Coffee Certifications-EXPLAINED!

There are quite a few coffee certifications out there.  A coffee can be one or many of them, including, but not limited to Organic, Kosher, Fair Trade, Bird-Friendly, Shade Grown, Utz Kapeh and Rainforest Alliance. Add to these the specific farms, auction lots, single lots, and it can be quite confusing.  Consider this your guide through the maze of labels, symbols and definitions.  Also, it is important to keep in mind that a particular coffee can carry one or more of these designations.  Given the history and economics of coffee production, not all methods or designations are able to be obtained in all countries or may not be practical for a particular growing region.

Organic:  Organic products are developed with an approach that views the farm as an ecosystem. Emphasis is placed on recycling, composting, soil health and biological activity with the goal of long-term protection of the farm environment. Synthetic chemicals are rigorously avoided. In accordance with the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act, effective October 21, 2002, the US Department of Agricultural regulated which products can be labeled “organic,” “made with organic ingredients” or “100% organic.” Only products that meet the organic foods, production, processing and handling criteria are eligible to be labeled as USDA Certified.

Stockton Graham & Co. is a certified organic handler per the USDA National Organic Program and we are inspected annually.

Kosher:  There are many different kosher certifying agencies whose principal objectives are to ensure the ingredients used in a product; the processing methods; and handling of the product meets strict Jewish dietary guidelines.  Kosher certified products offer assurances to the user about the purity of the ingredients used to make it.  Stockton Graham & Co., based upon an annual inspection and records review, received a kosher certification on our coffees by the Atlanta Kashruth Commission.

Sustainable: This is a term that does not have a widely acceptable definition. For coffee agriculture and resource development, the term implies concern for the laborers’ working conditions, for trading practices and land tenure systems that do not impoverish the workers, as well as sensitivity to the environment, minimization of pollution and independence from non-renewable energy sources.

Sustainable coffees do not have to be Fair Trade certified or organically produced, but they should exhibit the characteristics described above to ensure responsible production methods for both the environment and the farmers/laborers.

Shade Grown:  A coffee that is shade grown is one considered to be grown in the canopy of taller, shade trees. These trees can be a variety of species and with a variety of sparseness and heights. Shade grown coffees do not have to be organically produced.

Bird Friendly: Coffees produced in a shade canopy that offers habitats for native and migratory bird populations are considered Bird-Friendly™. These coffees, generally, are organically produced.

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) has developed a set of strict criteria for evaluating shade coffee farms. An independent, third party inspector determines whether a farm meets these criteria or not. Only those farms that also meet organic certification standards are eligible to be certified as “Bird-Friendly”™ companies.

Fair Trade:  In its simplest form, Fair Trade means that the producer of the coffee received a price sufficient to cover their costs of production and provide a reasonable return on their invested capital.  The words “fair-trade’ are used by several different organizations that may or may not be governed by FLO (the Fair Labeling Organization International) which provides guidance and audit trails to ensure the price paid to the producer is indeed fair.  Each organization can define their criteria for certifying.

Rainforest Alliance: The Rainforest Alliance (“TRA”) works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.  The Rainforest Alliance works with people, whose livelihoods depend on the land, helping them transform the way they grow food, harvest wood and host travelers. From large multinational corporations to small, community-based cooperatives, TRA involve businesses and consumers worldwide in  efforts to bring responsibly produced goods and services to a global marketplace where the demand for sustainability is growing steadily.

Utz Kapeh: UTZ CERTIFIED is a world-wide coffee certification program. (UTZ means “good” in a Mayan language). UTZ CERTIFIED’s mission is to set the world standard for socially and environmentally responsible coffee production and sourcing. The UTZ CERTIFIED program answers two important questions:  where does the coffee come from and how was it produced.  They provide a means for transparency of production and distribution while promotion sustainable farm practices from environment, social and economic perspectives.

For any coffee information, please give us a call at 800-835-5943. We’d be glad to answer any additional questions. Special thanks to the organizations for providing material on their certifications.

Mike Adams
Stockton Graham & Co.