Posted on 1 Comment

Enoemia’s Story

Enoemia’s Story

Enoemia Mazariegos is a member of the cooperative ACODIHUE, in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. She lives in the community of Villa Linda in her parents’ house with her two sons. Being a single mom, Enoemia has had a difficult time getting ahead in life and providing for her two children — Alfonso and Keybar.. “A single mother carries a stigma in this society, limiting their opportunities.”

Through contact with Food 4 Farmers Enoemia gained a new opportunity. She was offered a position to help as a Food Security Coordinator. About being offered the position Enomeia said “I had a lot of doubts. I didn’t know if I could do it because I only went to primary school. The women in my community knew me, but I didn’t know how to teach them or if they were going to support me in this project. It also represented a lot of time from my part -sometimes I walk for hours to reach the families- and I didn’t know if the effort was going to be beneficial to me.” She continues, “In all honesty, I accepted because there was a small economic incentive, and I was in a lot of need. But as I started my training, I realized that I really like working with women and learning about producing our own food. 

I can’t remember the time in my community when we produced our own food. I think that is very interesting. Also, I feel that this project has made me confront my fears and show me how to be more responsible for my community.” 

Before becoming a Food Security Coordinator for Food 4 Farmers Enoemia’s only job opportunity was working in the family coffee plot. Because of this, she was considering taking her 13 year old son (now 14) out of school because they didn’t have the resources to keep him in school. Enoemia was disheartened about this because she couldn’t finish school herself and was hoping to provide better opportunities for her children. But thanks to the promoter’s compensation she receives, she is not afraid of that anymore. 

The Food Security Coordinator position also made her eligible for affordable housing through a housing program with ACODIHUE co-op and is in the process of finishing her new home where she will finally achieve her dream of being independent with her two sons. 

Finally, when asked how her diet has changed since the food security program started, “a lot!” she replied. “Now my children are eager to go to our home garden to see what is ready to eat, and there is a lot that we didn’t consume before because we were not used to, like lettuce, radishes, herbs, carrots and beets.” She continues, “now we can’t live without our organic garden. Also, through Food 4 Farmers trainings I have learned to cooked in different ways so my sons can have healthy meals.” 

Then she adds in her own words “Maybe the most important thing I learned is that I can, I am able, and I will get ahead with my children.” 

Posted on Leave a comment

Josefa’s Story

Josefa’s Story

In the heart of Pamaxan, a secluded and picturesque village nestled in the breathtaking Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, lives the remarkable Josefa Lux. At 23 years old, Josefa is a beacon of hope and inspiration for her entire community. Pamaxan, a part of the San Juan Cotzal municipality, is a place where dreams often seem distant. With its rugged terrain and limited access to basic necessities like running water and electricity, it seems unlikely to find a home with solar panels, and a family business with three looms for handmaking heritage textiles, and yet Josefa has made all this possible.  Visiting with Josefa and her husband Saul, it is clear as day how their accomplishments have exceeded their wildest dreams. The short tour of their home highlights the comforts and little luxuries they have acquired such as the coffee tree in their tidy garden, or the wooden shed where they operate their weaving business. Josefa shares memories of working tirelessly to meet their goals of owning their land and a comfortable home. In the last year they opened their doors to Josefa’s younger brother, Sebastian, providing him with the support he needed and extending the hand up. As the tour continues, Josefa proudly shows off the weaving shed, adjacent to their home. The shed is open to the beautiful nature surrounding them and can snugly fit three tallera looms. Josefa and Saul are excited to show off the solar panel they have purchased, enabling them to have electricity which provides lighting in their workroom. They are now the only homeowners in the area with power in their home. Josefa is indeed inspiring others in her community, and shares that her dream now is to grow her business so she can acquire more solar panels and other tools needed to have greater quality control in every step of the weaving process. However, for Josefa and Saul it was a long journey to the stability they now have.  

