Fair Trade and Third Wave Coffee

Caroline Connolly || Guest Writer 

Fairtrade is more than just a hipster trend. Fair trade coffee shops give back to the coffee community and allows coffee farmers to earn more for all their hard work. The fair trade industry affects not only the coffee seller, but also the coffee growers.

The third wave coffee movement, closely tied to fair trade practices, has allowed more variety in style in the production of coffee. There are quite a few third wave coffee shops here in LA. Many people want to know where their coffee is coming from, and fair trade allows for this to happen, creating more honest business for the sellers, growers and consumers.

APU junior journalism and studio art student Josephine Jimenez said, “As a consumer, I make it a point to only purchase coffee that was produced and bought ethically. Coffee can only be grown in certain parts of the world and because of the demand for coffee, more and more people are being forced into labor to meet this demand. Fair trade coffee seeks to remedy this by creating partnerships with people who do not enslave people for production. I am more than willing to pay a little extra for my coffee for that purpose.”

An avid coffee lover. Jimenez also says, “I am a big fan of Coda Coffee. Not only is their coffee so stinkin’ good, but they are also very transparent about their coffee business. You know exactly what farm your coffee is coming from and who your money is benefitting. Plus, knowing that your coffee is helping people rather than hurting people makes it taste so much better.”

Coda Coffee is located in Denver, Colorado. According to the Coda Coffee website, “brothers Tim and Tommy Thwaites left the Seattle area but reconnected in Denver. As young entrepreneurs with a combined 22 years industry experience, they partnered with Tom Sr. to develop Coda Coffee Company. The mission is simple: to set the standard for coffee excellence through education, advocacy, and partnerships.”

You can order their coffee online. Coda has a helpful bean selector page, if you are not sure which kind of coffee you should order.

Jimenez believes that supporting fair trade coffee is part of being a thoughtful and ethically-minded consumer. “The relationship between the companies who buy coffee and the farms that grow it is so crucial. Much like sweatshops, some farms use child labor in order to grow and harvest coffee, and fair trade ensures that child labor is not allowed on the farms that participate in this movement. It’s the responsible way to do business, because if people don’t buy coffee that was made unethically, then unethical practices will start to fail and people will begin to pay their employees fairly. Something so simple as thinking about which coffee you buy can have a global impact,” said Jimenez.

Groundwork Coffee Company is the original LA fair trade coffee shop. It started in 1990 in Venice Beach, and according to the Groundwork website, “Groundwork was one of the first certified organic coffee roasters in Southern California and a pioneer in sustainable, relationship-based, and organic coffee sourcing.” There are several Groundwork locations in the Los Angeles area, all of which are listed on their website.

A Chai latte served at Groundwork’s Hollywood location.

According to Samantha Bakall of The Oregonian, “The company, founded in 1990 in Venice Beach, is now the largest organic coffee roaster in the Los Angeles area, operating eight cafes and distributing coffee to more than 900 food service and grocery stores across the country.”

Groundwork recently bought one of Portland’s oldest coffee roasters, Kobos Coffee, which has been around for 43 years. Bakall says, “In Portland, Groundwork is planning to renovate the Northwest Kobos cafe location. The completed space is expected to open mid-summer and will likely offer a menu of its dozen plus ‘Signature Blend’ roasts, single origin coffees, bottled cold brew, single estate and blended teas, tisanes and more. The cafe will continue to offer coffee during construction.”

Sometimes the third wave movement has a bad reputation or view towards it. There is a sense that there is an exclusive coffee “cult.”

According to Josh Ozersky of Esquire Magazine, “The mysteries of ‘third wave’ coffee — so called because the movement considers itself being to Starbucks what Starbucks was to Folger’s — are unavoidable to anyone seeking good coffee today. To me, as to almost everyone else, the endless talk about plantations, elevation, variety, roasting, and importation, along with the priestly reverence for baristas and the solemn piety of outfits like Stumptown and Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle, is baffling to the point of inciting outright hostility.”

When people think of third wave, they might think of coffee snobs. People might think that they need to be coffee experts to go to third wave coffee shops,  but anyone can go to a third wave coffee shop, have a good time, and get a cup of coffee.

Intelligentsia Coffee, which started in Chicago, is an example of a third wave coffee shop. They have LA locations in Silverlake, Pasadena, and Venice. According to Intelligentsia’s website, “In our coffee bars you can expect to find this remarkable coffee in all of its forms: whole bean, various approaches to brewed, and carefully prepared as espresso. Our goal is that each of these is presented in an environment steeped in education and humility. We want great coffee to be revered, yet democratic, approachable and accessible. By illuminating what is possible with coffee, we hope to change forever how you think about it.”

When asked about the third wave Coffee movement, “Principal Chief Coffee Guy” and licensed grader of Groundwork Coffee  Jeffrey Chean said, “I know third wave doesn’t  mean that one has to grow a beard or a waxed handlebar mustache, wear vests, tight jeans, vintage clothing or cool vintage glasses. I know the two people who claim to have—independently of each other—coined the phrase. And even they don’t agree exactly on what it means. Our company was at the leading edge of third wave before anyone thought or acknowledged there was a first or a second wave.  What people mean when they say “third wave” is all over the place, but I think the essence of it is being passionate about all things coffee, always striving to learn more and do better rather than viewing coffee as a fungible commodity.  In the early 90s, back in the days when there were only a few specialty coffee roasters in the L.A. area, L.A. was considered a culinary wasteland. The city didn’t have the fine reputation it does now for excellent and diverse cuisine. The Groundwork team and I were knocking on restaurant backdoors and hanging out in kitchens trying to convince chefs and food service people to respect coffee—to think about coffee as a culinary element.”

Coffee has gained a lot of importance over the last decade.

Until the early 2000s, it was pretty commonplace to focus on the quality of every other aspect of a meal, from the entrée to the dessert, but not the coffee. Coffee was barely an afterthought.  You could go to a great restaurant, spend $200 on a great steak meal, etc. and then get the same coffee served to you at the meal’s end that one could buy at Burger King or get for free in prison. No joke…really,” said Chean. “Looking to the variety of a coffee for flavor attributes and not just where it was grown wasn’t very common back then. We felt like we were pioneers out in the wilderness with the tumbleweeds trying to get the L.A. culinary scene to hear what we were saying.  Eventually, a critical mass of like-minded people in the specialty side of the coffee industry developed, and the third wave of coffee grew from there.”

Fair trade can affect the local, regional, national, and international economy. The impact of fair trade is long-lasting. Many people seem to trust Starbucks and big-name coffee brands less and less because these brands do not focus on fair trade and it is unsure where the coffee comes from. There is a certain feel, vibe, and environment to third wave and fair trade coffee shops. There is a sense of brand loyalty from consumers of coffee shops that are involved in fair trade and third wave.

Chean said, “I can only express my hope that fair trade has helped consumers to wake up and, uh….smell the coffee (sorry…couldn’t  resist!) about the issues the people who grow the coffee we drink and the food we eat face every day.”

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