Coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world after oil. Just as consumers of energy need to be conscious of the sources of their energy in the face of increasing climate change, consumers of coffee must also be conscious of the origins the beans that make their beverage. Social travesties ranging from poverty to child labor to violence fill the supply chains of many internationally-traded goods, including not just coffee but also cocoa, spices, other food crops, textiles, and diamonds and other precious stones and metals. Caleb's Coffee is committed to only dealing with responsibly-produced beans, so that you will always know that your cup of joe was made with love from start to finish.
A complex and unfair global market
The global coffee market is incredibly complicated. Coffee is exceptionally difficult to grow because the coffee shrub takes many years to mature, and when it's time to harvest the ripe coffee cherries, they must be individually picked by hand. Historically, crops were produced by small farmers and bought and sold through a series of middlemen before finally reaching the export market. This led to a huge disparity between the price paid to the farmer and the price paid by the final consumer. This system was especially problematic because many of the farmers were left in debt, while the traders and drinkers of their coffee lived privileged lives. In addition to small farms, coffee is also grown on large plantations with teams of dozens or hundreds of workers. Paid the equivalent of sweatshop wages, many plantation workers even bring children along to help with the harvest while working under terrible conditions at low pay.
A hope for change
Those systems obviously aren't fair, but luckily a movement towards fairly-traded coffee began in the 1950's. The aim was to eliminate middlemen and buy directly from producers, as well as to ensure decent wages and working conditions, while also assisting with social development in the producing regions. The problem is far from solved, but it's getting better. Caleb's Coffee maintains a selection of beans from around the world, each with its own story, telling how the dollars you spend in Ohio ultimately impact distant regions around the world, helping for example to build hospitals, schools, and soccer fields in places like Burundi, Honduras, and Peru. Coffee can't be grown locally in Ohio, but you can still buy responsibly and support small farmers and local business abroad.
Fair trade and direct trade
There are two types of solutions to the problem: fair trade and direct trade. A number of different organizations around the world offer certifications for fairly-traded coffee, including Fair Trade USA and the Fair Trade Federation. The certification from another organization, the Rainforest Alliance, carries an assurance of the product being not only fairly-traded but also sustainably grown. Many selections from Caleb's Coffee carry one or more of these certifications. However, some of the best specialty coffees are obtained through what is known as direct trade, where a small farmer sells directly at a fair price (but not always with certification) to an importer/exporter, who then sells to small roasters like Caleb's Coffee. This somewhat under-the-radar system has allowed micro-lots of some of the best specialty coffees to be brought to Athens County. For example, we had the privilege of enjoying some excellent coffee produced on Eulogio Luque Yana's farm Cima del Jaguar in Bolivia, a farm that won 21st place in the 2008 Bolivia Cup of Excellence Competition!
Bringing it all back home
One last, and seldom-considered, aspect is the final price to the consumer. Economic hardship is a problem not just abroad but also domestically. Athens County continues to struggle with poverty, with 10-20% of residents living in severe poverty and about half the population living below self-sufficiency. Athens is also home to Ohio University, with a large population of students who are working to build their livelihoods. Because of this, it's important to provide quality locally-produced products at an affordable price. Caleb's Coffee costs about the same as major grocery store brands while also maintaining a commitment to moral integrity in the supply chains.
Click here to read more about the moral principles of Caleb's Coffee...
The team at the small Bolivian coffee farm Cima del Jaguar, whose beans were featured for a time by Caleb's Coffee. Photo credit Invalsa Coffee