If you're a coffee drinker, you've probably heard people throw around the phrase "Fair Trade Coffee" quite a bit. With all the talk these days of environmental sustainability and suppressing poverty and injustice in the world, it sounds like something you can support, but what does it actually mean? This is a quick run-down of what Fair Trade Coffee actually means and why you should care as a consumer. Then when you enjoy that next latte, you won't just "feel good" about buying it, you'll actually know the good you're doing.

Fair Trade Coffee
Credit: ana_labate @ sxc.hu

What is Fair Trade Coffee?

Coffee is produced all over the world, and often in poorer, rural regions of the southern hemisphere. These poor regions frequently lack access to solid economic infrastructure: transportation routes, markets, electricity, etc. This opens the door for devious middlemen to exploit the poor farmers and give them terrible prices for their produce, sometimes below the actual cost of production, while reselling to consumers for a hefty profit. The farmers are forced to sell to these middlemen because the farmers don't have easy access to other markets and other buyers. The result of this system is that we get cheaper lattes, but the farmers who produce it don't even make enough to support their farms and families. That's where Fair Trade steps in. This new system is a set of standards that guarantees farmers honest and fair treatment in the market. These standards guarantee farmers a minimum price for their produce. They ensure that coffee importers buy directly from the farmers in order to avoid the middlemen. They also support social programs that take a portion of the profits to build up the farmers' local community with schools, economic infrastructure, and environmental sustainability projects. In short, this system aims to protect farmers from corrupt middlemen and guarantee them honest pay for an honest day's work.

Why Does It Matter?

So what? Why pay that extra $0.50 to make sure your espresso beans were bought at a fair price? Because if we're hoping for a full and prosperous life, coffee farmers deserve to have that hope, too. Technology has granted the affluent nations incredibly fast economic growth and prosperity, but we as a society are also starting to realize the negative side-effects that come along with that: environmental degradation, leaving the poor behind as we advance, and sacrificing our integrity just to turn a profit. You will usually pay a bit more for these ethical beans, but that few cents more per cup goes toward ensuring that farmers around the world get to share in our prosperity. This movement tries to take a second look at the whole production process, from field to cup, and weed out any destructive and deceitful practices. This includes cutting out the middlemen so farmers get paid fair and consistent prices, discouraging the use of dangerous farming practices that harm the environment, and encouraging reinvestment in local communities so that farmers can amply support their families and provide a better future for their children. The affluent societies have been coming into a period of healthy reflection in recent years where we remember the "Elementary School Ideals" of honesty, integrity, and "leaving a place better off than when you got there." Buying ethical coffee is a simple way that you can participate in this movement and support honesty and integrity for the working man around the world.

Where Can I Buy It?

These coffees are becoming easier to find and are often available at your favorite shops. Starbucks is working with Conservation International to make all of their coffee "ethically sourced" by 2015. As of 2012, 93% of their beans are already ethically sourced. Peet's Coffee on the West Coast sells a Fair Trade Blend that you can try. Crimson cup also has several special blends that you can choose from. And if you really want to make it simple, Green Mountain Coffee offers a few different Organic Fair Trade coffees in Keurig K-Cups as well. You can always ask your local shops if they offer any Fair Trade coffees, and encourage them to start offering them if they don't already!