A Growing Trend, Organic

Coffee Coffee Sustainability

Consider this statistic: According to the National Coffee Association, nearly eight out ten Americans drink coffee. Consumers are taking notice of organic, certified organic, and sustainable coffee programs. Although there is still the consumer that wants a “basic cup,” most consumers expect more from their coffee and are willing to pay more for it.

Many always ask me, how do organic and Fairtrade labels coincide within the coffee industry? Organic and Fairtrade are two different but complimentary certifications that can be run parallel or separately. Listed below are the definitions and certifications.

Certified Organic:

In order for the coffee to be certified and sold as organic in the United States, it must be produced in accordance with U.S standards for organic production and certified by an agency accredited by the U.S. Department Of Agriculture. U.S. requirements for organic coffee production include farming without synthetic pesticides or other prohibited substances for three years and a sustainable crop rotation plan to prevent erosion, the depletion of soil nutrients, control for pests.


Organic coffee is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. Organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers and build biologically diverse agriculture.


Sustainable farming within the coffee industry implements practices to minimize water consumption and to clean the water used. Water from the fermentation tanks should never be returned to rivers or lakes, but rather filtered naturally through the earth and then used for coffee irrigation. A sustainable farm gives back as much to the land and people as it receives. Sustainable farming also reduces pollution and takes steps to care for the environment and for it’s employees.

Fair Trade:

Fair Trade certification focuses on labor and trade standards to provide small farmer co-operatives a guaranteed price above the conventional market. Not all Fair Trade  CertifiedTM coffee is necessarily organic. However, Fair Trade CertificationTM does require strict environmental stewardship such as prohibiting the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the most hazardous pesticides. Fifty nine percent of all Fair Trade CertifiedTM coffee imported into the United States in 2008 was certified organic.

Direct Trade:

Direct trade is a term used by coffee roasters who buy straight from the growers, cutting out both the traditional middleman buyers and sellers and also the organizations that control certifications such as Fair Trade and Bird Friendly. Direct trade proponents say their model is the best because they build mutually beneficial and respectful relationships with individual producers or cooperatives in the coffee producing countries.

Direct Relationship:

Relationship coffee represent a unique, grassroots opportunity for coffee drinkers to contribute toward the success and development of coffee producing communities in third world countries. The Coffee Roasters Alliance supports and adopts specific farms and cooperatives through Relationship coffee programs. These programs uniquely develop a close-touch platform designed to establish a direct relationship between coffee drinkers and the communities that grow their coffee.

Rainforest Alliance:

The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal is an internationally recognized symbol of environmental, social and economic sustainability that helps both businesses and consumers do their part to ensure a brighter future for us all. In order for a farm or forestry enterprise to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification, or for a tourism business to be verified, it mus t meet rigorous standards designed to protect ecosystems, safeguards the well being of local communities and improve productivity. The Rainforest Alliance then links these farmers, foresters and tourism businesses to the growing global community of consumers through the green fog seal.

Cup Of Excellence:

Cup of Excellence is the most prestigious award given to a fine quality coffee. The level of scrutiny that Cup of Excellence coffees undergo is unmatched anywhere in the coffee industry. All of the Cup of Excellence award winners are cupped at least five times (the Top 10′ are cupped again) during the 3-week competition. During the selection process, thousands of cups are evaluated, tasted and scored based on their characteristics. The prices that these winning coffees receive at auction have broken records and proven that there is huge demand for these rare farmer identified coffees.

Information provided by Coffee Talk Magazine and written by Maura Keller.

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