Fair Trade coffee: roasted beans on a green leaf
Coffee Basics,  Types of Coffee

Fair Trade Coffee: Your Guide To the Certification

Fair Trade coffee: roasted beans on a green leaf

Coffee is a global phenomenon found in most houses across the world. With the product so prevalent, it’s no surprise that certification systems have been created for quality, ethics, and more. One of the most prominent certifications is Fair Trade coffee. But what does that label actually mean? Here, we’ll show you everything you need to know about Fair Trade coffee certification.

What Is Fair Trade Coffee?

The Fair Trade Coffee certification means the coffee has been audited at various levels of the supply chain. The audit ensures that producers adhere to ethical and sustainable standards. Producers are required to pay for the certification. These funds are used to pay for operation costs for the certifying agencies. 

There are several different fair trade groups. These include Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade America, and Fair Trade International. Each group sets its own standards, but they are often very similar. They meet the requirements set by ISEAL — the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling Alliance. The standards are designed to support producers in poorer nations. 

Fair Trade coffee groups work in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. You’ll find a wide range of Fair Trade products including coffee from producers in countries like Costa Rica and Kenya.

What Are the Fair Trade Coffee Standards?

Fair Trade coffee: woman cradling coffee beans in palms of her hands

Producers need to meet economic, environmental, and social criteria to use the Fair Trade certification label. These standards must be met at all levels of the supply chain. That includes coffee farmers, coffee roasters, importers, and distributors.

One of the main features of the economic Fair Trade Standards is the Fair Trade Minimum Price. This provides coffee producers with a safety net in case of dramatic price drops. The agencies also focus on long-term partnerships and require buyers to provide pre-financing to producers upon request. 

The environmental criteria focus on ecologically and agriculturally sound practices. Coffee farmers must practice proper waste management and preserve biodiversity. They also need to protect soil fertility and use proper water management techniques. Fair Trade certifications prohibit the use of various chemicals and GMOs.

The social criteria focus on labor practices and the well-being of workers and the local population. Small-scale producers like cooperatives (co-ops) must have participatory decision-making and non-discrimination. The social criteria also establish standards for pay rates and collective bargaining rights. Coffee farmers must also implement safeguards for a healthy work environment. 

Why Fair Trade is Important

Fair Trade coffee certifications aim to level the playing field. They are designed to support small producers in disadvantaged countries. When you buy Fair Trade-certified coffee from places like Ethiopia and Guatemala, you’re making a difference in the lives of farmers and local communities. Fair Trade premiums are used for programs that give back to the community. This includes initiatives like scholarship programs and medical services. 

Fair Trade practices ensure coffee growers are paid a living wage and reduce the use of child labor around the globe. This empowerment model uses high standards to improve livelihoods. It regulates labor practices and improves the quality of living for people in the coffee production industry.

You’re also making a good move for the planet. Fair Trade standards focus on environmental sustainability and healthy farming practices. That means harsh chemicals and hazardous pesticides cause less damage to the environment. Some of our favorite Fair Trade coffee brands include Equal Exchange, Higher Ground Roasters, and Grumpy Mule if you’re looking for a good place to start.

Fair Trade Vs Direct Trade Vs Certified Organic

Barista holding roasted coffee beans

Both Fair Trade and Direct Trade aim to improve the lives of workers in the coffee industry. Fair Trade governs the entire coffee farming process — from growers and producers to exporters and importers. Direct Trade has a more narrow focus. Direct Trade coffee is a term used by coffee roasters that buy coffee beans directly from farmers. There is no third-party certification, so coffee roasters themselves create these labels.

The idea with Direct Trade is to cut out all the middlemen. The roaster works directly with the farmer to buy coffee beans. These beans must meet certain standards. These standards vary from roaster to roaster. They often include minimum prices, a living wage, and sustainability requirements. The result is a very tight-knit relationship between the coffee farmers and roasters. The downside here is there is no third-party oversight so buying from reputable Direct Trade brands is key. Some great options include Intelligentsia and Counter Culture Coffee.

Certified organic coffee is grown without the use of chemical pesticides. Fair Trade organizations consider organic coffees to be high-quality. However, not all Fair Trade coffees are also organic. 

Discover More About the World of Coffee

Cup of black coffee surrounded by coffee cherries

If you buy Fair Trade or Direct Trade, you’re helping local farmers and improving their quality of life. Make sure to check out the Fair Trade standards of the certifier of the coffee you’re buying. Ensure it meets sustainable and ethical standards.

Looking for more ways to learn about coffee? Whether you love blends or single-origin specialty coffee, we’ve got you covered. At Cup & Bean, we aim to educate the masses about coffee. From beginners that are just getting their feet wet to connoisseurs that want more nuanced info, check out our blog for all things coffee.

You’ll discover new ways to enjoy a cup of coffee using our recipes and brewing techniques. Plus, you’ll find country guides to discovering great coffee from around the world. Each guide breaks down the flavor profiles and farming methods. They also highlight the unique characteristics of coffee beans from different countries. That way, you can choose the best-tasting coffee for your preferences.

After chasing down everything there was to know about tea on the Cup & Leaf blog, I'm now exploring the world of coffee. From different types to countries with the best brews and everything in between, I'll be your guide on this coffee discovery.