In previous posts, I've explained the numerous ways that coffee makes you healthier and live longer. According to numerous studies, if you drink from 4 to 6 cups of coffee a day, you're less likely to get cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and heart disease.

Since I've last posted, though, you may have heard that a court in California has mandated that coffee sold in that state have a cancer warning label. This absurd overreaction is the result of junk science of the anti-vax, anti-GMO variety and can be safely ignored. As the US government Dietary Guidelines clearly state:

"Moderate coffee consumption (three to five 8-oz cups/day or providing up to 400 mg/day of caffeine) can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns. This guidance on coffee is informed by strong and consistent evidence showing that, in healthy adults, moderate coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases (e.g., cancer) or premature death."

So that's settled.

Anyway, today I'm writing about the effect that coffee consumption has on the "health" of the parts of the world where coffee is grown. 

In some places, coffee growing is a very dirty business that involves pollution, forced labor and even child labor. Needless to say, none of us want to willingly support that kind of behavior.

Quite the contrary. Most of us--especially entrepreneurs--truly want to make the world a better place. That's why it's a good thing you can buy coffee from growers who practice sustainable farming that helps reduce poverty and pollution in their own local geographies.

There are two rules to buying coffee that helps the world become a better place:

  1. Only buy or drink coffee that's labeled either "fair trade" or "direct trade."
  2. Given a choice between "fair trade" and "direct trade," choose "direct trade" but only if you trust the roaster who's supplying you the coffee.

Coffee labeled "fair trade" has been audited by a third party to make certain that the growers are using sustainable environmental farming practices without force labor or child labor.

Coffee labeled "direct trade" when the coffee roasters buy straight from the growers without the middlemen, thereby putting more money in the hands of the growers and, by extension, their employees.

While the "direct trade" model is potentially better than "fair trade" model for the geographical areas where the coffee is grown, it replaces the independent verification of "fair trade" with "mutually beneficial and respectful relationships with individual producers or cooperatives in the coffee-producing countries," according to EthicalCoffee.net.

A good example of "direct trade" coffee is Port of Mocha, a variety from Yemen that's featured in a newly published book, The Monk of Mocha, by the socially conscious writer/entrepreneur Dave Eggers. In this case, the coffee (which is quite expensive) is helping farmers in war-torn Yemen.

The "direct trade" model, however, isn't perfect. Because it lacks independent verification, unscrupulous coffee roasters can stick a "direct trade" label on, well, anything. Therefore, you should only buy "direct trade" coffee from roasters (or cafes) whom you trust.

If you're not certain, go for "fair trade."

Of course, the positive impact on the world of drinking the right kind of coffee isn't as large as, say, having the US government enforce its statutory ban on the import of slave-manufactured goods, but it's a start. It's a start.

Published on: Apr 3, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.