This week’s column is written by Abbey James, a Food Citizen and Barista trainer for The National Trust

Image by Coffee Geek.

Whether drinking coffee at home or away, it’s good to know what is in my cup, the same way I strive to know where my meat, veg and dairy come from.

All coffee starts its life as a cherry on a tree; usually grown along the ‘coffee belt’ between capricorn and cancer tropics. High up on mountains, the coffee cherry tree comes in many species and varieties, much like grape vines. Depending on the economic position, the infrastructure, politics and popularity of the farm, there are many steps this cherry will go through to become a green coffee bean, which is then imported to the coffee roaster.

When choosing what coffee to drink, it’s good to keep in mind the journey it has been on and whose hands it has touched. Coffee on the most part has a minimum price a producer is willing to take. The ‘C- price’ is traded on the NY stock exchange, in units of ‘bags’. This price is fluid, and does not always reflect the cost of production.

The Fairtrade logo is a widely recognised confirmation that we, the consumer, are making a good choice. Fairtrade supplies a base price for producers, and helps them reduce the effects from the volatility of changing markets. But can we do better still? Can we know more about how the fruit is processed and the name of the cooperatives that support each farm to connect with our vast global market?

Smaller roasting businesses are becoming fluent in other ways of trading. Traceability is becoming accountability. Words such as ‘relationship coffee’, ‘direct trade’ and ‘fairly traded’ are being used to describe new ways of assuring the roasters and importers are seeing where our money is going. Usually these small businesses are specialty coffee roasters. The coffee described as ‘specialty’ has been graded the highest quality. Not many specialty coffee roasters produce instant versions of their coffee.

To that end, I encourage those drinking coffee at home to research local roasters, such as Atkinsons Coffee Roasters, and look into what methods of procurement, and what relationships they have with farmers. This information is usually readily available on their websites and social media channels. The system is still widely flawed, and is an ongoing conversation and developing theme, but awareness of the story of coffee from crop to cup and the choices we make as a consumer, are the first steps to a fairer cup.

For more information about the ethics of coffee, see Ethical Consumer’s comprehensive guide to coffee.

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