If you’re like many people in the UK, you probably wake up in the morning needing a hot cup of coffee to start your day. Whether you make it at home or grab it on the go, how much do you actually know about where your coffee comes from?
Reading the back of the coffee jar or packet sometimes doesn’t uncover all the information you need to determine whether or not it’s ethically sourced coffee. So, if you’re trying to answer these questions, what information do you look for, and where will you find it?
What Does ‘Ethically Sourced’ Mean?
The term encompasses many different practices, including a focus on both sustainability and the environment, as well as equality and equity for those producing the coffee. Essentially you are looking for a product that is made with what’s best for both humanity and nature in mind.
Companies cut corners to produce a product that costs them the least amount of money. This can mean offering unfair wages, a poor work environment for employees or using non-sustainable materials.
For something to have been ethically sourced, the company needs to be able to show responsibility, transparency and accountability at every stage of the production process: from the sourcing to the manufacturing and sales process.
As of 2019, 70% of the world’s coffee came from family farmers who work on relatively small farms. This might make you think that most of the coffee you consume is already organic and ethically sourced.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Since these farmers often don’t have the means to compete with larger farms, they’re left at the mercy of middlemen who offer to buy their beans, often at an unfair price. Even if the beans have been grown with great care, at this stage, the ethical supply chain can break down.
So, how do you know whether or not coffee beans, even ethically grown ones, have been turned into ethically sourced coffee?
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to coffee, you can tell a lot about its content, quality and the ethics of its production by looking at its label. From the design, to the ingredients and the certifications included on their packaging, a company’s label can tell you much of what you need to know.
Some companies make a claim to be ‘organic’ but have no proof to back it up, while others don’t list their ingredients. These are red flags. Most likely, if your coffee offers no list of ingredients or proof of ethical, organic production practices, then it’s probably not ethically sourced.
If the label has very little information, this can also a bad sign, but it’s not the only place you can find information.
Research the Company
First things first: if you want to know if a company produces ethically sourced coffee and you’re not sure about what’s on the label, it’s time to do some research.
You’ll want to look up different terms and what they mean. For example, the phrases’ ethically sourced’ or ‘fair trade’ are good places to start. There’s a lot of variation in how different companies use the same terminology when it comes to coffee.
Look over the company’s website and through their FAQs, resources or other relevant information. While they might not have all the information you need on their label, they may have it on their website.
Also, remember that larger companies purchase their coffee based mostly on price, not on quality. If their prices seem very low, you might want to look into why. It could be due to a lack of ethical practices.
When reading a label or searching a website, it’s important to understand what the different organisations and certifications you’ll find actually mean. You might come across numerous certifications such as:
If you don’t know what these terms mean, it can be very difficult to understand any claims of ethical or sustainable practices a company makes.
Some of these tell you a lot of very specific information. For example, something like ‘Proudly made in Africa’ means that the company has worked with this specific organisation which is dedicated to creating better work opportunities for those in Africa living in poverty.
On the other hand, a term such as ‘organic,’ will mean something different based on the country you’re in. Because the regulations change depending on where you are, you’ll want to look into the rules both where you’re buying your coffee, and where it was produced in order to truly understand why and how they received that certification.
There has been a huge rise in popularity for small and local coffee brands and retailers. Why? Because these places aren’t doing big deals with big companies. They’re sourcing coffee that is either grown or roasted locally – depending on where you are – with a focus on organic, ethically sourced products.
For many of these boutique stores, cafes and coffee shops, their credibility on these issues is especially important to their business. That means you should be able to ask them questions about where they source their coffee or about their supply chain. Because they’re producing their own product, or at the very least they’re not stocking a hundred different brands, they should be able to give you the specific information you’re after.
This is not one to be overlooked. The most ethically sourced and sustainable coffee is going to be more expensive than the well-known, mass-market coffee brands. This isn’t just a markup for the well-intentioned consumer; it’s because the money you spend is going towards ensuring responsible and ethical practices are being used. This is not to say that all expensive coffee is ethically sourced, but you will struggle to find ethically sourced coffee that is both cheap and high-quality.
It’s also important to remember that quality is often an indicator of better, and possibly more ethical, production. This is because to get the best quality, you can’t cut corners. Even large chains like Starbucks have ethical standards in place – part of what explains their prices.
If you want to buy sustainable, ethically sourced coffee, you are going to need to stay away from the cheaper stuff. You’ll also need to look for a product that is not only certified, but that demonstrates proof of the company’s practices.
Make sure to always read the labels, and don’t be afraid to do a little research to educate yourself on important terms that substantiate a brand’s claims. If you take these things into consideration, you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect organic, ethically sourced coffee.