trade Coffee
Coffee is an enormous global business and as such, there are many hands in the proverbial ‘coffee' pot. As a general business principle, the more hands in the pot means less money for local coffee farmers and producers. The Fair Trade coffee is a movement regulated by non-profit entities and 3rd party associations that promotes fair wages for these coffee producers in developing countries. These fair wages in turn help build and sustain the development of the communities in which the coffee is grown. Coffee companies that adhere to 10 core principles can receive an official Fair Trade designation.
1. Create employment opportunities
2. Be Transparent for the sake of accountability
3. Focus on improving the lives
4. Pay a fair wage to producers
5. Prohibit the use of child or forced labor
6. Commit to non-discriminatory practices
7. Establish and maintain healthy and safe working conditions
8. Encourage and facilitate independence for producer groups
9. Promote fair trade principles
10. Respect the environment
The Truth About Fair Trade and Direct Trade
Obtaining official designations like Fair Trade or USDA Organic is a great way to give your customers peace of mind and assurance. However, for the coffee company, this can be very expensive and time-consuming. In some cases, it can be cost prohibitive for smaller coffee brands to pursue these certifications even if they've actually fulfilled all the requirements. The reality is just because a company isn't officially Fair Trade Certified doesn't mean they haven't invested much money, time, and effort into implementing Fair Trade values. In fact there are some “uncertified” coffee companies that arguably do even more to forge fair and sustainable relationships than certified companies.
You may have also heard the term “direct trade” which involves coffee roasters buying direct from coffee growers thereby cutting out the middlemen. This kind of direct trade allows the growers to see more profits. One of the biggest advantages of direct trade for coffee producers is that it's not a designation governed by a 3rd organization.
The point is when shopping for the best fair trade coffees, don't just write off any coffee company that doesn't have the Fair Trade certification label. It's still worth looking into the company's overall approach to sustainability and fair trade practices to see what they're truly about.
Top-rated and Best Fair Trade Coffees
The following recommendations for the best fair trade coffees are based largely on my personal flavor profile. I'm partial to a medium to dark roast and like my coffee bold with a robust flavor. I also like my coffee on the smooth side with less acidity. Please keep this in mind as you determine which coffees are a good fit for your preferences. The brands on this list not only produce incredible coffee, but also appreciate the value of helping the global community as a whole.
It's no surprise that this coffee brand remains one of our favorites. Based on my experiences, Lifeboost Coffee is a company that clearly cares about the well-being of both its customers and coffee producers. In addition to being Fair Trade and 100% organic, Lifeboost Coffee is also shade grown, mycotoxin free, GMO free, and pesticide free. Their coffee delivers a supremely clean yet robust flavor that will thrill the hearts of coffee purists. As a huge plus, this is also a low-acid coffee which means its perfect for coffee lovers with sensitive stomachs. Check out our full Lifeboost Review for more details. Use code: 15FRIEND for 15% off your order.
Phil and Sebastian Coffee may not be officially Fair Trade certified, but they're a great example of a coffee brand that captures the practices behind Fair Trade. All of their coffee is carefully sourced and sustainably compensated while building lasting mutually-beneficial relationships with the producers themselves. They also work directly with producers at a grass roots level to “introduce modern technology and sustainable methods to improve their farms”…and in doing so, the communities as well. Oh, in addition to all of this, their coffee is phenomenal. It's deeply rich and full of flavor. Check out our full Phil and Sebastian review for the full details.
This coffee company has consistently impressed us with their great-tasting Fair Trade coffee. Their coffee would definitely be considered strong and robustly flavored. Having spoken to the owner on numerous occasions, I can attest to the man's passion for coffee and love for the community that produces it. Their website's statement on Fair Trade coffee says it all. “Authentic Fair Trade goes beyond certifications, prices, and labels. It is built and rooted in a relationship that must be carefully navigated and constantly nurtured. It is practiced under terms of sustainability and transparency. It requires an earnest engagement and a dedication to the small-scale farmers and cooperatives.”
While Stumptown Roasters isn't officially Fair Trade certified, they are a living embodiment of what the program seeks to accomplish. Stumptown Roasters participate in direct trade in all of their operations with a focus on building relationships and maintaining transparency. Their brew quality is unparalleled and the brand is known for its unwavering approach to ethics and sustainability. As a result of this, Stumptown Roasters has been credited as a pioneer in the Third Wave coffee movement.
For our K-Cup and coffee pod users, we highly recommend trying Maud's Coffee. It's been our list of best-tasting coffees for a some time and now we can add it to our list of best Fair Trade coffees as well. As a prime example of a conscious coffee brand, Maud's Coffee has helped set new industry standards when it comes eco-friendly and Fair Trade K Cups. Their pods are also 100% recyclable and BPA free. To get the full Maud's experience, we suggest trying their Fair Trade K Cup Sampler which includes their most popular roasts from Ethiopia, Colombia, Sumatra, and Guatemala. You won't be disappointed! Check out our full Maud's Coffee review for more details on easily one of the best Fair Trade K-Cups on the market.
No list of best fair trade coffees would be complete without at least one mention of Rise Up Coffee based out of Easton, MD. They are a small-batch coffee roaster that also places a premium on Fair Trade practices. Their coffee has been recently voted “Maryland's Best Coffee” but has also won over the hearts of thousands of coffee lovers across the country. Their organic House Roast is a delightful medium bodied and medium roasted brew with smooth notes of cream and chocolate.