Josefa’s journey began with humble roots and has been an uphill battle just like the other families in their village, where providing for their loved ones was a daily struggle. When Josefa was just a teenager, family hardship meant that she couldn’t complete her education. Instead, she married and started a family at a young age. Saul took on the role of the breadwinner, working tirelessly as a construction worker, but the few dollars a day laboring was never enough to take any kind of meaningful action towards their dream of homeownership, land and stability and a brighter future for their children. Then, a glimmer of opportunity emerged. An elder from their community extended a hand, offering to teach Josefa the art of weaving. Josefa eagerly said YES to this opportunity and began weaving dreams of her own. Once she learned the art of weaving, Josefa saw opportunity everywhere and shared her newfound knowledge with Saul, and together, they embarked on a remarkable journey of empowerment and growth. First, they learned, then they acquired a loom through hard work and saving what little they could and did not stop there. Others may have said, that is great I have come so far, but not Josefa, her dreams were bigger still. They knew that they needed more resources to truly flourish. That’s when the Women’s Entrepreneurship Fund’s credit manager in their area introduced them to Agros. The prospect of receiving holistic support, including financial education and essential tools, was a dream they hadn’t dared to imagine. And the rest is history.  

Their brighter future has arrived, Josefa is a community leader, and she knows that her two children, aged 7 and 5, will have something she never did, an education. Her eldest is thriving in school, while the youngest revels in the love and attention of her dedicated parents. The Lux family’s transformation has been nothing short of incredible.  

But they aren’t alone in their journey. Josefa, Saul, and their community share an unbreakable bond with the Women’s Entrepreneurship Fund and Agros. They’re immensely grateful for the guidance, training, and support they’ve received. With the Agros team by their side, they look ahead with unwavering hope.  

The Lux family, together with their community, eagerly anticipates the potential that the Women’s Entrepreneurship Fund has unlocked and continues to offer. With their hearts full of gratitude, they’re excited to walk hand in hand with Agros, creating a brighter future for their family and their beloved community.  

Thanks to coffee lovers like you were are able to support the work of Agros with every bag of coffee we roast. 2% of every dollar spent on the Coffee Lovers Club goes back to help Agros and Food 4 Farmers.

Posted on 5 Comments

Isabel’s Story

Isabel’s Story

In the heart of the Ojo de Agua community in the Ixil region of Guatemala, there lives a remarkable woman named Isabel. At 33 years old, she’s the proud mother of five beautiful children. Isabel was born and raised in this tight-knit community, and it’s where she’s chosen to build her life. But her story is not just about where she comes from; it’s about where she’s headed.  

From the very beginning, life had not dealt Isabel an easy hand. She didn’t have the opportunity to attend school, yet she understood the immense importance of education. This awareness led her to ensure her own children received the education she never had. She enrolled her older children in their local school, laying the foundation for a brighter future.  

But Isabel’s journey didn’t stop there. A few years ago, she stumbled upon a newfound opportunity in her community. She noticed that weaving held a promise of better days for her family. However, she didn’t know the art of weaving, nor did she possess the necessary   tools.   With   unwavering determination, she discovered an elder woman in her village who was teaching this ancient craft to others. Isabel decided to embark on this new path, making a choice that would forever change her life.  

Isabel and her husband shared their dreams and hopes. He invested 2,000 quetzales, equivalent to around $250, in her training by the local weaving expert. Isabel’s heart swelled with excitement as she learned the art of weaving. She toiled diligently, eventually saving enough to purchase her first loom. With determination, she began weaving to provide for her family. A local business recognized her talent and employed her to create fabrics, which they would then transform into beautiful clothing for sale. Isabel’s dream was taking shape.  

She didn’t keep her newfound skills to herself; Isabel taught her husband to weave too, transforming it into a shared endeavor. As the couple worked side by side, they began to dream bigger.   

To expand their operations, they recognized the need for another loom, but financial constraints held them back. That’s when Diego, an Agros Credit Manager, entered the picture. He visited Ojo de Agua Village, just as he did with numerous other villages, and spoke of the Women’s Empowerment Fund (WEF). Isabel knew that this was her chance, her gateway to further growth. She applied for her first credit of 2,500 quetzales (about $330) to purchase an additional loom. After repaying that loan, she applied for another, this time to buy a third loom. With her older kids now skilled in the trade, their humble beginnings were evolving into a successful family business.  

Isabel’s gratitude knows no bounds; her life has transformed beyond her wildest dreams. Before, they struggled to put food on the table, to afford gas for their stove. Their children sometimes went without meals. Now, they have the means to provide for their family’s basic needs. If her children ask for something to eat, there’s always something to offer.  

