United by Coffee

Saturday is World Fair Trade Day and Ten Thousand Villages (TTV) has several ways to celebrate.

As a barista at Starbucks and new volunteer at TTV, it seems like fate that we’ll close the day out with Handmade Expressions to co-host a free outdoor movie showing at Jo’s Coffee about…fair trade coffee!

Delicious Peace is a movie about Jewish, Christian and Muslim coffee farmers who decided “social justice, environmental justice, and economic justice is not enough…what’s needed is peace.” It serves as a model of not just successful organic and kosher fair trade coffee distributors helping the economically disadvantaged, but also interfaith cooperation.

I have not seen the movie, as I’m going to see it at Jo’s on Saturday, but as someone new to the fair trade world, I’m intrigued by the premise of the movie and fair trade coffee.

So what makes coffee “fair trade?” Fair Trade USA takes some of the guesswork out by serving as an intermediary that reviews and certifies products like coffee, tea, cocoa, spices and more to make sure they meet fair trade standards that are established FTUSA. Basically, those standards are the same ones that make jewelry and novelty items fair trade: 1) farmers are compensated for their labor and products so they can maintain a reasonable standard of living; 2) they have safe working environments; and 3) they sell their products directly. This allows for transparency and empowers the communities to set their own prices and build up business skills.

Another cornerstone in fair trade is that the focus is on building up the community through projects designed to bolster education, health care, and basic social needs. Since FTUSA deals with mainly agricultural products, there is the added standard of “environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations,” although environmentally friendly practices are common in other areas of the fair trade world beyond food.

The movie description makes sure to mention the coffee is kosher, so on a related note (and in the interfaith spirit of the movie), what makes coffee kosher? I mean, isn’t all coffee basically kosher? Generally, yes. This website from an organization that investigates and certifies kosher products is an excellent resource for not only explaining kosher as it applies to coffee, but also explaining how coffee is grown and processed.

Kosher concerns only really come into play with flavored coffee and the process of decaffeinating the coffee beans, as the chemical compound ethanol used to decaffeinate the beans is originally from a grain and therefore not kosher. Those are the main issues inherent to the coffee, but there is also the issue of the establishment selling the coffee.

“This problem stems from the halacha of marris ayin, the appearance of wrongdoing,” Star-K says. “This din states that a Jew is prohibited from doing things that others might interpret as violations of halacha.”

This is where things get tricky and it becomes a judgment call, but Star-K’s rabbis apply the standard that if the business is primarily concerned with non-kosher items, then it’s not kosher to get coffee there. If the business deals in just coffee or a mixture of kosher and non-kosher items, then it’s kosher to get coffee there.

Be sure to stop by Ten Thousand Villages on World Fair Trade Day to try some Fair Trade Certified coffee. It’s a dark, full-bodied French roast. Try it with a little bit of cream to bring out the smokiness in the flavor.

Photo Entry from 2013 Fair Trade Challenge:
Becca Ruiz poses with the fair trade
coffee section at Ten Thousand Villages

Also, don’t forget to show off your fair trade items in our World Fair Trade Day social media challenge for a chance to win a $50 gift card to the store!

– Kathryn
(Find me on twitter)