Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Coffee Bag Symbols: What do they mean?

A few weeks ago, I received some nice comments thanking me for the info on Jamaican coffee, and I’ve decided to devote a series of blog posts to other frequently wondered, if not asked, questions regarding coffee, and related subjects.

One question I hear a lot while doing coffee demos in supermarkets is “what do those symbols mean on the coffee bags?” This is an easy one to answer, and might be informative for our readers!

The first and easiest to explain symbol is the “Certified Organic” symbol.

If a coffee has been certified organic, it guarantees that the coffee is grown without chemicals, which poison people and the environment. The land the coffee is grown on, in fact, must be chemical free for at least three years. To gain the right to use this logo, the land and coffee must be inspected by an independent, 3rd party company. The certifying entities have begun to include criteria regarding sustainable farming techniques, making higher and new standards for organic certification.

The next, and in my opinion most important symbol on a coffee bag is “Fair Trade Certified.”

Fair Trade is a trading partnership between coffee purchasers, and producers, which guarantees economic justice for the often impoverished producer by setting a floor price at which coffee is purchased for. The details in this social and economic partnership are complex, and I will devote my entire blog next week to try and explain it. Suffice to say for now that at FCN, we only drink Fair Trade coffee, and are trying to slowly convert our catalog over to Fair Trade as quickly as possible.

The last symbol I will go over today is “Bird Friendly” (also known as “Shade Grown.”)

Simply put, “Bird Friendly” coffee is coffee that comes from farms in Latin America that provide good, forest-like habitat for birds. Rather than being grown on land that has been cleared of all other vegetation, “Bird Friendly” coffees are planted under a canopy of trees. Because of the shaded, forest-like setting created by these canopy trees, coffee produced this way is called shade-grown. Not only are “Bird Friendly” coffees shade-grown, they are also organic.

“Bird Friendly” coffees are the only coffees on the market that are certified as shade-grown and organic by an independent third-party inspector using criteria established by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center of the National Zoo. These criteria are based on years of scientific research.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to chime in. Look for my next post which will be all about Fairly Traded coffee.