It hasn’t been a walk in the park, and each day brings new challenges, but the journey has been worth every moment. Just three months ago, Isabel welcomed a new baby girl into her family. She knows that her youngest, baby Candelaria, will have a vastly different upbringing compared to her older children. Isabel can now provide for her children and care for her baby while working from home. It’s a family affair, with both mom and dad actively involved in raising their precious Candelaria.  

Isabel’s dreams continue to soar. She envisions a bigger business, one where they can “cut the middleman” and handle the entire production process as a family. This dream includes buying threads themselves, weaving them into beautiful fabrics, and crafting local clothing for sale. The goal is to create a thriving family business, and it’s a monumental dream. Isabel needs more support to purchase the threads that will turn this dream into reality.

Isabel will be the first in her family and community to establish a self-sustaining business, from raw materials to final product – an achievement that carries immense significance. Isabel’s story is a testament to the power of opportunity and perseverance. From a place of hardship and limited prospects, she has blossomed into a thriving entrepreneur, inspiring not only her family but an entire community. Her journey serves as a beacon of hope, proving that with determination, support, and the right opportunities, dreams can come true, and lives can be forever changed.  

Thanks to coffee lovers like you were are able to support the work of Agros with every bag of coffee we roast. 2% of every dollar spent on the Coffee Lovers Club goes back to help Agros and Food 4 Farmers.

Posted on 10 Comments

The Artistry of the Roast

The Artistry of the Roast

Does your cup of coffee transport your senses to a different place depending on the flavor and your mood? Roasting coffee beans is an art no different than painting a masterpiece; time, heat, and color take the place of brushes and palettes. Your favorite roast requires an artist skilled in the nuances of coffee bean flavors and aromas; anything less is like snapping a Polaroid versus creating a Rembrandt.

The heat is on

A coffee bean starts out as a hard pit; then it goes through a process of fermentation and drying making it softer and sort of grassy smelling. In this state, it can be stored without losing its quality or taste, but you wouldn’t be impressed by either of those attributes until its flavors are released through roasting. Roasting machines are set to temperatures between 370 and 540 degrees Fahrenheit, the beans are constantly moving for even heating from a few minutes to a half hour. Once removed from the heat, the beans are immediately cooled.

The process of roasting causes changes to occur in the bean’s chemical make-up. A combination of science and years of experience are what make a Roast Master; you don’t just walk in off the street and get a job roasting coffee. Beans are brought to high temperatures pretty rapidly it takes a master roaster to know the moment the beans have reached roasting perfection.

Color me fascinated

Different roasts create different depths of flavor; lighter roasts keep most of the natural bean flavor while darker roasts remove more of the sweetness for a full bodied taste. Each degree of roasting is gauged by color; obviously, the longer the beans are left to roast the darker they get.

Lightly roasted beans will have a more cinnamon color, light brown with reddish tones, original bean flavors. Mild beans are better when lightly roasted, leaving you with layers of flavor depending on where the beans were grown and the surrounding vegetation.

Medium roasts are the most popular because the flavors are the most enhanced, the color palette for medium roasts ranges from light-medium brown to medium brown and oily. A shiny appearance will happen when temperatures are high enough to begin releasing the natural oils within the bean. Often, big coffee companies will employ a medium roast to average quality beans in an attempt to fool you and bring out a richer flavor. Camano Island Coffee is made from the highest quality, single-origin Arabica beans, so our medium roast coffees are balanced and flavor filled.

Dark roasted coffees range in color from medium-dark brown and oily to very dark brown. The longer the beans are left to roast the smokier the flavor, with a lower acidity and richly coated in coffee oils these tend to be internationally favored. Make sure you’re getting high-quality beans since many mass-produced coffee makers will use the dark roast in an attempt to hide poor quality.

There is a niche market of coffee lovers that prefer extra dark roast coffees, the beans are almost black in color and can be shiny or brittle. These beans have none of their original flavor left; you have to be of a strong constitution to enjoy this flavor of roast. We don’t go too dark, instead relying on varietal beans that blend so well you can enjoy your espresso alone or in your favorite creamy concoctions.

Regional flavors

Our regional blends offer another option. We roast our single-source coffees separately, then blend the regional coffees together to bring all of your favorite coffees into a single cup. Camano Island Coffee offers a variety of roasts and blends, including espresso and less caffeinated choices.

