Shade what?

There are only two things I crave on a night shift: coffee and chocolate. Not that night shifts are special in this way; it’s just the cravings seem a bit more appropriate then. In reality, that parody of the English professor in Stranger Than Fiction (awesome movie, by the way) is starting to feel a little too close to home.  Did you notice the perpetual cup of coffee in his hand, for those of you who have seen the movie? Yah, that’s pretty much true of everyone here in the lab who actually drinks coffee.

So what’s the point of this post? Well … Coffee can have a pretty big toll on both my carbon footprint and my environmental impact, in ways I didn’t really think about when I decided to get addicted to the stuff in the first place. Back then (junior high school, for the record), all I cared about was not looking Mormon in Salt Lake City. Now? I’m afraid I’ve fallen in love with the ritual. The espresso machine in the morning, or the latte in the cafe down the street. But I’m hoping to get my fix in a slightly more responsible manner these days.  The good news is, it isn’t that hard to make a few choices that will at least minimize the damage your coffee habit causes. I promise, I won’t say you should quit, ok, because I’m just not ready for that. Heh… No, I’m not an addict.  Right??

Ok, so here’s my simple advice: Choose coffee companies that pay growers and workers fairly, and use organic, sustainable growing practices.

Admittedly, my advice sounds simpler than it is, which is partially because I started this post with the idea that looking for a sticker on a bag would do. I was simply going to advocate for organic, fair trade, shade-grown coffee beans, but then I came across this post on the Intelligentsia website, which discusses the shade-grown certification and why they don’t support it. And I think some of the reasoning makes sense. Ok, I think the diaper argument they use as an analogy is kind of ridiculous, but I do agree that blanket certification is not always a good thing. I also agree with the fact that habitats in which coffee shrubs are grown vary considerably from region to region. If you’re going to start a coffee plantation in the rainforest, you’re better off choosing shade-grown coffee, for the very reason that clear-cutting the rainforest destroys habitats (even for birds that you may think of as native to the US). Beyond that, I’m not sure shade-grown makes sense in places where there is very little shade to begin with.

So I guess the lesson is, think about what you’re buying before you buy it. And ask questions if you’re unsure. It’s the only way to get companies to support sustainable practices, because if their customers care, then they will have to start caring as well.

Some companies I support? Well, I wish I had a long list for you, but this is a relatively new search for me, as you might have guessed from the non-linearity of this post. Intelligentsia isn’t a bad place to start, and you can buy a pound for only a little more than you’d spend at Starbucks. For the New Haven residents reading this, Fuel in Wooster Square is a good place to try, and Lulu’s is the kind of shop where you can ask and expect a detailed answer about where your beans come from. As long as Lulu is working the counter, of course… As an aside, the coffee’s pretty damn good (though I only order actual coffee — I’ve never really been a fan of their lattes, when I can make better ones at home). Koffee (any of them) will sell you fair trade, organic beans, and that’s reportedly all they serve. I only wish I liked their coffee a bit more.



Filed under coffee, environment

4 responses to “Shade what?

  1. pshazz

    oi, nice ‘shoppin! or whatever prog you used….

    also, woot to intelligentsia. they also support kcrw, our local npr station, by giving discounts to kcrw members.

  2. liz

    heh… it’s a built-in effect on mac’s photobooth. i wasn’t about to try to do that myself at 4 am… comic life will also do it — i don’t know if there’s a windows version?

    i like intelligentsia even more. 😛 was thinking of putting in an order, but then i realized i’m gone in a month?? there’s so much to do before then……

  3. pshazzz

    you can use my membership number if you want. just let me know if you decide to get some and i’ll send it to you.
    but my offer is only good until… i think mid august? when my membership expires.

