For the love of coffee.

I love coffee. 

I remember the very day that I fell in love with coffee. It was like a scene out of a fairytale. I was in high school on a backpacking trip with my brother in Nicaragua. We were sitting in a small cafe in Esteli. I remember looking around at the brightly colored murals that decorated the walls, and the small hand-made tables that were full of locals. We were definitely the only foreigners that had found that place, at least for just that day. 

I was so tired. It was nearing the end of our trip, and even though I didn’t want to leave and go back to regular life, I was still exhausted. Before this trip, I hated even the smell of coffee. I would go to Starbucks with my dad and just order hot chocolate. It just wasn’t my cup of tea (still trying to hit a good joke, obviously).

Sitting on the top of a volcano after a 4-hour hike to the top with our huge backpacks

For some reason that day I wanted a coffee. So I ordered a cup and then my life changed. That was the most delicious taste I remember every having tasted up to that point. It wasn’t bitter, it went down smoothly, and it was just plain refreshing. And since that day I have always been on the lookout and search for that perfectly roasted bean to deliver that same feeling. 

When I got back to the US, I didn’t go immediately into drinking coffee full time. The taste that I got from coffee at Starbucks just didn’t feel the same, and the bagged coffee in the store just wasn’t what I remember from Esteli. I chalked it up to being in the right place, the right atmosphere, and the right mood at the cafe in Esteli. 

When I went to college I started drinking coffee out of necessity. The taste grew on me, and I became addicted. I did go to school in Seattle, so I think that MAY have had something to do with it as well. 

Since college, I’ve been drinking it regularly, and often. But then a  few years ago I read Where Am I Eating: A Journey Through the Global Food Economy, by Kelsey Timmerman. In the book, Timmerman looks at five different products that he uses every day, or on a regular basis: coffee, bananas, chocolate, apples, and lobster. He then follows their labels to where they were said to be produced and travels to visit those farms, farmers, and production lines. 

Book cover of Where Am I Eating

The book opened my eyes to the reality of the so-called “fair-trade” industry, especially in the coffee sector. It also exposes just how poverty-stricken these farmers usually are, so much so, that the chocolate producers in the Ivory Coast have never even tried chocolate because of how expensive it is relative to their income. 

After reading this book, I’ve been much more aware of the types of food companies that I buy from; and I’m more cognizant of the tempting “fair-trade” label that is stamped across packages. Not all of those labels are in fact fair trade certified or ensured. For more information on this, I would suggest visiting Fairtrade America’s website.  

As much as I want to be the person that buys directly from the grower, or guys the more expensive products because a higher percentage goes to the grower, I can only realistically do this part of the time. I’m a recovering graduate student with a heavyweight of student debt hanging over my shoulders every day. It’s nothing I can’t handle, I’m on it. It’s just my life right now. 

Fair Trade America's logo

But then I found the Atlas Coffee Club. No this is not a paid advertisement from them (but hey if you all are reading this and would like to partner up in our cafe, that would be fantastic!). Yes, it’s one of the subscription boxes that all the Millenials are into. They send you a box every month with a bag of coffee from a region around the world, a postcard from that location, and the history and tasting notes card. 

“We source premium single-origin coffee from farms around the world and pay well above market prices for the beans, helping to ensure ethically sustainable farming practices and the highest quality coffee year after year.”

I found them through Instagram, and have been in love for the past three months. So far I’ve received a bag from Honduras, the Congo, and El Salvador. Each box comes with a beautiful postcard, which I put up in my cubicle at work, and with tasting notes and history of the coffee trade in that specific location. The designs on the bag are BEAUTIFUL…. I keep them too! 

“On average, about 50% – 60% of the coffees we offer are either fair-trade certified, direct trade, or go through a coffee cooperative. All of the coffee we source uses sustainable farming practices, which sounds “Jargon-y” but what it boils down to is we pay above-market prices for our coffee to ensure the farms can produce high-quality coffee year over year.”

This is definitely a luxurious pleasure, but it’s something that I really enjoy and don’t feel guilty about since they prioritize sustainability and the coffee growers. They aren’t trying to cut corners and label something “fair trade” that isn’t actually fair trade certified or ensured.