The daily grind

Everyone involved in the process at Camano Island Coffee Roasters is there to bring you the best tasting, highest quality coffee you’ve ever had. We believe everyone from the farmer to the consumer is of the utmost importance, and because we believe that on every box we make sure to pass along the messages of hope and success that we’ve created together. Together is the most important idea of all, for once you decide to support social and environmentally sound businesses you change the world with every purchase, with every cup, with every sip. Now, isn’t that a great tasting cup of coffee?

Posted on 21 Comments

Top Five Health Benefits of Coffee

Top Five Health Benefits of Coffee

Are you wondering if your coffee has any health benefits? Are coffee naysayers touting the ill effects and making you want to give up on your cuppa coffee? Well, we have put together the top five reasons why you shouldn’t.

Lowers the Risk of Heart Disease

Studies have shown that individuals who consume three to five cups of coffee in a day are less likely to exhibit the signs of heart disease. Individuals with an intake of at least three cups of coffee are less likely to develop calcification in the coronary arteries. For more info on coffee and heart health check out our blog post, 3 Ways Coffee Improves Heart Health.

How is this possible, you ask? Well, coffee protects the muscular chamber of the heart from artery damage which may be due to inflammation.

Lowers the Risk of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is increasing rapidly in the aging population. Since there is a lack of curative treatment as of now, the protective effect of coffee against Alzheimer’s disease is of great importance. Based on the findings of studies regarding coffee, in relation to Alzheimer’s disease, coffee has favorable effects when it comes to cognitive decline / Alzheimer’s disease. For more information on coffee and brain health check out our blog post, 4 Ways Organic Coffee Improves Brain Health.

Caffeine can reduce beta-amyloid buildup. Beta-amyloid is reckoned to be the prime reason for Alzheimer’s disease. Polyphenol, found in coffee, has antioxidant effects that lower inflammation and helps to protect the brain from a decline in function due to age.

Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes (T2D)

The inefficiency of the body to sufficiently produce or effectively use insulin results in T2D. This results in an increase in the level of blood glucose. Findings in research show that individuals who upped their intake of coffee by a cup per day, were less likely to develop T2D and those who reduced their intake of coffee by a cup per day were more likely to develop T2D. For more info on coffee and diabetes check out our blog post, 3 Ways Coffee Prevents Diabetes.

Reduces Depression

It comes as no surprise that coffee does have a positive impact on the mood. Besides uplifting your mood, studies have shown that coffee helps in preventing depression of mild level to moderate level. The bad immune reaction causes inflammation in our brain. This results in depression. Due to the combination of various antioxidants in coffee such as nicotinic acid, chlorogenic acid, tannic acid, quinolinic acid, pyrogallic acid, trigonelline, etc. coffee helps to relieve this inflammation.

Protects Against Liver Cirrhosis

Sure, one can reduce the intake of alcohol to prevent liver cirrhosis. However, a study indicates that drinking coffee protects the liver. As per the study, levels of the liver enzyme were lower among those who consumed decaf and/or regular coffee.


While there are many more healthy reasons not to give up your coffee, this list of the top five health benefits of coffee will easily help you ace your debates with coffee naysayers. Being able to brew yourself a great cup of coffee at home is valuable. It makes sense to have a good home espresso machine to maximize convenience. That said, it is also essential to remember that coffee is not a magic potion. Coffee alone is not responsible to keep your overall health in top shape. You must ensure that you eat healthy food, workout regularly, and maintain a wholesome and healthy lifestyle.

About The Author

Olivia is an avid traveler, has a quest for music, adventure and is a coffee junkie. She co-owns and writes at Fourth Estate Coffee & Pretty Home. She lives to explore and can never say no to a well-made cup of coffee.


Posted on 6 Comments

Reducing the Risk of Liver Cancer is Easier Than You Thought: Drink Coffee!

Reducing The Risk Of Liver Cancer Is Easier Than You Think: Drink Coffee!

Check out this latest guest post by Greg Haver of Greg dives into the latest research on how coffee reduces liver cancer risk. Once you’re done with this post, check out the other great content on

While I usually tout moderation pretty ardently, this is the one time science has literally proven that taking in an enormous amount of one substance can be super healthy for you. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s not alcohol.

