FYI: I am putting aside the “is coffee good for you” debate on this article. This article is for the people who just want to have their coffee and drink it too!

I have been on a coffee kick lately and I am going to blame it on the cold Oregon weather. Well, that’s not entirely true, it was actually warm for a bit and I had to get iced coffee for that weather too. Maybe it’s because there is a really cute coffee barista (aka my husband) working at the Ike Box?

Ike Box is one of my favorite coffee shops in Salem and they just made a switch to Sisters Coffee Company. At the same time I picked up the book Ethical Gourmet (I highly recommend you glancing through it on Google Books). It is not a vegan book, but it does provide  insightful information about the food and beverages we consume. As I was sipping on some Sister’s coffee I came across the coffee chapter. At this moment I became frightened that I would have to give up my coffee for good. Was my coffee conscious?

There are many issues that arise with a coffee habit. Here are some important issues from Ethical Gourmet that we should be aware of:

Organic Coffee

Why you should care:

Coffee is one of the most chemically treated products in the world. Many of the countries that produce coffee don’t have regulations on how the coffee is treated, which means powerful chemicals like DDT or ingredients from Agent Orange are coating your morning cup of coffee. The chemicals used also effect the workers who spray your coffee and the environment it is gown in.

What does organic mean?

“Organic coffee is produced with methods that preserve the soil and prohibits the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, its production helps preserve a clean environment for workers and indigenous people.” Not only is it good for the people and area it is grown in, it is better for us. What does drinking a pesticide laced coffee do for our bodies over 20, 30, or 50 years? Cancer? Diseases? Alzheimers? Your guess is as good as mine.

Fair Trade

Why you should care:

Most of the coffee Americans drink comes from poor families living in bleak conditions. Many farmers are paid unfairly and, “Most growers sell to middlemen, who pay them pennies on the dollar, and then sell to companies like Maxwell House (Kraft Foods) and Folgers (Procter and Gamble). These two companies supply 56 percent of the US market.” In the worst cases child labor, which is often a form of modern day slavery, is used. Children work in dangerous conditions, unpaid, and denied of any form of education.” Fair trade does not support these practices.

What does Fair Trade mean?

“Fair trade coffee is purchased directly from cooperatives of smaller farmers that are guaranteed a minimum contract price with some of the profits being invested in education and health care for those grower communities. In return, they are encouraged, trained, and usually expected to grow the coffee using sustainable, ecofriendly practices.”

“Fair trade demands that its farmers adhere to strict child labor standards.” Such standards state that a child must be 18 or older to use machetes or apply pesticides. Child under 15 may only work on a farm if their education is not jeopardized.

Shade grown

Why you should care:

High yielding plants that grow in full sun have been cultivated to support the growing need for coffee. This is a detrimental situation that supports massive deforestation and a type of monoculture that wipes out multiple species of animals and plants. Monoculture is good for no one.

What does Shade Grown mean?

“Shade-grown coffee is grown in shaded forest settings that is good for biodiversity and birds. Such settings preserve quality of life for native peoples, and help ensure that their livelihoods won’t be exploited out of existence.” Shade grown coffee trees must be grown under various types of fruit and shade trees. When there is more biodiversity it can protect coffee crops from pests and invasive species which ultimately means less need for herbicides and pesticides.

After my enlightening reading I started to worry about what my coffee habit was supporting. So like I typically do when I want I straight answer I e-mailed Sister’s Coffee directly.

Here is her response:

Hi Kourtney,

Thank you so much for writing us here at Sisters Coffee Company. We are so glad that you are familiar with our products and are curious about how we get our coffees.
We purchase green shade-grown beans from small, socially responsible (often family-owned) coffee farms around the world. Colombia, Costa Rica, Sumatra, Uganda, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Ethiopia…the countries vary from time to time but these origins are almost always on our list of available beans. Some of our beans are labeled Organic, which means that the coffee farmer or cooperative has gone through the process, and met the conditions, of having that designation applied to their crop. We have Direct Trade relationships with a few of our growers, which means that we have a personal relationship with the grower or cooperative and have direct (on site) knowledge of how the beans are grown and processed. We purchase our beans directly from these growers thereby substantially enhancing their financial sustainability and ensure a more stable life for their families.
It is true that the majority of our beans are not labeled Organic but this does not mean that they are not grown organically or responsibly. Many growers do not want to pay for the “hoops” that must be overcome to receive the Organic designation so they choose to not take on that label. It is an expensive process.
I hope that this is helpful to you.
Thank you again for your interest in Sisters Coffee.


Conscious coffee, check! Through Gail’s response is it evident that Sisters coffee is aware that sustainable and eco/people-friendly practices are important. I was very happy to receive such a socially aware response. I personally like supporting the Guatemala and KABUM blend because they both go the extra mile to get the Direct Trade (True Trade) label. Thankfully, I will still be drinking Sisters Coffee at the Ike Box, whew!

Now the big question is, what type of coffee do you drink? Organic, Fair Trade or Shade Grown?


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