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Coffee craze: Consumer companies comfort connoisseurs

The morning routine’s obession is often incomplete for many until the first sip of coffee.

Most do not give a thought as to how that coffee made its way into their cup. They are unconcerned with those who tended the coffee as it grew or harvested it when fully grown. But for a company trying to find the best coffee for the best price to sell to the world, the history of the coffee they buy is very important.

Coffee was discovered by goats in Ethiopia, who would became energetic even during the heat of the day after consuming coffee beans. This caught the attention of their herder, Kaldi, who investigated the source of their sudden burst of energy.

Thus coffee was discovered and was quickly spread to countries around the world. Coffee cultivation became widespread throughout the sixteenth century. It went through many phases along its road to success as the second largest commodity sold in the world, including being, “banned by religious sects as sinful, and extolled by doctors and scientists as medicinal,” (

As with any profitable cash crop, coffee farms quickly became another place to exploit workers. While this is certainly not the case with all coffee farms it is a large enough problem to have caught the attention of one of the largest coffee retailers in the United States, Starbucks.

“Starbucks pays over market value for our coffee,” Amber Padgett, Starbucks assistant manager, said. “That money goes toward developing communities where coffee is grown. We want to help better their living conditions by building schools, water systems and heath clinics.”

Starbucks has been working with TransFair USA since April 2000. They are also allied with Oxfam America and the Ford Foundation on a pilot project with Fair Trade farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico. Their goal is to help equip small-scale coffee producers to compete with greater effectiveness in the global market.

The goal of Fair Trade is to allow workers to be paid at least their country’s minimum wage or, when possible, a “living wage,” which is equal to that country’s cost of living. While honorable, the Fair Trade program is often thought of as the “cure” for all trade problems, and there are those who would caution the public not to be deceived into believing that Fair Trade Certified coffee is the only fair coffee.

“There is really only one issue regarding fair trade, which is farmers paying ?fair’ wages to farm workers,” Ron Loza, founder and president of Caffe e Via, said. “Some coffee houses promote ?certified fair trade’ coffee?however, only small farms can be certified, so the majority of farms in the world cannot carry this designation even though they are paying fair wages.”

Loza cautions consumers not to be fooled into thinking that they should only buy coffee grown on small farms because they are “Fair Trade Certified.”

“The reason for the certification is that most small farms were underpaying workers, while larger farms have always paid fair wages,” Loza said. “So just because a coffee house doesn’t carry ?certified fair trade’ coffee does not mean they are buying coffee from farms that do not pay fair wages.”

So coffee fans need not worry that their favorite treat is brought to them at the expense of farm workers in Brazil. If they are curious about the ethics supported by their favorite coffee company they can contact that company directly through the Internet or in person.

For more information on the Fair Trade Program visit, or www.transfair For information on Starbucks visit or for more information on Caffe e Via visit

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