And tea drinkers can choke on the smoke from coffee roasters, because drinking a mug of java has a benefit that tea can’t compete with: coffee greatly reduces the risk of liver cancer.

Yes, on top of doing a world of good against cirrhosis, reducing the risk for type II diabetes, and the whole host of antioxidant benefits, coffee fights cancer.

Who Says So?

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Southampton in the UK somehow interacted with 2.25 million people across 26 observational studies. If that doesn’t offer enough credo for you, you’re forever going to be dissatisfied with life, friend.

These studies were global, too, so it meshed together findings from the US, Japan, Europe, Hong Kong, and Singapore. There were eight case-control groups, too, but they do notate that the caffeine content wasn’t regulated at all. While the average mug of joe has 95 mg, the study didn’t account for the multiple ways we consume java across different cultures.

They did, however, find that coffee’s benefits are pervasive; they apply whether you’re a smoker, with or without the presence of alcohol, have Type II diabetes mellitus, have a high mass body index, or have hepatitis B or C.

Why Do I Care?

You are clearly not hearing me! Coffee can significantly reduce the risk of cancer! There are more numbers and cool things to go along with that, and I’m getting to it, but just read those words a few times.

We, a group of intelligent beings, are struggling to find ways to prevent cancer other than yearly screenings to catch it at early stages. Coffee, that stuff you mindlessly pour into a mug every morning, then again at 2pm to mitigate the mid-afternoon drowsiness, is dominating the game.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of liver cancer, and it often develops from those stricken with chronic liver disease.

Liver cancer often has a poor prognosis, which largely is what makes it the leading cause of cancer deaths globally. In the US, 40,710 adults will be diagnosed with liver cancer this year alone, while men are three times more likely than women to develop it. The general 5-year survival rate is at a despairingly low 18%.

I’m not trying to make it as depressing as a high school poetry club reading in here, but I’m just trying to emphasize how damn impressive it is that coffee’s able to hold this hellish cancer at bay.

Okay, I Care. What Now?

Drinking one cup of coffee per day reduces your risk by 20%. Two knocks that number up to 35%, and drinking five cups of this magical bean juice reduces your risk for liver cancer by a whopping 50%.

They also measured those who drank decaffeinated coffee and found that it decreased the risk of liver cancer, but not as drastically as the caffeinated version, so everything is right with the world.

There wasn’t any documentation for consumption of more than five cups, but, well, to be honest, we all know over five cups of coffee per day and you evolve into a superhuman being impervious to any and all ailments.

What’s even cooler is that this study also showed that the decrease in risk is available to even those jumping on the coffee bandwagon later in life! You don’t have to have been endlessly consuming it for 10 years (*cough* me *cough*) to reap the benefits. March your butt to the nearest coffee shop and take a sip knowing that you’ve immediately reduced your risk like the total boss of your life you are.

You don’t even need to prepare it in any special way – boil it, brew it, filter it, whatever your cute little heart desires. As long as it makes its way from the mug to your gut, you can take pride in the fact that you’re doing your body good.

Disclaimer and Conclusion

Drinking coffee isn’t for everyone, and drinking five cups of the stuff every day really isn’t for everyone. The researchers didn’t measure whether or not imbibing that much caffeine outweighs the benefits of reducing liver cancer.

Read your body, search your soul, and do what’s right for you. If you want to drink a cup or two and bask in the benefits like reducing the risk of liver cancer, totally do it! If you’ve long since hopped on the caffeinated train like yours truly, you just keep doing your thing.

Greg Haver
Greg Haver

A ten-year veteran of the coffee business, Greg Haver is the creator and editor of Coffee or Bust, a blog for coffee lovers. With an audience ranging from aspiring home baristas to coffee-making veterans, Coffee or Bust provides in-depth equipment recommendations, brewing guides, and other information on coffee-related topics.

Follow Greg on Facebook and Twitter for more recipes and coffee news!

Posted on 14 Comments

Save Yourself From Bad Coffee

Save Yourself From Bad Coffee

We asked you to tag a mom in your life who could use some good coffee. Your response was fantastic. As a result we have picked 5 winners. Congratulations to you guys!

