Ethical & Fair Trade Coffee Brands | Wholsome Culture
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Ever get excited thinking about the cup of coffee you’re going to enjoy the next day as you’re going to sleep? Same. We love drinking coffee while working, chatting with friends, walking around the neighborhood, on zoom calls, half-asleep in bed. Any bed. Anywhere. You get the picture! So, it was particularly devastating when we found out that the coffee industry is often known for forced labor, unjust working conditions, animal exploitation, and a negative environmental impact. There are reports of slaves working on coffee plantations in Brazil, children working in unsafe conditions in farms supplying for Starbucks, and coffee that’s “plucked” from animal feces (seriously).  Since drinking coffee is a part of many of our daily lives and self-care rituals, it makes it especially important to be sure we’re drinking fair trade coffee that’s produced ethically and mindfully.

How can you know if you’re drinking ethical, fair trade coffee? 

We know it can be a challenge to sift through all of the language and information. So, here are some of the keywords we look out for when purchasing our beans.

Ethical fair trade coffee beans

  • Fair Trade: If something is fair trade certified it means it was made: “according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards.” (Source: Fair Trade website.) However, some articles, like this one from NPR, highlight that fair trade can benefit the farmers more than the workers. While we want to see them upgrade the standards of certification to call for better treatment for everyone soon, we still like to see the certification.
  • Organic: Generally, this means the product is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and GMOs. However, exceptions are allowed when organic alternatives aren’t available. Additionally, there are rules about the standards related to pest & weed management and treatment of animals. (Source: USDA.)
  • B Corp: See a B with a circle around it? That very likely indicates the company is a certified B Corporation. This means the independent nonprofit B Lab has signed off that the company: “meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” So, it’s definitely a great sign!
  • Shade-Grown: As the name suggests, this means the coffee is grown underneath a canopy of trees, rather than fields in the sun. This benefits birds, the trees, and the overall ecosystem, which helps preserve biodiversity. And as an added bonus, it makes for an exceptional cup of coffee!
  • Giving Back Mission: If you look at the “about” or “our story” pages, that’s a good place to check if the company plants trees or donates to nonprofits.

NOTE: All of the below companies are fair trade certified and have an element of sustainability and/or giving back to their model, and we starred the B Corps.

8 Fair Trade Coffee Brands

1. BLK & BOLD

Why we love them: While we love the fair trade certified coffee selection from BLK & BOLD*, we love the story behind the beans even more. According to Fortune, BLK & BOLD was founded by two best friends — Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson — who left their previous careers to launch an independent coffee brand in Des Moines, Iowa. Now, it’s the first Black-owned, nationally distributed coffee brand. (Insert: round of applause!) But the awesomeness doesn’t stop there.  BLK & BOLD also gives back 5% of its profits to supporting at-risk youth both locally and nationally. Oh, and did we mention they’re also a B Corp?

What you can brew: BLK & BOLD  serves a wide selection of coffee beans and steeped coffees (think: tea bags with coffee instead of leaves), along with a collection of loose-leaf teas  (we love the Jasmine and Chai). You can buy the products in Target and Whole Foods — or their online shop, here.  

2. Pura Vida

Why we love them: In addition to serving exclusively organic, shade-grown, fair-trade certified coffee, Pura Vida also says they donate most of the net proceeds of their business to their 501(c)(3) public charity, The Create Good Foundation — which helps at-risk children across the world through education and health programs. Based in Tukwila, WA, Pura Vida is also deeply committed to having a gentle environmental impact by using mostly recycled materials for packaging and embracing organic farming. 

What you can brew: You can’t go wrong with any of the beans at Pura Vida. They have Sumatra beans for a chocolatey and dark flavor or Sombra for a blend with hints of caramel. Check out the selection for yourself here!

3. Doma

Why we love them: DOMA embraces family in everything from its name  — a combination of the two owners’ sons, Dominic and Marco —  to the logo which is a picture of one of the owner’s father. Sweet! They’re extremely transparent, outlining their Seed to Cup process and their producing partner: Guatemala

What you can brew: While they’re based in Idaho, they have an extensive online selection of fair-trade certified beans for cold brew, espresso, medium roast, and more. Plus, you get free shipping if you order $25+, which is a selling point! 

4. Earth Bean Coffee 

Why we love them: Buy coffee, plant trees! As partners with One Tree Planted, a 501(c)(3), Earth Bean Coffee (based in LA) plants 1 tree in the U.S. with every purchase. So cool! They also provide only organic and fair trade certified coffees, they use bags made of 100% recycled material, and all of the disposables that come with to-go coffee are made from plants. 

What you can brew: You can get dark and medium roast beans, along with espresso beans. We like the Malca espresso beans which have hints of brown sugar and hazelnut. 

5. Wandering Bear

Why we love them: Besides having a very cute name, Wandering Bear has one of those backstories we love rooting for. The company was started by two friends who met in grad school and then turned their obsession with cold brew into their business. All the packaging is 100% recyclable and features the black bear logo, which somehow makes the coffee taste even better, just sayin!

What you can brew:  The cold brew on tap comes in three flavors: straight black, hazelnut, and vanilla. They also have coffee beans, pods, and single-serve beverages (we’re partial to the vanilla coconut flavor). 

6. Conscious Coffees

Why we love them: As a B Corp, Conscious Coffees* takes pride in ethical practices from their roasting to packaging processes. They use 100% organic beans and promote fair trade/sustainable development, and we also love how they highlight their Producing Partners on their website. 

What you can brew:  We recommend checking out the Sampler 4-Pack to get a taste of different beans. (This also makes a great gift for the coffee-lover in your life.) But they also have a variety of beans in light to dark roast.

7. Grounds for Change

Why we love them: With a name like Grounds for Change *— it’s expected they’d be working to make a positive difference. And they don’t disappoint!  Grounds for Change is a B Corp, a part of 1% For The Planet, and Carbon-Free Certified which means they’re offsetting their carbon impact by planting enough trees. Impressive! They also produce shade-grown and organic coffee to top it all off. 

What you can brew:  You can feel good about whatever you end up purchasing — whether you decide on single origins or one of the blends. 

8. Larry’s Coffee

Why we love them: One look at the certifications list at Larry’s Coffee* and you’ll feel good about the coffee you’re brewing. Larry’s is a B Corp serving organic-certified, fair-trade, shade-grown beans. We also appreciate the pictures of the facilities and detailed description of their sustainable practices including composting, rainwater harvesting, and the use of sustainable packaging (to name just a few). 

Plus, we love how they partner with nonprofits for specific blends — such as the Grounded in Hope bag which gives 10% of profits to HopeLine, a crisis intervention & suicide service. 

What you can brew: You can get beans in all types — dark, medium, light, blends, single origins. But we’d suggest using the filter “FOR A CAUSE BLENDS.” That way, you’ll get your caffeine fix and donate to a good cause. 

Read more: Which plant milk should you put in your morning coffee?

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