  4. somethingsmellsfunny

    “Going beyond Fair Trade?” “Better than Shade?” Ha! Many sustainable coffee professionals and activists, are extremely dismayed by recent, vicious attacks on Shade Coffee, the Fair Trade & Organic system here in the states by Intelligentsia and others’ sham “direct trade” “better than shade” propaganda. Many in the sustainable coffee chain, have questions and serious concerns about the alliance between the Bush state department/USAID and a few roasters (most natably Intelligentsia) and journalists, who make up the current leadership at The SCAA, who have embarked upon an all-out campaign to discredit Shade Grown, Fair Trade and Organic movements within Coffee while claiming to offer a ’superior’ version that really only represents a return to the bad old days of the colonial plantation dependant on a small number of elite “jefes” . Companies like Intelligentsia are currently waging a very well played disinformation campaign against FT Organic certification, shade growing and disseminating the propaganda via the conduit of fawning hipsters who know little about the big picture or history of the business of coffee, who mindlessly repeat the misinformation they are fed by these cooler than thou liars. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Few ever read between the lines and ask “Who benefits?” or “Why would the Bush/Rice State Department care about driving up the price of Specialty Coffee, when it’s “Mission” is: to promote US Agribusiness interests and US Political agendas abroad?” (All US grown coffee is highly valued already & US Agribusiness clearly has no interest in driving up the price of Specialty Coffee as it doesn’t trade in specialty, so the obvious master here is: US POLITICAL AGENDA, though some speculate GMO COFFEE AGENDA may also be in operation–draw your own conclusions.)

    The so called “Direct Trade” (actually nothing of the sort) gimmick & marketing campaign has emerged as nothing short of green cloaking, or sustainable skam, a spin job on relationship models that really don’t exist and some that are integral to our business- everybody real in coffee has a relationship with & visits thier suppliers folks, and with few exceptions, Intelligentsia’s coffee comes throught the same importers everybody else uses- and that serves to break down Cooperatives (key word there is COOPERATIVE folks) and pits Coops & Coop members against each other in pursuit of the highest (up front) bucks from the smallest segment of the global coffee market. Geof Watts, Doug Zell (who proudly calls himself the “Suge Knight of coffee”) & the other self proclaimed “George Jung” coffee treasure hunters are looking after their own business interests (and tiny market share); they will stop at nothing to find the “best” and pay the highest prices for the smallest lots (?! a red flag), even if it means separating farmers from their family and community. These buyers are not content with their Finca This, Hacienda That, Fazenda Over There Estate coffees; they want to globalize and dominate the smallest artisanal producers and pit them against one another just like mini-plantations. These buyers actively work to disconnect the growers from the ONLY two truly effective programs to EVER IN HISTORY improve the lives of Coffee Growers and empower them within the supply chain: Fair Trade and Organic Certification. They actively work to discredit the only coffee farming method that is both sustainable AND produces a high quality cup: Shade Grown Organic. These elitists pay big for only the top 5-10% of beans available, only 10% of what they purchase, and leave the coop with no option for the bulk/rest of thier crop (second quality) which they are forced to send into the “comodity” market at sub-standard/base prices, where these very same Companies buy the very same coffees to blend with the “Top Micro Lots”, unbeknownst to buyers paying $45 a pound or $10 a cup who never wonder how a “limited, exlusive micro lot lot of only 20 bags (3000 Lbs)!!!” can be sold daily for six months in 3500 locations. Were these companies, (who built thier reputations on the sustainable certifications and supply chain they now eschew in favor of thier own phoney look a likes), Fair Trade Certified, or 100% Organic Certified, or Shade Certified, these gimmicks would be transparent and traceable for all to see, but outside of certification, there really isn’t anyone to stop the fraud. Colonialism and exploitation hasn’t faded away from the coffee business, it just got “Third Waved” and tatooed!
    For the people who grow coffee, and we in the industry who sincerely wish to better thier lives and empower our supply chain while protecting cultures and environments, it’s a very dangerous & dirty game these companies are playing, and many insiders know that Intelli, like Starbucks, scrambling to salvage failing companies and increase profits by any means neccessary, and failing that, make thier companies more attractive for acquisition by agribusiness. We hope that the citizens of LA will choose to not be taken in by “The Suge Knight of Coffee” and his nasty slacker minions posing as ‘experts” seeking to discredit the best hope for a safe, healthy, fair and equitable coffee supply chain: the certified Organic, Shade Grown/Bird Friendly and Fair Trade Cooperative CERTIFIED coffee movement.
    As your post reminds us, we should read between the lines and verify that the information being given to us in sales pitches (nowaday often disgued as journalism or blogs) is the truth, and we will add, ask yourself “Who benefits here?”.

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