Knowing Your Coffee Ethics

Before buying your coffee, know where the coffee beans are coming from and the journey they took to get to your cup.

| March 2018

  • Most coffee in America comes from countries in Asia, South America, and sub-Saharan Africa.
    Photo by Pixabay/Nietjuh
  • “The Home Barista” by Simone Egger and Ruby Ashby Orr teaches readers how to take their favorite coffee bean and turn it into the perfect of cup of coffee.
    Photo courtesy of The Experiment Publishing

The Home Barista (The Experiment, 2015) by Simone Egger and Ruby Ashby Orr teaches readers the ins and outs of brewing their favorite cup of coffee right at home. Egger and Ashby Orr walk readers through eight different methods of brewing after roasting your own beans. In this excerpt, they discuss buying ethically-produced coffee.

America is just one of the countries with an industrialized economy that consumes coffee like . . . well, the delicious drug that it is.

In the past ten years, our consumption of coffee has more than doubled. But most coffee comes from countries with developing economies in Asia, South America and sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a labor-intensive product produced by smallholder farmers who often don’t break even—thanks, for the most part, to fluctuating world market prices. Coffee production for the mass market is associated with exploitative child or forced labor practices. But there is a way to enjoy your coffee without it leaving a bitter taste.

Ethically produced coffee is guaranteed to have come from farms where workers are paid and treated fairly for their labor. It also refers to coffee that has been produced in a way that’s sensitive to the surroundings, with respect for the local environment.

There are a number of certification agencies setting basic standards and monitoring the activity of its members, but the nature of specialty coffee almost defines it as being ethically produced. Roasters and buyers partner with farmers to produce a high-quality product that most often only comes about from improved, sustainable farming and processing methods.


Fairtrade is a nonprofit commercial trading partnership and certification program established to ensure that growers receive a fair price for their coffee. Fairtrade does this by helping growers form co-operatives that then sell to traders who are certified to pay the Fairtrade Minimum Price—a price set by their co-operatives that covers the cost of sustainable production—or the market price, whichever is higher. The system protects individual growers from fluctuations in market prices and establishes growers in a robust supply chain.

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