And, remember, if you didn’t win you can still get your first bag free when you join the Coffee Lovers Club. If it’s not the best coffee you’ve ever tried simply email to cancel. We make it easy!

And when you join make sure to enter the friend who referred you. They get $20 towards their next shipment!

How The Free Pound Works

  • Just pay 99¢ shipping and handling.
  • If it’s not the best coffee you’ve ever tried simply email to cancel.
  • Next shipment auto-ships 3 weeks later.
  • You’re never charged for your first free pound.


Posted on 9 Comments

Ericson Family Vacation 2018

Ericson Family Vacation 2018

We’ve been meaning to post these photos from our family vacation for months now. We’ve finally gotten round to sharing them. Jodi and I had a great time treating our kids and grandkids to a family trip to Disneyland this past spring. It was great to see the faces of our grandkids light up when they got to meet their favorite characters. The adult “kids” had a pretty good time too!

Share your favorite vacation photo with us in the comments below or on facebook. Photo with the most likes gets free CICR diner mug. BONUS POINTS if your photo includes a bag of Camano Island Coffee!

Winner selected at the end of the week!

Jeff Ericson

Posted on 4 Comments

5 Steps To Fixing Fair Trade Coffee

5 Steps To Fixing Fair Trade Coffee

Coffee farmers are some of the hardest working people on the planet. Typically one tree produces one pound of coffee per year. That’s 2,000 beans. That means a farmer needs to pick over 1,000 coffee cherries to produce one pound of coffee. And that doesn’t include the labor involved in processing the beans after picking. In spite of the fair trade movement coffee farmers only receive pennies for every pound you buy. This is because of the unintended fair trade coffee problems. There is a better way — fixing fair trade coffee.

Fixing Fair Trade Coffee Step #1:

Buy Coffee That Gives a Hand Up Not a Hand Out

If we will give coffee farmers a hand up instead of a hand out, they will work their way out of poverty. A hand up can take many forms. A hand up can be loans, education, and support. A hand up is supporting farmers in a way that enables them to work themselves out of poverty. If we simply provide hand outs in the form of food, materials for shelter, or medicine, we make ourselves the savior of the rural poor. By enabling coffee farmers to provide for themselves we allow them to have dignity and independence. At Camano Island Coffee Roasters the idea of a hand up instead of a hand out is a crucial tenet in helping coffee farmers eradicate poverty in their countries. It is an important first step in fixing fair trade coffee.

Fixing Fair Trade Coffee Step #2:

Buy Coffee That Promotes Land Ownership

Fair Trade International and Fair Trade USA require farmers to own land to participate. So many farmers, however, merely work for a larger coffee plantation. So before we can begin discussing, education or improved agronomy techniques, the coffee farmers need land to call their own.

One nonprofit that helps with this is Agros. Agros helps the rural poor in Central America to purchase their own land. Agros will work with the local community to buy a large tract of land. Then they divide the land into parcels for individual families based on the type of land, and the type of agricultural business the family plans to build. These families then work their business on their land and repay the loan to Agros in 7 – 10 years. Agros can then take these repaid funds and invest in another village further propagating the system.

Fixing Fair Trade Coffee Step #3:

Buy Coffee That Partners With Farmers In Utilizing Modern Agronomy Techniques

The next step in the journey to end poverty is education. Agros also helps farmers to improve their crop yields, through education. Agros employs a team of Agronomists who help their farmers improve their yields and also diversify their crops.

Fixing Fair Trade Coffee Step #4:

Buy Coffee That Helps Farmers Diversify Their Crops.

Agros also encourages farmers to diversify their crops — from chili pepper farming to tilapia fish farming. This diversification of their crops on their land ensures they always have something to eat or sell.

Another nonprofit we consistently support, Food 4 Farmers, also helps coffee farmers diversify their crops. Food 4 Farmers provides education and mentorship in diversifying crops and expanding businesses. One of the best examples of this is bee-keeping. To learn more about bee-keeping and the impact it had on one coffee farming family, click here. Even if pests or monsoons tear apart their coffee crop, these farmers have another way of providing for themselves.

Fixing Fair Trade Coffee Step #5:

Buy Coffee That Rewards Best Practices

One of the fair trade coffee problems is the unintended consequence of selling inferior beans as fair trade. A better approach is to reward farmers for cultivating the very best beans. Paying for excellence incentivizes farmers to do their best work and also gives them an opportunity to make much more per pound than lower quality coffees.

