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Five of the best...Fairtrade and organic coffees

Valentina Jovanovski

20th June, 2011

From monocultures to deforestation, a cup of coffee can leave a bitter taste. But as Valentina Jovanovski discovered, ethically produced coffee can benefit some of the world’s poorest people and the planet to boot

The Brits might be renowned for their love of a good old-fashioned cuppa but coffee consumption is swiftly catching up. Last year, British consumers spent over £730 million on coffee and drank the equivalent of 500g per person. And the coffee drinking trend has had a big impact on the high street too, with the number of branded coffee shops rising from 1,400 to 4,600 over the last 10 years. But while the ubiquity of the black stuff is great news for coffee fans, the increasing popularity of coffee hasn’t benefited everyone.

While traditional coffee farms leave areas of native forest in place and have a minimal impact on wildlife, more and more coffee farmers are turning to the alternative – ‘sun grown’ coffee. This form of growing usually results in monocultural plantations and require  significant amounts of fertiliser and pesticides. In Brazil, where an estimated 5.4 million hectares of virgin rainforest are being lost each year, coffee growing produces annual dividends amounting to US$3.3 billion. But according to UNDP, over 70 per cent of Brazilian coffee farms – which between them produce well over two million metric tonnes of coffee beans per year – are monocultural plantations. Worse, Brazil isn’t the only coffee producer to favour the plantation method with numerous South American and African countries following suit. So what can you do to help? Short of giving up coffee altogether, the answer is to look for shade-grown, organic and Fairtrade coffee. Although the Rainforest Alliance hasn’t always been controversy-free, its coffee certification scheme is widely recognised as one of the most rigorous, and forbids any sort of encroachment onto virgin land. Better still, some of the biggest players in the retail coffee sector – including McDonalds and Proctor & Gamble – have signed up and have pledged to sell only RFA certified beans. What's more, they certainly aren’t alone, as these five eco-friendly coffee companies prove.

Equal Exchange Organic Mount Elgon Gumutindo AA Beans
Why we love it:
Established in 1979, Equal Exchange was founded by three volunteers who partnered with a London NGO, after witnessing the impact of low coffee prices on African farmers. Grown on the slopes of Uganda’s magnificent Mount Elgon, the beans, £8.99 for 500g, are produced exclusively by female farmers part of the Gutumindo Fairtrade co-operative. In addition to being organically grown, Equal Exchange also pays farmers an extra 40 cents per pound over and above the 10 cents Fairtrade premium.
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A Lot of Coffee El Mexicano Organic Fair Trade Coffee
Why we love it:
Purists who like their brew super-strong will love this coffee. At £4.99 for a 250g bag, El Mexicano has a mildly smoky taste with a hint of liquorice. All coffee produced by A Lot of Coffee are certified Fairtrade and organic.
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Cafedirect Machu Picchu Organic
Why we love it:
Grown in the heartland of the Andes, Cafédirect’s Machu Picchu organic is rich in flavour with a hint of dark chocolate. Produced by Central de Cooperativas Agrarias Cafetaleras, a Peruvian cooperative that includes almost 8,500 smallholder growers, the coffee is produced in a region with a climate and soil so perfect for bean production, that the brewed results are considered some of the best in the world. Better still, Cafedirect is also working to become more sustainable thanks to its goal of making all of its packaging easily recyclable or compostable by 2012.
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Percol Fairtrade Organic African Ethiopia
Why we love it:
Found in most supermarkets, Percol is one of the most easily accessible organic coffee brands. With rich flavour and mildly fruity overtones, this Ethiopian coffee received a ‘Highly Recommended’ at the Soil Association’s Organic Food Awards in 2009. For every package of this coffee sold, Percol donates 6p to an organisation working on healthcare and educational projects in Africa. Currently, Percol is working with Building Schools for Africa, which is building a new school for a small village in Cameroon with the money raised from coffee sales.
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Grumpy Mule Organic Sumatra Gayo Highlands
Why we love it: This brand’s best-selling coffee is produced in the highlands of central Aceh and northern Sumatra by a Fairtrade, organic farmer’s cooperative. The KBOB (Koperasi Baitul Qiradh Baburrayyan) coop has 6,000 members and helps farmers buy land and build clinics. Available as whole beans or ground, the full-bodied coffee with herbal overtones is a well-rounded brew that’s perfect for a relaxed Sunday morning cuppa.
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