For many of us, coffee is less of a beverage and more of a passion, and that passion was further fueled by the increasing popularity of Starbucks over the past couple decades. But with these ubiquitous stores appearing all around the world, there are some bitter notes to swallow about the brand. Starbucks draw isn't the price or having the world’s best-tasting coffee, but rather the consistency of a product—the same Starbucks drink you get in Madison, Wisconsin is going to taste the same as it does in the United Kingdom. Starbucks is the fast food of coffee culture, and with any fast food chain, they have sacrificed exceptional taste and quality for middle of the road standards—as well as putting profits over sustainability.
Starbucks developed their own “C.A.F.E.” standards for coffee farmer pay and working conditions, and since 2015 has claimed 99% of its coffee sourced is meeting the standards it invented. But even on coffee plantations Starbucks counts in its 99% compliance, independent reviews have found slave labor, poor working conditions and other labor and sanitation issues. Meanwhile, Starbucks’ own reporting shows that only about 9% of Starbucks coffee is Fair Trade certified. So Starbucks is setting its own goal posts, rather than making a true commitment to independently certified Fair Trade farms. As the Fair World Project says, “If a company makes barely any progress on an ethical commitment for over a decade and then rewrites the standards and checks off the goal—that seems suspect, right?”
There are also concerns around Starbucks’ environmental impact due to the significant waste produced by the franchise. According to the Clean Water Project, Starbucks uses more than 8,000 paper cups a minute, with 1.6 million trees harvested every year to make all those single-use cups. And the cups are lined with plastic so only a handful of U.S. cities can even accept Starbucks cups for recycling.
If you would like to challenge your palate to better coffee, as well as participate in a growing trend of sustainability and altruism in coffee culture, here are three alternatives to consider:
Sourced with Fair Trade practices, these beans are grown in the heart of Mozambique's Our Gorongosa National Park. Emerging from the aftermath of civil war and the devastation that conflict put on the land as well as its people, Our Gorongosa is dedicated to localized and sustainable coffee growing practices while contributing to the culture and development of the people of the area.
A coffee company can do so much more to contribute to the world than producing high quality single-source Arabica coffee beans. Gorongosa donates 100% of its profits to support:
- Girls’ Education: Dedicated to providing education to a previously marginalized portion of the population, Our Gorongosa is helping provide high school education to girls in Mozambique. So far, over 20,000 girls have high school diplomas thanks to these programs!
- Rainforest Reforestation: Due to poor agricultural practices, drought, and land management, much of the Mozambique rainforest was deforested for industry and foreign agriculture. By replanting native species of trees, the beans are not only supported with shade and protection from wind and erosion, but over 1 million rainforest trees have been replanted in the area.
- Wildlife Conservation: Animals are perhaps one of the most overlooked victims of war, industrial growth, and unsustainable land management. 250,000 large mammals such as elephants, lions, and more are being protected and allowed to thrive in their native habitat due to Our Gorongosa's conservation practices.
Located in New Canaan, CT, Grace Farms partners with the world’s best coffee growers, tea masters and chefs to produce some incredibly delicious coffee. And they’re a 100% not-for-profit company, so every cup of coffee you drink supports:
- Ethical production and good wages: Grace Farm Foods partners with third-party certifiers like Fairtrade America to trace and audit all ingredients to ensure they meet rigorous ethical and environmental standards.
- Sustainable production: On top of the third-party production standards, all coffee, teas and cookies are made with organic ingredients that help replenish soils and use less water all without chemical-based fertilizers, and GFF uses plastic-free and biodegradable tea sachets and post-consumer or Forest Stewardship Council certified biodegradable or recyclable materials.
- Donations to efforts to end modern slavery: Every GFF purchase means more donations toward eliminating forced labor practices in places such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and Indonesia.
Kikos Coffee was born in Boston and is a fully LGBTQ and minority-owned operation. Not only providing exceptionally high-quality and good tasting coffee, Kikos Coffee works to represent Colombian culture in every cup they serve. Coffee and tea have long been a way to bring people together and Kikos embodies that tradition.
- Giving Back: The Kikos Coffee and Tea Foundation is a non-profit organization partnering with other foundations, such as Impact-U to provide education to underprivileged communities of Colombia. And in the U.S., Kikos has donated thousands of pounds of coffee to nationwide organizations striving to strengthen diversity and community such as the YMCA, Women's Lunch Place, and many others.
- Social Responsibility: Kikos coffee is fair trade, and the company partners with Massachussetts's Tri-City Forest Project and other organization to invest to preserve forests and wetlands, offset carbon emissions, and make it possible for your coffee order to be carbon-neutral.