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Ethical Coffee: A Guide to Coffee Certifications


Fairtrade, Organic, Rainforest Alliance: You may have seen any number of these certifications on your bag of coffee.

But what do all of these terms actually mean, both for you as a consumer and for the farmers growing the coffee?

To mark Fairtrade Fortnight this year, we’ve decided to break down these terms, so that you can make informed decisions as businesses and consumers.


1)    Fairtrade


This is one of the most recognisable accreditations on our supermarket shelves, commonly found on bananas, honey, chocolate and various other products.

But what does it mean for your coffee?

The Fairtrade movement started to emerge in the mid 20th century as a reaction to the legacy of what was known as ‘Mercantilism’. During the colonial period, companies such as the Dutch East India Company were given monopoly privileges and workers were often forced to work under terrible conditions. In such circumstances, trade was anything but fair.

Even after decolonisation, the price of coffee was subject to volatile fluctuations. This prompted the establishment of the International Coffee Agreement (ICA) which aimed to stabilise prices through import restrictions and quotas.

However, when the US pulled out of the agreement in the early 1990s, the ICA ceased to be effective. This coincided with a huge fall in the price of coffee worldwide.

To combat this volatility in prices and the resulting poverty, activists established the Fairtrade certification. It works by setting a minimum price for coffee. This price is indexed to the New York Coffee Exchange price, so that when prices rise above this minimum price, the Fairtrade price is always set slightly higher.

The farmers also receive a premium to ensure economic and environmental sustainability. These premiums are paid to cooperatives, rather than directly to farmers, so that the cooperative can vote on how best to invest the subsidy.

Our Fairtrade Coffees include:

Colombian Single Origin

Full Bodied Blend

Peruvian Single Origin

Triple Certified Blend


2)    Organic


Organic coffee is coffee produced without the use of any artificial chemicals, such as pesticides or herbicides.

To achieve an organic certification, the coffee’s farm fertilizer must be 100% organic. It must also be grown on land that hasn’t been exposed to synthetic pesticides for 3 years prior. To prevent soil erosion, the farmer must use a sustainable crop rotation system.

Organic agriculture has been known to minimise soil erosion and promote a healthy ecosystem. However, as organic fertilizers release their nutrients more slowly and are more expensive, the resulting coffee will be more expensive to the consumer.

However, many consumers are happy to pay this premium because of the benefits that organic agriculture brings to the farmers and the environment.

Our Organic Coffees include:

Triple Certified Blend

Peruvian Single Origin

Colombian Single Origin


3)    Rainforest Alliance


This certification hasn’t received the same exposure as Fairtrade. However, it is equally as important for ethical consumers.

Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit organisation which certifies coffee when it is produced under certain standards.

These standards cover both environmental issues and the working conditions of the laborers employed on the farm. Any activities which harm the ecosystem are prohibited and farms must meet both local and international labour standards.

Our Rainforest Alliance Coffees include:

Exclusive Master Blend

Signature Blend

Triple Certified Blend


If you have any more questions about your Coffee Master’s coffee and its certifications, don’t hesitate to drop us an email at enquiry@coffeemasters.co.uk.