Coffee farmers are some of the worst-treated farmers in the world. Their jobs are labor-intensive, and low profit. The coffee plant itself is incredibly high risk for disease and pests. Luckily, people’s ethical stands are higher when it comes to what coffee to drink because it’s not seen as food, but more of a delicious happy luxury. Because of this, consumers feel the right to be a bit pickier about where and how their coffee is grown. 

The Smithsonian Magazine lays out what you should look for in an ethical and sustainable coffee. While getting all of these is a bit complicated, being able to check as many off as you can before purchasing a bag of coffee is ideal! 

  • Direct trade: Gives farmers a bigger chunk of profits.
  • Shade-grown: Lets farmers grow their crops without destroying surrounding biodiversity.
  • Organic: Helps prevent excess erosion (along with not using pesticides). 
  • Fair Trade Certified: Along with getting paid fair wages, they also get a premium to invest back into the community, and don’t suffer wage losses if the market price goes down.
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified: Protects against child labor and some ecological factors. Although truthfully it isn’t very strict. 
  • UTZ Certified: Generally protects habitat preservation, water use, pesticide use and soil erosion prevention. 
  • Bird-Friendly Certified: Ensures farms are growing organic and shade-grown coffee. This is a very important but generally uncommon certification. 

1. Thanksgiving Coffee “SongBird Guatemalan, Light Roast” 

The Thanksgiving Coffee “SongBird Guatemalan, Light Roast” Light Roaste... says it all in the name. It’s organic, Fair Trade Certified, and shade-grown. The coffee is also grown on a Guatemalan Bird-Friendly Farm and has notes of cherry, molasses, smokey semi-sweet chocolate, and caramel. That sounds delicious! A 12-ounce bag is $15.99

Sue says “I found this coffee off a Smithsonian article that talks all about how this is one of around 10 brands of coffee in the world that’s “Bird Friendly certified coffee”, which is even stricter than the Rainforest Alliance coffee. The Smithsonian has whole diagrams and explanations about how this coffee is grown; it’s so cool. I can’t speak much for the flavor of the coffee because it’s all just coffee to me, but it is light roast and I’m helping birds!”

2. Tiny Footprint Coffee Nicaragua Segovia 

The Tiny Footprint Coffee Nicaragua Segovia, Dark Roast, Carbon Negativ... is a great ethical option for your morning cup. It’s carbon negative (which is very cool), organic, fair trade, and shade grown. The company “also purchase[s] coffee from small, family-owned farms that are not fair-trade eligible, yet grow some of the most beautiful, best tasting coffees on the planet.”  Although they aren’t certified bird-friendly, they do work with a foundation for birds. A 16-ounce bag is $13.00.

One customer says “My husband and I drink 2 cups of coffee together. These Tiny footprint coffee beans lasts at least 1-1.5 months for our house hold. The coffee tastes non acidic, no heartburn after drinking, also has full, rich flavor.”

3. Java Planet, Organic Coffee Beans, Guatemalan Single Origin

The Java Planet, Organic Coffee Beans, Guatemalan Single Origin, Gourme... coffee has fruity undertones with notes of chocolate and caramel. It’s organic, bird-friendly, Fair Trade Certified, and even won a Sustainable Business Award in 2015! A pound bag is $15.99

Kathleen W says “While I found this coffee delicious, it’s even nicer that the growers, roasters/distributors are truly bird friendly, even having the SMBC (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center) certification for shade-tree-grown coffee that surpasses the Rainforest Alliance certification for shade-tree coffee (which in many instances is hardly shaded). THANK YOU for caring and doing something that makes a big difference for migratory birds around the world. Deforestation destroys bird habitat. Consequently coffee growers and coffee drinkers would do well to make a change for birds and for all of us. Who doesn’t enjoy beautiful birds? If deforestation continues, their numbers will continue to decline, and our beautiful spring/fall migrants will continue to decline in species and number.” 

4. Tomorrow’s Coffee Organic, Dark French Roast with Chocolate Flavor

Tomorrow’s Coffee Organic, Fair Trade, Shade Grown Whole Bean bird ... is a great example of high-quality ethical coffee. The notes are smokey and chocolatey. It’s also organic, Fair Trade Certified, bird-friendly, and comes in an omnidegradable bag, which means it will break down five times as fast as normal plastic. A pound bag costs $19.99

Bradley says “This is THE most environmentally responsible coffee in the world. If that wasn’t enough, it also tastes amazing regardless of how its brewed! I go through coffee at a fairly slow rate and the omnidegradable bag keeps my coffee fresh way longer than most other brands I’ve tried. Give this stuff a try and you will not be disappointed and you can be a great part of the environmental movement just by drinking something you already do every day. No excuses now!” 

