I was enlightened today on the rather complex politics of fair trade coffee. Green LA girl offers a rather educational overview on her blog.

My research on coffee can be characterized by my determination to find out whether Starbucks really is the enemy or not. The takeover of the mom-and-pop shops to squeeze out competition? Yes, definitely an enemy. However, in terms of paying fair prices to their coffee growers? Maybe not. Starbucks, in all its glory, sells specialty coffee, a category of coffee that usually compensates its growers fairly well. Still, we want the fair trade sticker! A desire quenched by Starbucks’ Café Estima. But how does the Café Estima fare in our local Starbucks? The result of this supposed humanitarian effort is documented on Green LA girl’s site under the Starbucks Challenge.

So they discovered, for the most part, a certain lack of enthusiasm for selling fair trade coffee in Starbucks’ cafes. The blog got me thinking about how Starbucks, for all its corporate policies, is a chain of retail stores managed by different people. Which means that each store will inevitably be operated differently from the next. While one might say, “Yes! Our fair trade coffee is brewed everyday!” Another might say, “Would you like to try one of our other drip coffees?” My guess is that the neighborhood will matter a lot.

So what is a socially conscious, coffee aficionado to do? Probably find a different place to get your daily cup o’ joe that believes in the importance of fair trade, and not in building an empire.
And stay green: bring your own mug!


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