Coffee certifications can be complex and confusing. You’ll find them everywhere – from your local grocery store to your favourite café. So, should you care if your coffee is certified? These certifications have come a long way – some protect the environment while others protect people. Coffee shops have begun to pay far more attention to where they source their beans. These coffee certifications address fair trade, sustainability, and eco-friendly roasting concerns.
So how best to use coffee certifications to guide your coffee shopping? Read this easy guide to find out.
Types of Coffee Certifications
Bird Friendly Certification
The only true 100% organic and shade-grown coffee certification developed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center is called "Bird Friendly." Coffee bearing this label indicates it was grown under the shade of other plants. Growing coffee in the shade prevents the sun from wicking moisture away from the crops reducing the amount of water needed for growth. Tropical agroforests are preserved and protect the habitat of migrating birds.
Bird Friendly Certification is done on a pass/fail benchmark based on the following criteria:
- Coffee must be grown organically
- Shade comprises of ten woody species, with the majority being native
- 40% of coffee plants must be in the shade
- Trees/plants must be 12 meters high after pruning
Fair Trade Certification
Fair Trade coffee helps support a better livelihood for coffee farming families and encourages environmental sustainability. From guaranteeing farmers fair wages and more visibility in the market to linking them directly with importers – it is meant to improve the life of coffee planters in the developing world.
Fairtrade International - established in Germany in 1997, brings together different global initiatives under one umbrella organization and establishes a set of international standards for fair trade.
The Fairtrade Standards incorporate a holistic blend of social, economic and environmental criteria. The standards contain both core requirements and development requirements aimed at improvements that benefit producers and their communities.
Utz is the largest coffee certification program in coffee and cocoa. Utz aims to make sustainable farming the norm by encouraging farmers to implement best agricultural practices and manage their farms profitably with respect for people and the planet.
Rainforest Alliance Certification (now merged with Utz)
The Rainforest Alliance is an N.G.O. with programs in several areas promoting sustainability standards. Recently combined with Utz, this certification does not stipulate shade-grown coffee or organically grown beans.
It promotes agricultural preservation along with fair treatment of workers. Only a minimum number of criteria needs to be met to receive this certification – therefore, it is more naturally suited for larger farms rather than the small producers who are at the core of the fair trade movement.
The main requirement for certified organic coffee is that no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides are used on the land.
There also needs to be a buffer between organic beans and any adjacent non-organic crops. Organic certified means that coffee farmers must use an agriculture system that supports biodiversity and enhances soil health by using only approved substances and farming methods.