5. ETHICAL BEAN Fairtrade Organic Coffee

The ETHICAL BEAN Fairtrade Organic Coffee, Mellow Medium Roast, Whole B... lives up to its name.  It’s Fair Trade Certified and organic, but as a bonus, it also comes with a QR code to trace your bag of coffee. Their farmers receive fair compensation for their average sustainable production costs. The coffee’s notes are nutty and bright. A 12-ounce bag costs $9.96

One user says “I bought this because it was advertised as low acid. It was very good. I like the flavor and the price, and I like supporting ethical companies so it’s a yes for me.” 

6. Fresh Roasted Coffee, Organic Flores Bajawa Ngura

The Fresh Roasted Coffee, Organic Flores Bajawa Ngura, Medium Roast, Ko... coffee is chocolatey, peppery and herbal. It’s Rainforest Alliance Certified, organic, direct trade, and Fair Trade Certified. This is quite a popular product, and it has over two thousands reviews on Amazon! A 12-ounce bag is $14.99

One user jokingly comments “Terrible Product! You’ll never appreciate any other coffee bean ever again! Coffee is forever ruined. It’s a gateway bean to true coffee snobbery. First it’s the slow soak in the french press then it’s the fresh grind each time to bring out the rich deep flavor from the oils…. You might stop and wonder what is wrong with you and where you went wrong in life but then you’ll take that sip and truly realize how deep blue moon has its talons into you… there is no escape no turning back only a life of servitude to the flavor of Bali Blue Moon… /cry…. *sip*” 

7. Grumpy Mule Organic Colombia Finca Agroberlin 

The Grumpy Mule Organic Colombia Finca Agroberlin Whole Bean Coffee – 1... coffee comes in a resealable bag and has caramel, citrus, and milk chocolate notes. It’s organic and Rainforest Alliance Certified which they say “stands for more sustainable farming methods that help improve farmer livelihoods & mitigate climate change.” Our only issue is that we wish it was fair trade! A 12-ounce bag costs $10.50.

Amaral says “This is my second coffee experience with Grumpy Mule and again they hit it out of the park! A smooth cup of coffee with a perfect blend of caramel and chocolate notes . Organic and rainforest alliance certified, and did I mention FRESH! Time to order more! I actually found a Grumpy Mule Cafe at the library at CSUS in Sacramento! Now my favorite coffee on campus!” 

8. FLĪ Fresh USDA Organic Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance Certified Single-Origin Sumatra Medium Roast 

The FLĪ Fresh USDA Organic Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance Certified...has notes of earth, pepper, and chocolate, and comes from a tropical island in Indonesia. It is organic, Fair Trade Certified, and Rainforest Alliance Certified. A 12-ounce bag costs $22.99

One customer says “Loved the fresh taste, I’ve been looking to work back to a more sustainable option for coffee with a good rich flavor!” 

9. Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company, Sumatran French Roast Single Origin

The Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company, Sumatran French Roast Single O... isn’t just organic and fair trade, and shade-grown, it’s also kosher! The company says “ we create direct relationships and design development projects with each farmer cooperative we work with.” The bag it comes in is omnidegradable, which is a nice bonus. A 16-ounce bag costs $14.99

Jean Walsh says “I love coffee from Timor and it’s not always easy to find. This coffee is organic and purchased through a Fair Trade Certified agreement with the growers. The coffee is delicious and I will certainly buy this coffee again.” 

10. Grand Parade Coffee, Tanzania AA Medium Roast, Mount Kilimanjaro 

The Grand Parade Coffee, Tanzania AA Medium Roast, Mount Kilimanjaro, (... coffee has a grapefruit top note with overtones of berry, candied lemon, and hibiscus. It’s Fair Trade Certified, direct trade, and comes from the Kayanza Region. A 12-ounce bag is $17.99

Briana B says “I’ve tried almost every flavor and so far the Tanzania is the smoothest of the bunch. I will always love the Kenya AA but this one is a close second for me. When it arrived it smelled like butterscotch and chocolate which prompted me to make a cup to try immediately. We then made it into a cold brew which may be how I’ll be drinking this flavor from now on. Not only was it less acidic but I could taste the hints of honey.”

Buying ethical coffee really does make a difference to the farmers who put in incredibly long, back-breaking hours.

Let us know if you try any of these and what you think of them!

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Replies to This Discussion

Thanks, SunKat, very informative!


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