This is part 2 of my quality coffee series! If you haven’t read part 1, check it out here.
I am an all-or-nothing person, especially when it comes to my comfort food. I want to make sure that every cup is the best quality coffee I am able to produce. If I believe that I am capable of better, I will strive for that till I reach it.
When I stumbled into this grim side of the story, I’m not sure I was ready for what unfolded. I had many questions, most of which are still unanswered. I will keep digging for the truth behind all this. For now, this is my best summary of what I found, as far as I understand it.
It all started with this little phrase that kept popping up in my research: “Fair Trade.” Since writing my “pep talk” I have made it a point to always ask questions. So here it goes…
What is Fair Trade Coffee?
Basically, the idea is to make sure the coffee farmers, workers, and buyers are not swindled or underpaid. Under the fair trade system, all parties have to follow certain rules and standards. Direct Trade has no such boundaries.
The truth of the matter is, many coffee farmers work in very harmful conditions and get little or nothing for it. Even worse still, children and slaves are forced to work in order to meet the daily requirement. They are often too poor or uneducated to wear protective gear from the harsh elements and from the toxic chemicals they have to spray on the coffee.
Fair Trade came in to fix all that.
Did it? Yes and no. On one hand, the system has great intentions. But on the other hand, it is just another expensive burden causing the poor farmers to get poorer still. To make matters worse, farmers have to make ends meet by selling their less expensive bad beans through Fair Trade and keeping the quality beans for more profitable sources.
The problem with Fair Trade is that it shoots itself in the foot.
But, if the coffee business is not working out for them, can’t they just quit and try something else?
No. Coffee is not grown in America. The majority of the natives who break their backs and sometimes die while picking every last bean in your bag have no other alternative. They are just too poor to afford education. Why? Because this coffee business is not going well.
Shouldn’t we raise the prices of coffee and make sure the farmers get paid more?
Yes, the coffee farmers could use more money for their trouble, but this article offers a more effective way to help them: What would happen if the world’s demand for coffee went down?
“Interventions in coffee communities like microfinance, cash grants to start new enterprises, and internationally sponsoring the children of coffee growers to help these children obtain more and better education help coffee growers worldwide because they reduce the world supply of coffee. This benefits everyone, because as coffee growers and their children move to other occupations, all producers in the world benefit from higher coffee prices. ” 10 Reasons Fair Trade Coffee Doesn’t Work
The world is drinking more coffee than the planet and the people are able to produce. The world just needs to stop drinking so much coffee.
Stop drinking coffee!?
My heart sank when I read this. It all makes sense, but how could I quit coffee?
You could start by not drinking more than 1 or 2 cups a day. Large amounts of coffee (and caffeine) are as bad for your health as much as for your paycheck. I successfully quit drinking coffee for two weeks straight! If felt so fantastic I couldn’t believe the difference! Ever since then, I haven’t been as addicted to it as I once was. I probably would have quit altogether if not for my extreme passion for the taste (hey, it reminds me of my Mom, okay?).
I’ll share how I kicked the addiction in another article.
If you can’t give up your coffee completely, try buying coffee from good sources or even roasting your own fresh beans. Both are far healthier options and help the rest of the world get back on its feet.
Here is an entire site with free information on how to easily roast your own beans! No more overpriced, stale coffee. Not only will you save money, but you may even make some extra cash selling it. That’s exactly what the people who started this site are doing.
Bottom line: there is no cheap way to make quality coffee. Period.
Making quality coffee is expensive and complex. It cannot be done properly by machine. It must be hand-picked, hand selected, hand tasted, hand roasted, hand sold. When we add too much large-scale machinery, cut corners, add chemicals, and plow habitats it all takes a huge toll. Both the quality of the coffee and the lives of the workers suffer.
America is the largest coffee consumer in the world!
Our demands for it are just too high. Sometimes “bigger and better” isn’t the answer. Sometimes the world just needs things done the old-fashioned way: human elbow-grease on a reasonable a scale.
Coffee (like most things in life) is only as great as the people in it.
There is an interesting moral question behind all this: Is justice linked to health? It seems that in order to make the coffee healthy, the method of making it must be right and just. If the poor farmers were not mistreated, they could thrive and make quality coffee. It is something I have been wondering about lately.
So what do you think? Are justice and health inseparably linked? Is the coffee industry biting off more than it can chew? Is Fair Trade really fair? What can we do to help the coffee farmers?
BONUS: Ever wonder how this mass coffee addiction all began? See it for yourself: Why Most Americans Drink Coffee Not Tea
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the links in this article