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the Caffeinated Traveller’s Code of Ethics for Coffee

October 22, 2009

I started thinking about this post yesterday but somehow couldn’t find the right way to start it. Writing about a big coffee plantation wasn’t generating the creative juices I needed to get my fingers tapping the keyboard. It did start me thinking, though, about the coffee experiences I’ve had recently and the end-to-end production of a cup of coffee: seedlings, fertilisers, managers, owners, pickers, buyers, traders, cafés, baristas — and me.

by Cate

by Cate

It was surprising what was and who were involved. Changes in the global coffee market from South East Asian countries, particularly Vietnam, have seen a decline in the Central American markets like Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua. Except for Nicaragua, I’ve drunk coffee at cafés and street vendors from both these regions knowing very little of the nature of the business, its impact on people and the environment and where I stand as a consumer. Of course I’m not completely ignorant,  just unaware of the lesser known details.

Feeling a little more informed I decided it’s time for me to walk a different path and take control over my coffee practices.

by Cate

by Cate

 Code of Ethics

Support coffee buyers that practice fair trade or direct trade – source beans from buyers who support fair trade or direct trade including coffee giants like Starbucks. Regardless of its reputation, this company sources high quality beans from small farmers and sells it under the Red Label brand. Café and coffe brand Intelligentsia direct buys beans from growers.

Not all growers are equal – big plantations are not always bad and small farms are not always good. It is often the small time farmer on limited funds, cutting corners, underpaying workers, and choosing artificial methods over natural. Bigger plantations tend to have more funds available to implement sustainable codes of practice.

Support growers who treat workers well –  word of mouth is an invaluable for hard to find information. The blogosphere is also rich in content on individual farms.

Visit farms that carry out sustainable practices – look for logos and signs that show which farms are members of co-op or alliances —  Rainforest Alliance is a example.

by Cate

by Cate

Frequent cafés where coffee is taken seriously – avoid places that overload coffee with whips, syrup and other diabetic inducing products; and serve grande-sized espresso. Note, buying Red Label beans from Starbucks would be an exception here.

Patronise cafés that support sustainable practices including the café itself – some cafés will support the growers but continue to use plastic and paper cups and plates instead of ceramic or eco-friendly material (some disposable products are made from biodegradable materials).

Accept that the world is not perfect – if I were an idealist, I would give up coffee altogether. But I am not perfect and neither is the world and practices are also not perfect, because economics are involved. A change no matter how big, has to be a good start.

by Cate

by Cate


Caffeinated Traveller

  1. October 23, 2009 10:25 am

    Thanks for mentioning the Rainforest Alliance in your post! We agree that people are never going to give up coffee (or tea, bananas or chocolate), so the most effective way to protect the environment and workers is by making sure crops are grown in the most sustainable way possible!

  2. October 23, 2009 11:11 am

    “I started thinking about this post yesterday but somehow couldn’t find the right way to start it.” I recognize myself very well in that feeling of not knowing exactly how to being a certain post. Sometimes I’ve let an unfinished draft remain for days, weeks, even months, before I gather my thoughts and click publish.

    As for your code of ethics, I completely agree with all of them. Especially supporting buyers that apply fair trade standards to their coffee. I started buying more fair trade a few years ago, not only coffee but also chocolate and other food products. It’s important being aware of how what we purchase impact people and the environment.

    If you ever travel to Sweden I can recommend Barista Coffee currently available in 7 Swedish cities. Their site doesn’t (yet) have an English version, but their coffee is well worth paying – and waiting – for.

  3. October 23, 2009 12:15 pm

    You make some excellent points. Sometimes our “little” choices are much bigger than we realize.

  4. October 23, 2009 9:02 pm

    It is interesting that you mention this because only recently, on a trip to Udupi, I came upon a small time coffee shop that sourced coffee beans from Chikamangalore before roasting and powdering them in his shop for sale to customers who came calling at his shop. All run by one man, and using an old machine that should’ve rightfully been in a museum.

    I wonder how many such small-time outlets must exist. All the more important to support and sustain them.

  5. October 24, 2009 10:27 am

    Abby – Hello!! It’s a pleasure to share with readers organisations like yours who help business help the environment. Thanks for stopping by.

    Erica – I think it makes us better people if we can spend the time to find the products that are part of an organisation like fair-trade. Thanks for the link, I think I will have to visit Sweden sooner than later.

    Heather – nicely summed up!

    Anil – This is a great story, would love to visit the shop. Thanks for sharing.

  6. October 25, 2009 1:14 pm

    Sounds like important guidelines to follow. I’m trying to be more responsible in my eating– in particular, I’m trying to eat locally as much as possible. But since coffee is not something most of us can get locally, it’s all the more important that we seek out responsible options. -X

    • October 26, 2009 8:30 pm

      Hi X – does SA grow coffee at all or tea? Or is the climate too cool? Just a thought.

  7. Mike James permalink
    October 29, 2009 2:31 pm

    I’m conjuring up family vacation ideas right now. Nice blog and you use really nice photos too..

  8. November 1, 2009 3:42 am

    Wow. that’s a lot of thought for a cup of coffee. Definitely time to keep an eye on the cafe’s one frequents and at least be aware.

    I agree with the point on ‘diabteic inducing products’, but more from a personal preference, especially since I’ve taken to black. But – I think the idea of the syrups ect are for these guys to cater to a wider audience and also a lot of young adults, who are probably not yet hooked on coffee. More a business strategy, so is that not good?

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