Organic coffee is a great example of the right incentive. The coffee tree is one of the most absorbent crops on the planet. It drives its flavor from the mix of minerals and type of soil in which it is grown. And, then consider that most coffee grows in the developing world. This results in a lack of pesticide regulation. Years ago here in the US we banned many of the same pesticides readily available in the developing world. Farming using dangerous, unregulated pesticides results in harmful exposure to carcinogens and also birth defects for farmers and their families. Also, what effect can these unregulated pesticides have on the coffee drinker?

Encouraging Shade Grown coffee is also very important to farmers due to the impact environmentally on their farms and their local environment. When big coffee moves into a region and clear cuts the forest to increase the total yield per acre, the unintended consequences can be soil erosion. Additionally, when the rainforest is removed, lasting damage is done to the environment and specifically bird habitat further damaging the ecosystem.

Farmers earn a higher price per pound for excellence. Encouraging farmers to cultivate the best tasting coffees ensures farmers receive the best price per pound possible. In addition to organic and shade grown coffee, Arabica beans help farmers earn more — simply because they taste amazing. The alternative Robusta contains twice the acidity and caffeine of Arabica. The easiest coffee beans to grow are robusta, but they also contain twice the caffeine and acidity. Robusta coffee gives very bitter flavor. Due to the better coffee experience, the market dictates a higher price per pound for Arabica. Why not reward farmers for providing a superior coffee experience.

Summary: Fixing Fair Trade

Buy coffee that gives a hand up not a hand out. Empower farmers to work themselves out of poverty sustainably.

Buy coffee that promotes land ownership. This gives farmers the foundation to work their way out of poverty.

Buy coffee that partners with farmers in utilizing modern agronomy techniques.

Buy coffee that helps farmers diversify their crops.

Buy coffee that rewards farmers for producing the highest quality coffees.

Posted on 9 Comments

5 Unintended Fair Trade Coffee Problems

5 Unintended Fair Trade Coffee Problems

What if fair trade could guarantee a fair wage for a beautiful product like coffee? Unfortunately, unintended fair trade coffee problems can hinder the coffee farmer’s long term future. But there is hope. There is a better way.

How Does Fair Trade Work?

Fair Trade International and Fair Trade USA organizations created what we know as Certified Fair Trade. They based Certified Fair Trade on a cooperative approach where farmers join the Fair Trade Organization and follow best practices. Green bean purchasers pay a price minimum — currently at $1.40/lb — plus premiums of $.30 per pound. Also, coffee farmers pay certification fees to participate. Yes, growers must pay to receive a ‘fair price.’ In fact a 2010 study by the University of California estimated growers pay $.03/lb just to be part of the process.1

While the minimum price floor of $1.40 may be good for farmers (you will see it has its flaws too), the premiums paid by buyers rarely end up in farmer’s pockets. $.10/lb goes back to the Fair Trade organizations. This is essentially marketing for Fair Trade. The remaining $.20/lb does not go back to farmers directly either. Instead, this portion of the premium is intended for local cooperative projects such as equipment upgrades, and education (you will see this has flaws too).

The fair trade organizations set up Certified Fair Trade with the best of intentions. In their words “use a market-based approach that empowers farmers to get a fair price for their harvest, helps workers create safe working conditions, provides a decent living wage, and guarantees the right to organize.2 In practice, however, unintended fair trade coffee problems impact not only the coffee farmer, but also the coffee consumer.

Unintended Fair Trade Coffee Problems #1:

Lower Coffee Quality

To understand how fair trade works you need to know some basics about the coffee market. The coffee market is split into different categories based on quality. From lowest quality to highest quality: Off-Grade, Standard Grade, Exchange Grade, Premium Grade, and Specialty Grade. The most well known — Specialty Grade — is where your high-end coffees come from.

Fair Trade coffee can come from any category of coffee, however.3 So farmers can use lower quality coffee as fair trade. Due to its “fair price” requirements the industry considers Fair Trade specialty. This creates a quality problem. Since low quality coffee can be fair trade and therefore specialty without maintaining the higher quality standards required for other specialty grade coffees, farmers sell their lower grade coffees as fair trade. Then their higher grade coffees they sell on the open market, since they receive a higher premium for the coffee due to its quality.

