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More often than not, a little bit of time spent on Google or a perusing a company’s web site will help an interested consumer distinguish fact from fantasy. I actually put a full scan of my passport on our website at one point just for the people who wanted to go through and see all those stamps. We usually provide a whole lot of background on each coffee we sell--all it takes is a few clicks to access photo galleries, farm data, and personal accounts of farm visits. And at some point, it does make sense to put some faith in companies (at least those that are privately held--public ownership has a way of changing the rules of the game) that appear to have a substantive track record, the same way we put faith in some leaders who have earned our trust through their actions. The snake charmers will come and go, and occasionally we may get mislead. But by cultivating a reasonable dose of skepticism, paying attention and seeking detail beyond the sloganeering consumers will succeed in finding the products they want to support much more often than they fail. Blind support for ANY label should be reserved for the careless or the unwise. I encourage coffee drinkers who care about farming conditions, environmental stewardship, and high quality to pay less attention to the sustainability catch-phrases that are becoming a dime-a-dozen in specialty coffee and instead spend their energy looking for evidence of substance behind the label. Most of the time it is easier than one might think to gain an informed opinion about how serious any given company is about their quality and sustainability claims, just by poking around on the internet for a while and by asking questions. And I would submit that you can usually start with price...that can serve as a useful initial litmus test. Running a serious Direct Trade model is not cheap, and solving the numerous sustainability issues at the farm level always requires some additional investment and results in higher production costs. Maximizing quality on a farm means even further increases in cost. For these reasons you should expect to pay more if you are looking for a genuinely better coffee that hits all the marks in the sustainability checklists. If something sounds too good to be true it usually is, right? Specialty coffee is no different. If the cost on a coffee advertised as being of great quality, sustainable, fair, farm friendly, bird friendly, earth friendly...and so on...is only marginally above the costs of a commercial coffee that makes no such claims, you probably have reason to be wary.
thanks for listening,
Geoff WattsIntelligentsia Coffee
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