How do you take your Coffee?

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Recently a retailer asked me a very important question: what brand of Fair Trade Coffee do you recommend? As an avid coffee drinker and inspired to walk the talk, I brew an assortment of Fair Trade, Direct Trade & Beyond Fair Trade coffees. Off the top of my head I rhymed off a few that she could check out – however the question still sits on my mind. Where we spend our money has such a big impact on shaping the world – I wanted to ensure that I was directing her to the best bag of coffee based on her ethical values. What is the ideal coffee for a retailer looking to offer positive products? It was a great question and ever since she asked (about a month ago), I’ve been fulfilling my fiduciary duty by sampling some delicious coffee while learning more about the companies that bring the beans to the open market.

Trying to roast my own in Guatemala


(Trying to roast my own in Guatemala)

Why does it matter so much?  Because I understand and respect the process of what it takes to put coffee in my cup and honestly – by being cheap about it (or buying the wrong brand), I’m cheating the environment and communities near and far.  If we look at a product for what it’s worth and value it based on factors beyond cost (people, planet, profit), it becomes clear that the discounted price we pay is often at the expense of something greater.  More so, we lose connection with what we are consuming which can often lead to waste.

Daily life in San Marcos La Laguna - Solola - Guatemala


(Daily life in San Marcos La Laguna – Solola – Guatemala)

The triple bottom line framework has most certainly taken over my thought process in my business – and beyond that in my day to day consumption. Essentially the standard to which I would like to operate Simply Sustainable is the same standard that I would like to see in the businesses that I support. A benchmark if you will. I aim to buy products and services from enterprises that operate with integrity and passion for what they produce. The good news, it’s out there. The tricky part is you have to look, and often they are off the beaten path.

A great example of coffee production based on integrity - ChocoSol Traders


(A great example of coffee production based on integrity – ChocoSol Traders)

Among the desire to find the perfect bag of coffee (organic, fair trade, direct relationship with farms and co-ops, minimal impact packaging, purchased close to home, accessible price point) I am feeling a déjà-vu back to my days of studying non-profit accountability. My belief is that if grassroots organizations are transparent with their operations and culture (and can effectively share this information with donors/consumers) our dollars will go further and wider making a greater impact on communities locally and globally. If we are presented with the right information – we can make informed decisions and we can double down on our dollar by supporting causes and efforts that go beyond just making a buck.

The Minga - Downtown Dunnville, Ontario


(The Minga – Downtown Dunnville, Ontario)

The more I look, the more I find when it comes to social enterprises. Spending time on social media, I connect with many like minded individuals and groups who care as much about creating sustainable work for others as they do for themselves. There is a whole network of entrepreneurs out there that are eager to give back by providing a product that you can purchase making a positive impact on the local and global community. Too good to be true? Maybe, if you’re not willing to make sacrifices. It may sound harsh, but as I often say – sincerity sounds better.

Taking it all in - view from Finca Magdalena, Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua


(Taking it all in – view from Finca Magdalena Cooperativa, Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua)

What do I need to sacrifice? Keeping with the coffee example, it works out to a $240.00 a year premium that I pay to ensure I drink coffee that satisfies a Triple Bottom Line framework. Let me break it down. An average bag of coffee (one that satisfies 1-2 items on my list mentioned above) can be purchased for approximately $4.00/pound. A great bag of coffee (checks off at least 5 of the items mentioned above) can be purchased for approximately $14.00/pound. At the rate that I drink coffee & happily share it with others, I go through about 2 pounds a month. That means I pay a premium of $20.00 per month to drink the good stuff, lighten my ecological footprint and contribute to doing trade differently.

From the shores of Lago Atitlan, Guatemala.


(From the shores of Lago Atitlan, Guatemala)

I gladly choose to pay the extra in this case, and I manage to do so by bringing my coffee with me when I’m on the go in a refillable cup instead of hitting up a drive-thru.  It matters to me that much about fairness towards global communities and natural farming practices which nourish the earth that I am willing to pay out a premium for a cup of coffee every day. Can I apply this same purchasing technique to everything I buy? Not yet, but one product at a time I can choose to buy fair. And just like the coffee – it will require sacrifice. This sacrifice is not always monetary, it could also be time or convenience that I need to spare in order to make a more meaningful purchase.

Local artisan from Chichicastenango, Guatemala


(Local artisan from Chichicastenango, Guatemala)

Constant consumption and instant gratification has left many of us unsettled and anxious as we look at the world around us. We recognize that a shift is making way, but as I know all too well, it’s hard. It’s only natural, when you pave the path, you have to put forth more effort and at the end of a long day, week, month, year – who’s got the energy? There is comfort in knowing that as consumers we are not alone and by sharing our experiences we can put a spoke in the wheel of subconscious spending and start to take ownership of the way we pay out our time and money.  I firmly believe that if we continue to bring forth the face of the people who make the products we consume & better understand what is involved in the production (from cradle to grave) we will inherently consume ethically every chance we get.

Level Ground Trading Coffee packaged for Ten Thousand Villages - check out their upcycle program from returned packaging.


(Level Ground Trading Coffee for Ten Thousand Villages – with and upcycle program for returned packaging.)

I’m a consumer like any other and I hope to offer up some sound suggestions on different brands that stand out in the marketplace. So when it comes to coffee, here are the links to a few Canadian roasters that are top of my list: ChocoSol Traders, Just Us!, Level Ground (purchased at Ten Thousand Villages) and Mountain Gems. This is only the tip of the iceberg – there is a lot to share when it comes to coffee choice and I will be sure to revisit the topic in future blogs to fill you in on why the aforementioned coffees are top of my list.  In the meantime – check out this video from a Just Coffee Cooperative, a Wisconsin based beyond fair trade company.

So the question remains, how do you take your coffee?

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Leah Feor

Leah Feor is the owner of Simply Sustainable, a small business that has evolved from a fair trade mobile shop to a strategic consulting firm serving entrepreneurs with a social or environmental vision. Balancing her clients’ Triple Bottom Line – people, planet, profit – is Leah’s utmost goal, and is supported by her background in accounting and environmental management.

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