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Coffee Certifiers Not Matching Consumer Sophistication, News Group Says

Vocativ, the digital news group founded by Israeli-born security mogul Mati Kochavi that prides itself on spy-like internet research, has taken on specialty coffee certification.

The group recently produced a video called “The Fair Trade Shell Game,” in which sources suggest that current certification systems have done little, if anything, to improve coffee quality, despite the claims of major green buyers like Starbucks. This comes from Vocativ:

Fair trade is supposed to help coffee growers avoid exploitation and receive a better price for their coffee—which sounds great in theory. But as the coffee buyer has become more sophisticated, fair trade certification hasn’t followed suit, and no longer offers farmers the best deal in terms of bang for their bean. Coffee consumers are willing to pay more than ever for a quality cup of joe. The problem is this: Fair trade doesn’t guarantee a quality bean. Growers could often make more money (many multiples of the basic price) by producing higher quality beans and selling them directly into the more profitable specialty market.

So if the growers are hoping to sell their best beans elsewhere, what’s really in that cup of righteous coffee? Are you saving the world, one mug at a time, or are you the one being mugged every morning when you pay a premium for a benefit no one ever sees?

At 4 minutes and 41 seconds and intended for consumers, the video only skims the surface of this important, complex and often divisive issue, but it is fun to see the candid discussions with Vocativ’s sources, including four-time Irish Barista Champion and 3FE owner Colin Harmon, Tanzania coffee exporter Bill Harris and Kelly Amoroso of the Coffee Quality Institute.


1 Comment


Excellent video. We need to engage farmers to positively influence the antiquated supply chain in the coffee industry. While certifications can be a great source for verification of practices that we want to support, the only way to change this skewed system is to empower the farmers by paying for quality and engaging them as humans–not just producers of a product that roasters take credit for.

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