Coffee isn’t just something that perks you up in the morning—it’s also one of the most important commodities in the world. With so much coffee production and consumption, an increasing number of people are becoming interested in learning the social, environmental, and economic aspects of producing coffee. This has led to different certification processes that address consumers’ concerns.
Some of those certifications protect the environment, while others protect people.
But the following coffee certifications will definitely help you in your next coffee beans shopping.
1. USDA Organic Coffee Certification
USDA, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is responsible for certifying organic coffee. The actual verification is carried out by several agencies.
The main requirements for getting USDA certification include no use of prohibited substances, which includes most synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to be used on the land.
There also needs to be a buffer between organic beans and any adjacent non-organic crops. Also, the farm needs to show a plan for sustainable farming, including the prevention of soil erosion.
The main problem with organic certification is that it can be expensive or complicated to obtain, making it challenging for farmers in poorer regions. However, once obtained, producers can typically demand higher prices for their crops.
2. Rainforest Alliance Certification
The Rainforest Alliance is an NGO with programs in several areas that promote standards for sustainability. Their sustainable agriculture program certifies many crops, including coffee. In 2017, they merged with another certifier, UTZ, and the two came out with a new set of criteria in 2020.
The NGO is interested in sustainable agriculture from both an environmental and socio-economic standpoint. They care how the coffee is grown, how the local environment is protected, and how local workers are treated. That said, Rainforest Alliance certified coffee need not be organic or shade-grown.
This is a process-oriented certification: Certification is granted for farms working towards the criteria in the standard. There is no way to distinguish which or how many of the criteria have been met.
Fees to producers include an annual fee based on the size of the certified area and annual auditing fees.
3. Fair Trade Coffee Certification
Generically, “fair trade” is primarily concerned with promoting global equity and alleviating poverty. The main fair trade organization and standards-setter is Fairtrade International (FLO), and the Fairtrade label is exclusively licensed by Fairtrade America in the U.S. Products bearing this label meet the international standard. Certification is only available to democratically-organized cooperatives or associations of small producers, not individually-owned farms or estates, or those that rely heavily on hired labor.
This certification doesn’t require criteria related to growing coffee under shade and standards regarding wildlife are relatively generic. It does not require organic certification.
Fees to producers include an annual auditing fee.
4. Bird Safe Coffee Certification
The only true “shade-grown” certification, developed by ecologists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. Criteria include a canopy at least 12 meters high with the dominant tree species being native, a minimum of 40% shade cover even after pruning, at least two strata or layers of vegetation, made up of at least 10 woody species dispersed throughout the production area. Additionally, the coffee must also be certified organic. Bird-Friendly certification is one of the most difficult to obtain.
The requirements were set to protect migratory birds, but they convey many other environmental benefits.
The criteria are numerous, including a certain height of tree canopy, shade cover, biodiversity minimums, and even a priority for native plant life. And the coffee must be certified organic. Unlike the Rainforest Alliance certification, a farm must meet all the criteria to qualify.
Like the others, this certification requires a fee to obtain, but all collected fees are used to support bird conservation research.
Final Thoughts From Me
Coffee certifications are useful if you want to know how your coffee is produced and how it impacts the surrounding environment and society.
It’s not a perfect or only way to choose your coffee beans, but they can guide you to more sustainable coffee choices.
You can always dig a little bit deeper and know more about the place and ways of production of the coffee beans you are buying, especially if you buy from local coffee roasters. They will always be happy to tell you something more about their coffee beans.
How about you?
Are you paying attention on the certifications of the coffee beans you are buying?
Tell me in the comments, I love to know more about you.
And if you found this article useful, share it with your friends and family on your social media, someone else might need to see it, too.