Coffee Certificates — Educate Yo'sef

Don “Bald Guy” Cox, Boone coffee entrepreneur and educator, likes to remind his customers, “There’s a lot of hype in a cup of coffee.” The Walker College of Business students’ takeaway from their experience in Costa Rica is that educated buyers can make a difference in the quality of life for the pickers and growers.

The students caution that “fair trade” or “organic” labels on the coffee are not always accurate and Cox said there are no regulatory mechanisms currently in place. Research your suppliers, students suggest, and buy local when possible. Ask “Where do you get your beans?” If the proprietor can’t tell you, go somewhere else.

Here is an explanation of commonly used coffee certificates.

  • Fair Trade
    • Concerned with alleviating poverty through greater equity in international trade
    • Available to democratically-organized cooperatives of small producers
    • Cooperatives receive a minimum price of $1.31/lb; $1.51/lb if the coffee is also certified organic
    • The cooperative decides how the premium will be distributed to farmers or to community projects
  • Bird Friendly
    • The only true “Shade-Grown” certification
    • Has the most robust shade/habitat standards of any coffee certification
    • Criteria includes:
      • A canopy at least 12 meters high
      • A minimum of 40% shade cover
      • 11 species of shade trees
      • Must also be organic certified
    • No minimum price set
    • Receive a premium for this certification
  • Rainforest Alliance
    • Is an NGO with programs that promote standards for sustainability
    • Not exclusively an environmental certification, it also covers ecological issues
      • Community relations
      • Fair treatment of workers
    • No required criteria for shade grown management
    • No minimum price set
  • UTZ
    • Emphasis is on transparency and traceability in the supply chain and efficient farm management
    • Includes good agricultural practices such as soil erosion prevention, minimizing water use and pollution, responsible use of chemical and habitat protection.
    • No minimum price set
  • Organic
    • Standards set by USDA’s national organic program
    • Requirements:
      • No use of prohibited substances for at least three years on the land
      • Buffers between crops not organically grown
      • Preventative plans for soil erosion
    • Price premiums
      • Under Fair Trade coop receives 15 cents per pound
      • Outside Fair Trade certification allows for negotiation
    • Labels inlcude:
      • “100% organic”
      • “Organic”
      • “Made with organic ________”