Coffee Conversations

This post was originally published at where I contribute as the Mindful Echo. It’s a great blog for those of you interested in environmental issues of all sorts. Check it out!

Before I started university, I worked for a spell at a local coffee house (shout out Seattle!). Before that job I had never enjoyed a cup of coffee, much less knew how to brew a pot. Sure, I’d dabbled in the sugary, syrupy, iced cappuccino craze – but those are basically milkshakes. (Don’t misunderstand me, I LOVE me a big ol’ dessert coffee on occasion.) It wasn’t until I learned the ins and outs of brewing a decent pot of coffee, pulling a nice shot of espresso, recognizing good crema, and knowing the temperatures and techniques for steaming milks, that I started to gain an appreciation for all things coffee.

A decade later and I still swoon over the smell of freshly ground beans.


The problems arise, as they are wont to do, when I start to consider the ethics of my oh-so-common habit. Take a stroll through any grocery store and you’ll be met with a dozen or so coffee options:

  • instant
  • ground
  • whole bean
  • flavoured
  • locally roasted
  • fair trade
  • organic
  • dark roast
  • mild roast
  • Sumatra
  • Arabica

THE LIST GOES ON FOREVER (and don’t even get me started on the price differences)

While most of these choices can boil down to personal preference, the decision I often struggle with the most is selecting between fair trade, locally roasted, and organic. When I can find a brand that offers all three of these choices, it’s ideal. Unfortunately, depending on where I’m shopping, I’m not always so lucky.

Here in Nova Scotia we’re lucky to have access to some great options, including Just Us! Coffee, Anchored Coffee, Full Steam Coffee, and Laughing Whale Coffee Roasters (as examples that I have personally enjoyed). These companies offer a transparent process to their customers through their website content, allowing us to make an informed decision about which philosophies we agree with and enabling us to feel confident that their business practices reflect the values that a fair trade business should uphold.

But what happens when you are offered a choice between fair trade and organic? Or organic and locally roasted?

Personally, I’ve decided that my coffee-purchasing priorities will rank as follows:

  1. The Human Element
  2. Local Business Support
  3. Environmental Impact
  4. Flavour
  5. Price

I think that it’s important to prioritize the fair trade element and be conscious when I’m enjoying my morning indulgence that people have worked hard to allow me this luxury. It makes sense that supporting the local businesses that facilitate the fair trade relationships is crucial, especially since the trade-off means giving more power to Big Business that has no incentive to foster such practices.

Being gentle with the earth is so important to me and so, like with other product usage, knowing that our beans are grown and harvested under organic regulation is reassuring. Although I do recognize that “organic” and “fair trade” can, unfortunately, be subjective ways of qualifying products and practices without universal regulations…but that’s another post entirely.

It goes without saying, I think, that quality, flavour, and price do also factor into the coffee-purchasing decision. After all, if a cup of coffee isn’t delicious, what’s the point?


4 thoughts on “Coffee Conversations

  1. Great post, Krista! You’re right, we’re very lucky to have so many great choices available to us in the province. I like your ranking. I think mine might be fair trade & organic, local, flavour & price. Though it certainly can be hard to balance the priority of the first three.

    While Will & I were in Seattle, we went on a tour of a local chocolate factory. One point that stuck in my mind was that if non-organic chocolate farms were in the US, the workers would have to wear safety suits due to the harmful chemicals, pesticides, what have you. I’m not sure how true that is of coffee, but it’s something I think about when I’m buying most beans grown near the equator. It’s also pretty fortunate that fair trade, local and organic go hand in hand.

    Also, if you live in a region where you can’t buy local, fair trade, organic coffee in store, most roasters ship their beans.

    • Great points, Justine!

      I can’t speak to the hazards of harvesting and processing but it’s scary to think that people are exposing themselves to harmful chemicals (or even harmful practices, for that matter) to bring us a product that we can access so readily and thoughtlessly.

      It’s also good that you can get roasters to ship to you directly but kinda tragic to add even more food miles onto a product that’s likely come from half a world away already.

  2. […] I was so surprised because I never expected to have the opportunity to review something big and expensive like that, and second because it seems kind of odd that a self-proclaimed environmentalist would be selected to review a product that has been overwhelmingly criticized for its negative environmental impact. Perhaps, though, it has something more to do with the fact that I talk about coffee ALL THE TIME. […]

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