How do you know if your cup of coffee is sustainable? Fair-trade stickers aren’t as telling as you may think. Small farms, who may be 100% sustainable, often can’t afford the expense of certification.
The simple answer: shop local and ask the person you’re buying the coffee from. I talked with Chris Gatti, co-owner of Little Wolf Coffee Roasters, who described the different industry roles: importers sell a farmer’s beans to a roaster, who then sells them to coffee shops.
Chris works regularly with three importers who are transparent about what they pay the farmer. “One of the most important things to us is that the farmer is getting well-compensated,” says Chris. “Our goal as roasters is to showcase all the hard work they’ve done. We want to make sure the farmer has an incentive to continue producing good quality coffee.”
Umesh Bhuju of Zumi’s Espresso also believes in the need for transparency between roles. He works with Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company, a roaster based in Orange, MA, because they prioritize environmental mindedness. “You can have the best coffee in the world, but if they’re using chemicals to produce it, I won’t be buying,” says Umesh.
The consumer relies on the shop owner, who relies on their roasters and importers, to understand what exactly they’re buying. It’s a system that depends on transparency and trust. “The coffee industry is incredibly progressive and sustainably minded,” says Chris. “We realize that if we’re not, we don’t have much of an industry.”
Bhuju says his customers tend to understand the importance of sustainability. “We believe customers should care. But also, customers do care,” says Umesh. “Specialty coffee is known for people who care about coffee. People who care about coffee tend to be people who care about the planet.”