Everyone Has A Role To Play With Sustainability Labels

Sustainability has become a pretty convoluted word. It sounds nice on paper — and looks pretty snazzy — but the moment you start to scratch the surface, you run into trouble.

Which sustainability labels are actually inciting meaningful change for farmers? How are these certifications approved and maintained, much less reinforced by outside parties? Do consumers actually have any power when it comes to encouraging fair trade? These are just a few of the questions that The Week takes a look at: their illuminating piece goes into the nitty-gritty behind sustainability certification and what it actually means for farmers, traders and consumers.

Government initiatives versus non-profits. The issue of premium demand and production. The flaws in the reporting system and which standards are used to measure in the first place. There’s some good, insightful commentary here to pierce the labyrinthine tangle of fact and fiction. While the sustainability conversation won’t be ended with just one article — indeed, the oversaturation of certification labels is the problem — this article will give you a better idea as to what you’re looking at while shopping.

Just yesterday I was looking for coffee to stock up my shelf and wondering whether or not I should buy K-cups, thanks to recent recycling issues. I’m also planning on making the switch to a French Press for home coffee so I can focus on purchasing specialty, small-batch coffee. It’s not much…

…but change has to start somewhere.

cute mug of coffee

A Dash Of Different: Five Fun Twists On Coffee And Tea

One of the genius details about coffee and tea is just how flexible they are. You can really come up with almost anything. …Almost. I really don’t want to read the news one of these days and find out liquid gold is now being called the ‘new espresso’.

I keep an eye on stories like these because I want innovation to be just as fun as it is necessary. Stories on climate change and the impact it leaves on entire livelihoods is an essential conversation, yes, but it’s also a little draining. Making the world a better place to live means embracing it all. Change as complex as coming up with new farming methods…as well as thinking about how to chill coffee quicker. Change as vital as planting millions of trees in one day, as well as a faster, cuter way of recycling.

Let’s take a look at some recent developments in coffee and tea, from low-calorie alcoholic tea varieties to caffeinated popsicles.

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Growing Confidence From The Ground Up: Building Trust In The Coffee Industry

Trust doesn’t happen overnight. It can, however, be lost overnight.

The coffee industry has been coming face-to-face with trust issues in the past few months alone. Green Mountain Keurigs, an easily recognizable grocery store coffee brand, has been hit with a customer lawsuit citing dishonest marketing practices. News reports having been honing in on how farmers are left out of coffee buying and distribution conversations. Studies have cropped up finding consumers disillusioned with green labels, despite environmental certifications coming in many varieties and requiring a lot of work to obtain. Starbucks, the titular coffee behemoth, has been cagey concerning details on how much the corporation has been paying farmers.

All this information is overwhelming…and rightfully so. Whether you are a distributor, roaster or cafe owner, you literally cannot afford not to build trust.

Buyers can sniff dishonesty a mile away. Keeping tight lips may seem wise in the short-term, but in the long-term can and will affect everyone up and down the coffee line. There is no quick answer when it comes to building trust, either. Not when you have to cultivate the individuality of the people you work with and the people you hope to buy from your business. There are, however, obvious pitfalls that should be avoided moving forward.

Let’s take a look.

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fancy cup of coffee

An elegant coffee maker made out of gold, silver and diamonds. Sound like a recipe for good coffee?

Of course not. Doesn’t stop elitism from making the usual rounds.

A new coffee maker has emerged recently, crafted out of the finest materials money can buy. The company Royal Paris claims to bring customers back to an older time where coffee was more appreciated, offering a decadent experience that results in the best cup of coffee. Fortunately for me, I’m too keenly aware of the history of coffee growing, roasting and distribution to succumb to the hype. Sure is pretty, though!

It’s easy to overlook this story as yet more pomp and puffery from the idle elite meant to incite outrage. Last I checked, the very history of coffee itself doesn’t revolve around gilded cups, but a humble, communal experience thousands of years old! Nonetheless, stories like these should concern cafe owners and roasters. This carefully packaged artful elitism is a major issue that keeps the coffee industry from achieving great things.

When left unchecked, these mentalities rot the craft from the inside out.

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a photo of the rwandan landscape

How often do you think about where your ethically sourced coffee comes from?

Not what the ‘ethically traded’ label says or the origin claim stated by the company…but where it really comes from. If you’re rubbing the back of your neck or avoiding eye contact with your screen, rest assured this is a common problem.

Not just among consumers, but among companies and businesses that work in direct trade with coffee farmers. In our whirlwind day-to-day, thinking about just where our goods come from and at what cost can feel like a tall order (pardon the pun). You’re just trying to get through the workweek in one piece! When it comes to positive change, however…now is always the best time for it. From grower to roaster to customer, the journey of coffee is a winding one. One we can neglect on our way to get the most convenient cup.

An ‘ethical trade’ label on a box or recycling claim on a lid isn’t enough. Several troubling developments concerning coffee sustainability and ethical trading have cropped up these past few weeks, showing that green sentiments are often only skin deep. One story analyzing coffee culture in Rwanda — or rather, the lack thereof — speaks to the real disconnect the West has with the rest of the world. Farmers are caught in such a chokehold between consistent production rates and high costs they’re not even able to taste their own creations. To the Western ear, this is completely surreal…

…and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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roasted coffee beans

A cup of coffee made without a single bean.

Sound like something you’d want to try? I took a look at this interesting scientific development earlier on LinkedIn, but I have a few more thoughts on the matter.

Beanless coffee is a (kind of) modern development currently being polished by today’s best scientists. This technique is similar to chicory — a method that involves brewing roots instead of beans — but whittles down the ingredients even further. Everything from the flavor to the way the brew sits on your tongue is meant to replicate traditional coffee near-flawlessly. On one hand, it’s fascinating how science can break down what we consume to its barest components. On the other hand, environmental concerns are cited as a major reason to continue this research.

Beanless coffee could help…as long as the industry’s priorities are kept straight.

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cup of tea

There’s a lot of bad news out there. It makes stories like these all the more important.

A coffee shop was recently founded in Georgia by a musician who wanted a way to reach out to those struggling with mental illness. This is a truly bright spot on an otherwise miserable news circuit.

Coffee and tea isn’t just about roasting the rarest specialty coffee or the most esteemed harvesting technique. It’s about why we make it. The impact we leave on people, from harvested bean to espresso shot.

I chose to focus on coffee and tea because of the ongoing influence these drinks leave on my life. They’ve been a great source of pleasure and contentment, giving my itchy fingers something warm to cradle on a cold night. Back when I consumed caffeine coffee or tea sometimes was the only thing keeping me awake! Even now just the act of brewing has a way of grounding my mind and helping me focus on my work. As someone who is mentally ill, this tool has been indispensable for keeping me moving forward.

This cafe sounds like a truly lovely place to relax. On top of providing delicious food and drink Waller’s Coffee Shop hosts live music, weekend wellness events and open mic sessions. With coffee and tea industries having a mainstream reputation for elitist attitudes — and the physical cafe struggling for relevance in a digital era — I hope this sets a trend for others to follow.

To embrace both technique and the human heart at the core of it all.