Posts Tagged ‘coffee certification’

Coffee certification

March 14, 2021

Marketing hype to make Big Business look good and Middle Class feel good?

The trick to finding great coffee is looking for transparency. Not a see-through bag, but a bag tells you where the coffee is from – the country, the farm, and sometimes even info about how it was produced. Coffee labelled like this is usually specialty. — Kiss the Hippo

A lost opportunity by Adventures in Coffee, trivializes an important topic leaving subscribers to the podcast none the wiser.

FarirTrade scam, pay growers a tiny premium above commodity price, coffee is coffee is coffee. Worse still, maintains farmers in poverty, no incentive for farmers to improve quality.

Percol is Big Business, low quality commodity coffee, find on the shelves of supermarkets. But hey, we greenwash with a FairTrade sticker.

The Cost of a Cuppa, a BBC Radio 4 documentary looked at tea plantations in Assam, the appalling working and living conditions on the tea plantations, the child slave labour, whether the tea was supplied to some of the most expensive tea suppliers on the market or commodity tea it made no difference, the various designations meaningless, not worth the paper they are written on.

Tea workers in Assam earn 115 rupees a day, just over £1 ($1.50), well below the minimum wage (177 rupees in Assam). This is legal, as part of their wage is paid for with housing, clean water, sanitation, food. There has been a small increase in wages since the programme was recorded.

The housing is not fit for human habitation, no safe drinking water, no toilets, cesspits overflowing, roofs leaking. Plantation owners in India are obliged by law to provide and maintain ‘adequate’ houses, and sanitary toilets for workers.The women pick the tea leaves, hard work, but not hazardous. In the fields the workmen are spraying hazardous pesticides, no protective gear, wearing only t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. The chemical used deltamethrin, harmful possibly fatal if absorbed through the skin or inhaled. The local hospital sees 5–6 patients a week suffering from pesticide poisoning.

The Source, a year long investigation by The Weather Channel and Telemundo gathered evidence that child labour is commonplace during the coffee harvest in Chiapas, the poorest state in Mexico.

Armies of kids walking down a road, 60–70 lb sacks of coffee strapped to their backs. Kids as young as six, if not younger, picking the coffee cherries.

The coffee is mainly exported to the US, commodity coffee to large corporations, companies like Nestlé and tax-dodging Starbucks.

Nestlé when challenged denied all knowledge, they outsource the certification to a company called 4C, now Global Coffee Platform.

No mention of the square-root rule. Take the square root of the number of farms to be checked, then check once every three years.

The square-root rule is used. This is fine for uniform widgets, test a small random sample. It does not work when certifying working conditions on remote inaccessible farms.

The square-root rule, inspection of only a fraction of the number of farms, less than half of the square-root, then only every three years.

What this means is that for 5,144 farms the reality of any farm being inspected is vanishingly small, a little over 0.5%.

The larger the number of farms to be inspected in an area, then if we apply the square-root rule, the number inspected as a percentage approaches zero.

Incorrect to state organic not productive. Look to the work of Vandana Shiva in India.

We should be supporting grass-grazed agriculture, agroforestry,  coffee trees grown in the shade of trees, slowly ripening of the coffee cherries. High altitude coffee grown in the shade of trees, protects the forests, yields higher quality coffee cherries, the growers receive a higher price.

Union Hand Roasted Coffee and Kew Gardens have worked together to help local communities protect Yayu Forest. The forest has designated status, but counts for little if the local communities are mired in poverty. Union offered to buy wild coffee picked from the forest. The forest is an important for biodiversity, and for genetics of coffee.

Ninety Plus Coffee have restored a degraded cattle ranch in Panama, on the estate they grow Panama Geisha.

Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique is working with local communities, supporting agriculture, health and education. The growing of high quality arabica is bringing money into local hands, supports local projects.


My advice to Katie, ignore the certification scams, not worth the paper they are written on, trust the roastery, look for direct trade, long term relationships with famers, what is happening on the ground, and please do not buy poor quality, stale coffee, from supermarkets or from retailers with no knowledge of coffee.

Read Coffeeography, where Stephen Leighton takes us on a journey, the relationships with the coffee farms.

Take a look at Kiss the Hippo, note the degree of transparency.

Tim Wendelboe publishes an annual account on sustainability and transparency.

Mokka takes a pride in their relationships with growers, as does Coffee Gems, as do many small roasteries engaged in direct trade.

I recently had a conversation that was the exact opposite, asked of an amateurish operation that was roasting from home, Q grade of their coffee. Did not know. How can they claim speciality coffee? Was then given more information that did not match their website. Followed by a childish response, it was for them to decide what is their businesses and what information they supply. It goes without saying, I would not be buying coffee from Jackalopie Joe or recommending to others.

What applies to coffee equally applies to chocolate. Support bean-to-bar chocolate makers, who engage with the growers, form long-term relationships, pay a higher price for quality.

Adventures in Coffee a collaboration between Caffeine Magazine, Jools Walker and Filter Stories. Presented by Jools Walker and Scott Bentley.


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