blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Rainforest Alliance Coffee (a Fair Trade alternative)


Colombian coffee from Mesa De Los Santos in Bucaramanga, Colombia. We are roasting it just past Full City, almost French, and it is quite good. I poured myself a second cup the other day. Good acidity, crisp but just full enough body, clean finish. Well balanced. And it is Certified Organic, and certified by the Rainforest Alliance. This is an interesting organization who works to ensure that coffee is produced via thoroughly sustainable methods... workers are paid fairly (well above Colombia's minimum wage), educated and given proper medical attention, as well as conserving ecology. Thousands of farms have been certified in 12 countries. Check out the site.

We will be serving this coffee at our upcoming seminar on Monday February 13th from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM at the Phoenix Roastery. We will be brewing this coffee via six different methods (french press, neopolitan pot, auto drip, espresso, stove top espresso, vacuum pot) in order to explore how the brewing method alone can change the flavor profile. We will also spend some time learning about the Cafe Mesa de Los Santos Finca (farm) and the people who produce the coffee and the methods they use. If you are interested in attending, please let me know, space is limited (email Sarah).


Anonymous Guillermo Narvaez said...

Rainforest Alliance Coffee and Fair Trade are not in competition with each other, so calling one an "alternative" of the other misses the point of these initiatives.

Fair Trade is focused on improving conditions for the majority of coffee producers who have less then 10 hectares of land and constitute 70% of the worldwide coffee output. It guarantees a minimum of $1.26 per pound of green coffee ($1.41 for organic) and has social and environmental conditions that must be met. The focus of the program are small-scale farmers and their families organized in democratically run cooperatives.

Rainforest Alliance, while not restricted to the size of the land, it is focused on larger estates. Rainforest Alliance does require the adherance to social and environmental conditions which are, just like in Fair Trade, audited by third-parties.

There are other similar certifications like Utz Kapeh and Smithsonian Bird Friendly certifactions that aim to create more environmentally and socially sustainable conditions for the production of coffee.

These initiatives, while often pitted against each other in the mainstream media, should instead be seen as alternatives to the conventional, or "free" market which has a very long history of unsustainable environmental and social practices. Regardless of which certification the coffee (or other commodity) is produced, one has to keep in mind that, ultimately, it is a way to organize labor and natural resources for the production of a commodity for the global markets.

For a good comparison of the different initiatives, see

Guillermo Narvaez
Dept. of Anthropology
University of California - Irvine

2:37 PM, September 15, 2006  

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