The unintended fair trade coffee problem is the well-intentioned consumer — buying fair trade beans — is left with an inconsistent and low quality product. This is not sustainable. Consumers will not continue to pay a premium for a poor flavor experience. This creates an inconsistent and poor experience for the consumer and also undermines the effort of the farmer and intentions of fair trade.

Unintended Fair Trade Coffee Problems #2:

A Price Ceiling Instead of a Price Floor.

Due to lower quality coffees being placed in Fair Trade offerings, the reputation of Fair Trade coffee has been tarnished. Many coffee importers and roasters are shying away from Fair Trade due to the quality issue, and because of this they are less likely to pay more than the pricing floor of Fair Trade. So in some cases even if a particular crop is higher quality, the perceived value of Fair Trade being lower means that the Fair Trade rate of $1.40 is the highest a buyer will pay. This leads to a pricing ceiling of $1.40 instead of the minimum price.4

Unintended Fair Trade Coffee Problems #3:

Those Who Need It Most, Don’t Have Access.

For all intents and purposes, Fair Trade is essentially a massive collection of co-ops. Most Fair Trade coffee comes from the countries that already have some form of development: mostly Central and South America. The lesser developed coffee growing countries — such as those in Africa and Southeast Asia — do not have access to the Fair Trade market as they are small landowners who cannot afford the Fair Trade certification fees. Additionally, land ownership is an integral requirement for participation in the Fair Trade cooperatives.5 In the poorest parts of the world many farmers work for larger plantations and do not own their own land. Thus the efforts of Fair Trade do not help these farmers. Unfortunately, Fair Trade does not help the poorest of the poor.

Unintended Fair Trade Coffee Problems #4:

Fair Trade Creates Laborious Bureaucracy For Farmers

Fair Trade International requires good record keeping at the farm level. Collecting data helps both farmers and Fair Trade International make better business decisions. Data collection ignores the real-world challenges of farmers, however. First, many coffee farmers in the developing world are illiterate, making it impossible to keep good records.6 For literate farmers, keeping records on top of cultivating their crop is impossible for some. Partly due to low wages, but also because coffee growing is labor intensive, many coffee farmers work long hours during harvest season and simply lack time to keep records. Just trying to provide for their families is a farmers primary objective. The time consuming aspect of maintaining the paperwork along with the fees of Fair Trade mean many farmers don’t participate who would otherwise benefit. This lack of participation further undermines the movement.

Unintended Fair Trade Coffee Problems #5:

Fair Trade Premiums Building Offices Not Schools

Another critique of the Fair Trade cooperative model is the small amount of funds that actually make it back to farmers. Ndongo Samba Sylla, the author of The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, estimates that no more than $.03 of every pound makes it back to the individual farmers.7 While the $.20 premium meant for infrastructure projects, oftentimes goes towards improved offices for the co-ops instead of . . . schools or organic farming.8

Summary of Unintended Fair Trade Coffee Problems

While started with the best of intentions, Certified Fair Trade falls short of helping the poorest of the poor. Certified Fair Trade incentivizes production of lower quality beans, lowers earning potential of some farmers, and costs farmers to participate.

1. Fair Trade Coffee maintains a minimum price of $1.40 per pound of green beans.

2. An additional $.20 per pound must go back to invest into the producer cooperatives and the local community but often times goes to co-op office buildings.

3. Some Researchers estimate that no more than $.03 per pound makes it back to the farmers.

4. Farmers must pay to be part of a local Fair Trade cooperative and maintain cumbersome records.

5. Inadvertently rewards cultivation of inferior beans.


  1. Alain de Janvry, Craig McIntosh, Elisabeth Sadoulet. “Fair Trade and Free Entry: The Dissipation of Producer Benefits in a Disequilibrium Market”. University of California. July 2010.
  2. Colleen Haight. “The Problem with Fair Trade Coffee”. Stanford Social Innovation Review. 2011.
  3. IBID.
  4. IBID.
  5. IBID.
  6. IBID.
  7. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. By Ndongo Samba Sylla. Translated by David Clement Leye. Ohio University Press; Found in The Economist. July 5th 2014.
  8. IBID.