In the bag

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24th April 2017

Remember the days when the simple act of buying beans instead of pre-ground coffee was enough to make you feel like an extravagant coffee connoisseur? Those days are gone. The modern consumer is provided with more detail than ever before – information about bean type, growing area and the all-important sustainability credentials. But do you actually know what they all mean? Me neither. Fear not – here’s a short guide to the most common phrases you’ll find on coffee bags and in coffee shops.

Rainforest Alliance

They say: The alliance aims to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming business and land-use practices.

I say: All sounds very noble, but how is this achieved? Education and training. The alliance works with farmers, foresters, and tourism entrepreneurs in almost 80 countries, providing them with training and guidelines to minimize their environmental impacts while earning stable incomes.


They say: Fairtrade is a global organization working to secure a better deal for farmers and workers.

I say: What constitutes a better deal? One key element of Fairtrade is securing a fairer and more stable income. We all know that workers out there picking coffee rarely get a fair share of the profits – and payments are vulnerable to changes in the worldwide market. Fairtrade tries to address this problem by setting a minimum wage, the cost of which is covered by the consumer. That’s why you pay more.


They say: The coffee plants were grown under a canopy of trees.

I say: Why is that a good thing? Simple. Nature intended coffee to be grown in the shade, but increased demand in recent decades led to the creation of plants that thrived in sunshine. Forested areas were cut down and cleared to make way for massive coffee plantations, causing inevitable damage to wildlife and increasing the risk of landslides and erosion in the growing areas. So if you buy shade-grown coffee, you’re buying coffee that’s grown as nature intended.

Captura de pantalla 2017-04-24 a las 13.33.59

Pic by Aleszu Bajak

Single Origin

They say: Coffee that’s sourced from a single producer, crop, or region.

I say: What’s the benefit? A truly distinct flavour. Products like whisky and wine are categorised by geography because differences in soil, weather, altitude and other factors shape the flavour. Similar rules apply to coffee. So in theory, your single origin beans should have a singularly distinct flavour.