Fair Trade Organic Coffee: Wake Up to Change
by Hugh Kruzel

Special to The Peace and Environment News

©Photo by Lois Siegel

Hugh Kruzel
With a quarter century in the wine world
 Hugh has seen great advances in quality and consumer knowledge
  He teaches courses in social and global justice and environmental law
and lives in Victoria, Canada

It was no grind.  Investigating the current culture of coffee forced me, though, to reconsider the implications of my morning eye-opener.

The kick-start of hot aromatic liquid has been an evolution of awareness.  In the 1970s Maxwell House and Mother Parker’s sat for hours: from the arrival of the first employee, through the mid-morning rush to afternoon revival.  Office brown beverage was a better title than coffee.  Sometimes it lingered well into the evening for night security to find a muddy sludge to be further bastardized  with Coffee-mate.  I can vaguely recall the appearance of the first bag of hazelnut-flavoured coffee, but it was the arrival of real beans that changed the coffee room landscape forever.

Today it seems we can even determine if coffee has sat more than 12 minutes after brewing.  Toss it and make a fresh pot seems the watchword for some of the big players.  Personal, hermetically sealed, coffee pods are the new trend.

We have increased our knowledge and broadened our tolerances.  Coffee was coffee… then it became geography:  100% Colombian, peaberries from Papua, Kenyan AA, Ethiopian, Jamaican, and Hawaiian…  The passing of Mom and Pop, locally owned restaurants and the arrival of multinationals really stirred the pot.  Both corporations and prices migrated northwards, and everyone, it seemed, lamented the death of the 10 cent cup-of-Joe.  Or did they?  I rocketed into Starbucks early one morning to stare as my host used her loyalty card to the tune of 14$… it didn’t faze her one bit that it paid for only two coffees and two “treats” waiting at the bar.  How much did the farmer get out of this sale?

It was at a United Church basement fundraiser that I first saw something called “Fair-Trade Coffee.”  Naturally enough it was these social conscience practitioners who actively spoke of the need for change.  Our habit had a far-reaching impact.  Paying more was not exclusively to buy into helping others, but also for a better cup of coffee.  Bypassing corrupt Central American governments and supporting small-scale farms and co-operatives seemed very palatable one cup at a time. 

Craig Hall of Equator Coffee Roasters Inc., 9A Houston Drive, Almonte, Ontario, (613) 256-5950,  says today’s consumers are searching for “… a taste experience, not a caffeine experience,” but there is still more than just this to consider. 

Craig Hall with Roaster

I’m sitting in Hall’s Almonte Roast/Coffeehouse, and while the first snowflakes skid across the sky, I flip through a mini-album of semi-tropical coffee photos.  I reflect on this north-south relationship.  Hall talks of the Smithsonian’s early initiatives to save a songbird habitat by renouncing the mega-farms and promoting a better model.  I hear the same mouthful of descriptives: “Fair Trade, Organic, Shade-Grown.”  Equator sells only coffee that is Transfair certified (Transfair stands for fairness and global social responsibility in international trade), and this validates the legitimacy of those key words: Fair Trade Organic (FTO).  Hall adds “Fresh” to his list of expectations.  Equator's coffee sells out every week. Hall roasts and replenishes his stock weekly.

Hall adds one more concept he wants to highlight that will separate his beans from all others: the search for “transformative co-operatives” that offer still more.  He enthusiastically describes his desire to bond with producers who adopt or maintain traditional drying patios and other patterns of conservation or that in some way better the local community.  Most producers burn precious forest cover to dry the coffee. Hall describes one visit to Central America where a pile of firewood two stories tall stretched as far as the eye could see.  Adopting Organic Production practices have benefits on both ends: consumers get better beans, and farmers no longer contaminate local water sources. 

A recent press release describes Hall’s successful efforts with an indigenous grass-roots initiative in Chiapas, Mexico that is typical in making Equator unique.  There are many other locations for sourcing FTO coffee.  Rainbow Foods (1497 Richmond Road) has several brands, including Westboro’s own Francesco’s, 383 Winona Drive, (613) 761-7788. Following my nose I headed east on Richmond just past the corner of Churchill where Bridgehead has one of its locations.  Tracey Clark of Bridgehead presents this post-script on her messages: “More than 600 species of migratory songbirds enjoy our Guatemalan shade-grown coffee...you will too.”  In fact this area has become a coffee hot zone.  Check out Ten Thousand Villages San Miguel brand of FTO.

A steady stream of strollers pass through the doors as owner Pietro Comino describes his mission and vision at Francesco’s. He adamantly states, “...above all it has got to be good,” and obviously his message has got out!  He is another passionate entrepreneur, and I am struck by his desire to deliver what he calls “splendidly-good” coffee.  He breaks our conversation to tickle out beans from the dispenser for an interested customer while she remarks on how the roaster sits visibly central in the store.  Francesco is 50% FTO: Pietro sees a growing awareness in consumer radar.  Steeped in Italian and family tradition, his grandfather created some of the blends in his own store in the 1920s, the recipes are not about flash but superior product that is sought after by top Ottawa restaurants.  Authentic flavours of the Cremoso Espresso Soave can be found at Beckta Dining and Wine.  I am captivated by the Mondovi blend with red berry, wine notes, and ripe earthiness.

Every city seems to be sprouting roast houses featuring FTO.  Deep in the Lanark Highlands and the hamlet of  McDonald’s Corners, the Treefrog Gallery offers FTO from Kingston’s Multatuli, while even Van Houtte is offering single serving size Mexican FTO.  Other initiatives include the Second Cup’s “Rebuilding Rwanda” campaign.  Check out two publications from Starbucks Coffee:  “Living our Values” - on social responsibility, and “Striking a Balance” - a fiscal report on corporate social responsibility.  Merchants and consumers are waking up and smelling the coffee… and it is Fair Trade Organic!

Contact:  Hugh Kruzel

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