The meaning of ethical coffee sourcing for businesses
A morning cup of joe can consist of the drive-thru at Starbucks, your local coffee shop or brewing beans at home. The thought of where someone’s everyday coffee beans are sourced may not cross their minds.
According to a study done by Columbia University Center on Sustainable Investment, there are approximately 12.5 million coffee producers in the world. The question still stands of just how important the ethics of coffee sourcing is.
For Bryan and Meg Jenkins, owners of Candid Coffee Co., finding an ethical coffee source was one of the hardest steps.
“Since it’s a commodity, a lot of coffee is presold. You think you can just buy them easily but it’s a lot more than that,” Bryan Jenkins said. “It’s about building a relationship with the farmers but, with a small business like us, it’s harder.”
The term “Fairtrade” refers to how companies and farmers are committed to ethical practices in regards to wage, treatment and environmental impact, according to Fairtrade International.
Columbia University reported that the coffee worker income for eight out of 10 countries researched is either below or meets the poverty line.
Businesses like Candid strive to provide the best, not only for their customers, but also to the farmers who are ultimately providing the coffee.
“It’s all to make sure that those farms are treated and paid well enough for their work,” Meg Jenkins said. “Ultimately, we want to make sure that the farmers and coffee farms aren't getting taken advantage of and that they have good labor practices.”
Specialty coffee roasters like Candid Coffee Co. stay attentive to the quality of the coffee that they buy.
“We want the best coffee we could get and to do that we have to incentivize the farmers to pick the best beans,” Bryan Jenkins said.
After going through the process of finding an ethical coffee source, they realized that many small coffee farmers may not have the resources to fully become Fairtrade because of fees that need to be paid to be certified.
“Depending on how much land they have or how much they are even selling, it might not make sense for them to become certified,” Meg Jenkins said. “This is something that no one talks about when talking about Fairtrade.”
Direct trade sourcing may be an option for some businesses that have the resources and opportunity.
For Tina Kadolph, owner of Palate Coffee Brewery, her goal to source directly from a farm is accomplished after almost seven years of having her business.
What mattered the most to Kadolph was to make sure the farmers were treated properly and to know exactly how they operate.
“We flew out to Panama to meet with the owners of a specific farm to see how everything works,” Kadolph said. “Now we are direct sourcing from them. They came to see the coffee shop just like how we went to see their farm because we need to build that trust with them.”
The understanding of ethical coffee sourcing not only affects the business, but also the customer.
The lack of knowledge that customers have on coffee sourcing is limited because of exposure to the topic. It is up to businesses like Candid Coffee Co. and Palate Coffee Brewery to educate their community and be transparent on the process, as well as what one can do to help.
“We tell them that it might cost you a couple more a pound, but you are putting food on someone's table and letting his children go to school,” Kadolph said.
With every cup of coffee sold at Palate Coffee Brewery, a portion of their profits is donated to Love Missions, which fights against human trafficking.
Not only are the workers of importance when sourcing the beans, but also the environment in which they grow as well.
“To make sure that we are having a minimal impact on the environment as possible,” Byran Jenkins said. “Any way we can do that with importers that we are working with to make sure we are reducing the carbon footprint.”
From the seed to the plant, to the farmer, to the import, to the roaster and finally, to the consumer, the process of making coffee affects a multitude of aspects of the world.
The education on ethically sourcing coffee continues and business owners like Bryan Jenkins continue to learn more.
“Ethical coffee sourcing is increasing the livelihood and value of the farmers and everyone that is touching the coffee beans,” Bryan Jenkins said.
By Maria Teixeira