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How to Find (and Understand) the Best Fair Trade Coffee

There’s nothing quite like that first sip of coffee in the morning. But have you ever taken the time to think about where your coffee comes from – and its impact on our global community?

Most coffee comes from farms in isolated rural areas where producers lack the means and the large customer base to sell their crops for a great price. In many developing countries where coffee is grown, unfair pricing practices can drive these farmers into poverty. They can even force farmers to sell small family-owned farms to large-scale farming operations that may care less about the environment and local community than the original owner.

The best fair trade coffee, on the other hand, is sustainably produced to protect our communities and our delicate planet. 

If you’re a coffee lover, you owe it to yourself to give certified fair trade, well-sourced and -vetted, and organic coffees a try.

What Is Fair Trade Coffee?

Coffee that’s fair trade-certified supports the farmers who grew it. Buyers pay a fair price for farmers’ beans, allowing them to provide for their families, practice sustainable farming methods, and give back to their local communities.

Fair trade labeling generally certifies some or all of the following:

  • Safe working conditions for everyone on the coffee farm. Farms can’t use slave labor or forced child labor at any time.
  • Protections for the environment, such as proper waste disposal, water conservation, and prohibitions on planting in protected areas. Fair trade farmers also frequently plant coffee alongside other crops to prevent erosion and boost soil health.
  • Investment in community development projects. Coffee cooperatives often receive funding that they can use to help impoverished children or develop health programs for indigenous peoples.

Some, but not all, fair trade coffees are single-origin. Single-origin means that your beans came from one specific location, such as Peru or Ethiopia. Coffee that's not single-origin could contain beans from several regions or countries. And, about half of all fair trade coffees are organic, which means they’re not treated with traditional pesticides or herbicides.

How Does Coffee Become Fair Trade-Certified?

To become fair trade-certified, a fair trade certification organization will have to certify it as such. A few certifying organizations include FLOCERT, Fair Trade USA, and Fair Trade International.

To start the certification process, farms and plantations must go through a rigorous on-site audit. The auditor checks out the farm’s labor and farming practices to make sure they meet that organization’s certification standards.

Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade

You may have seen bags of coffee stamped with a “direct trade” label. But what does that mean? Is it the same thing as fair trade? While fair trade roasters buy beans from importers, direct trade roasters purchase beans directly from the farmer or a close representative.

Is one better than the other? Not necessarily. Both prioritize sustainability and fair wages for farmers. If you’re hunting for ethically grown coffee, either is a great option – the most important thing is to know that your wholesale coffee roaster or retailer has you and their sourcing in mind.

The Best Fair Trade Coffees You Can Buy

When it comes to buying fair trade coffee, you’ll find an increasing array of choices on many store shelves. But if your store lacks a good selection, you can also buy fair trade coffee from roasters online.

Below, we’ll talk about some of the best fair trade coffee on the market today.

Philly Fair Trade Roasters Nicaragua Jinotega

Philly Fair Trade Roasters' Nicaragua Blend

Philly Fair Trade Roasters Nicaragua Jinotega coffee is a medium blend with hints of sweet pastry and caramel. Farmers grow these beans under native shade trees, earning the product a Bird Friendly Certification.

This coffee comes from Ucasaman, a Nicaraguan union of cooperatives that uses funds to invest in local education programs.

Philly Fair Trade Roasters sells Nicaragua Jinotega beans in one- and five-pound bags. For a one-pound bag of whole beans, you’ll pay $16.

Philly Fair Trade Nicaragua Coffee Blend

Intelligentsia Peru La Conquista

Intelligentsia Peru La Conquista

Intelligentsia’s Peru La Conquista comes from small growers in the Cajamarca region. This coffee is organic and only harvested in season, so you know you’re getting some of the freshest coffee possible. Bourbon and Caturra beans feature delicious notes of apple, brown sugar, and golden raisin. 

A 12-ounce bag of Peru La Conquista will run you $24.

Intelligentsia Pere La Conquista

Equal Exchange Mind, Body & Soul

Equal Exchange Mind, Body & Soul

Equal Exchange’s organic Mind, Body & Soul coffee features a smooth and mellow blend of light and dark roasts. This coffee has a nutty profile with hints of milk chocolate and vanilla. 

For $45, you’ll get six 12-ounce bags of whole bean or ground coffee (72 ounces total).

Equal Exchange Mind, Body & Soul

Higher Grounds Coffee Organic Mayan Magic Espresso

Higher Grounds Coffee Organic Mayan Magic Espresso

Higher Grounds Magic Mayan Espresso contains a blend of beans from Ethiopia, Sumatra, and Guatemala. This fair trade coffee features a cocoa body, dried tart cherry acidity, and a bittersweet chocolate finish. Mayan Magic makes a great espresso, but it’s also great for brewed coffee. 

You can get a 12-ounce bag of Mayan Magic for $16. The company also offers a 10% discount if you subscribe to regular coffee shipments.

Higher Grounds Organic Mayan Magic

Make Ethical Coffee a Priority

Buying fair trade, organic, and directly sourced coffees are three great ways to prioritize ethical farming and business practices while stoking your coffee habit. Philly Fair Trade has been micro-roasting fair trade, organic coffee for more than a decade, helping regional retailers and customers throughout the Delaware Valley region enjoy great coffee on a conscience – find a retailer near you or buy organic coffee online.

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