Switching from conventional coffee to fair trade is one of the simplest changes you can make in living a more just life. As more people switch coffees, many more farmers enjoy a livable income for their hard work. However the switch to fair trade coffee can be expensive. Most fair trade coffee is priced at least at $8-$10 per pound, comparable to other high-quality coffees but much more expensive if you’re used to purchasing Folger’s.
Many people assume the coffee is more expensive because the farmers are paid more per pound for their coffee. True, farmers who join fair trade coffee cooperatives receive at least $1.40/ pound for their coffee, compared to prices as low as 30-40 cents/ pound paid by the world’s largest coffee companies. However another big reason for the markup is the quality. The fair trade label does not guarantee better coffee, but most of it is good. Most small farmers grow their coffee under the canopy of larger trees such as fruit trees, which makes for richer soil, little or no artificial pesticides or fertilizers, and better tasting coffee. It also takes longer to grow and yields fewer beans than the slash-and-burn methods employed by cheap coffee conglomerates. So in switching to fair trade coffee you do pay a higher price, but in most cases you get a much better tasting cup of coffee as well as the peace of mind that your purchase benefits, rather than harms, the farmers who grew it.
Recently I researched fair trade coffee prices for my church, which I am proud to say has fully made the switch to all fair trade coffee. In the process I discovered several options that, while still more than conventional coffees, are more affordable than some fair trade grinds. The cheapest fair trade coffee I found is at Costco. Yes, the giant of super-packaging has discovered that the Fair Trade label sells and, like everything at Costco, when you buy in large quantities you save even on fair trade coffee. A 2-pound bag of regular coffee sells for $9.99 or $4.99/ pound. Their 2-pound bag of decaf sells for $10.99 or $5.50/ pound. The flavor is pretty decent, although a little on the weak side for me.
Another option that costs a little more is fair trade coffees at Trader Joe’s. My Trader Joe’s in Lake Oswego carries several fair trade options all between $5.99-7.99 for 12 ounces. I especially like the Nicaraguan and Ethiopian fair trade blends. They are rich, dark and smooth.
My church has settled on buying our fair trade coffee from Equal Exchange (EE). EE has a special Interfaith program for churches and, while slightly more than the Costco coffee, they ship it straight to the church so the kitchen is always stocked. Through EE’s Interfaith program we are able to buy 5 pounds of what they call “Fellowship Blend” coffee for $26.50 or $5.30/ pound. We are just starting with EE so I haven’t tried the coffee yet, but when I have had their coffee in the past it has always been delicious.
There is no reason to fret about buying cheaper fair trade coffee, at least not from a justice perspective. Regardless of what you pay, if a coffee carries a Fair Trade certification the farmers received a fair price. You may want to try a few to determine how you like the taste but, so long as it is certified fair trade, go right ahead and save a few cents.
For more information on fair trade coffee I recommend these sites: