Have you ever had a fair cup of coffee that’s actually a great cup of coffee?
You can now. Coffee drinkers at St. Thomas now can order what is called Fair Trade Certified coffee at Scooter’s and the Grill in Murray-Herrick Campus Center, and at Beakers Coffee Cart in the Frey Science and Engineering Center. It soon will be offered at other locations on the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses.
Available for the past decade in parts of Europe, Fair Trade Certified coffee comes from farmers who are guaranteed a decent living wage for their harvest, and who use sustainable and organic cultivation methods.
Bruce Van Den Berghe, associate vice president of auxiliary and administrative services, said the Fair Trade coffee was introduced recently at St. Thomas on a trial basis. He hopes it will prove to be a popular choice among campus coffee drinkers.
“It really is a great way to help the struggling coffee farmers and their families,” he said. “It is actually some of the same coffee you’ve probably been drinking for years. Only now, through the efforts of an organization called TransFair USA, the middlemen have been eliminated and the farmers receive a decent wage for their beans.”
TransFair USA is a nonprofit agency that provides independent certification of Fair Trade products. Through regular visits to Fair Trade farmer cooperatives, and partnerships with participating coffee companies in the United States, TransFair guarantees that its certified coffee is grown and traded responsibly. You can learn more about TransFair by visiting its Web site.
The arrangement helps farmers earn as much as $1.26 a pound for their beans, compared to the 40 cents or so they received from middlemen, sometimes called “coyotes.” Fair Trade Certified coffee now benefits 550,000 families in 20 countries around the world.
Like other blends sold on campus, Fair Trade coffee comes from Dunn Brothers, a Twin Cities company that roasts beans for St. Thomas each day at the firm’s downtown Minneapolis shop in the Milwaukee Road Freighthouse. The university grinds those fresh beans daily here on campus.
Right now, you only can order Fair Trade coffee by the cup. In the near future, however, there might be two other options that are in the planning stages. First, it is expected that campus offices will have the option of ordering pre-packaged Fair Trade Certified ground coffee. It probably will cost about 20 cents to 30 cents per pound more than the traditional packaged ground coffee that offices now are ordering. Second, the certified beans also might be available at the C-Store in the lower level of Murray-Herrick.
According to information on the TransFair Web site, coffee is the second most valuable commodity in the world, following oil. The United States consumes a fifth, or 2.5 billion pounds, of global coffee production.
St. Thomas’ Food Service, which is the source of most coffee served on campus, annually buys about three tons of beans. When brewed, that amounts to roughly 511,000 cups.
Van den Berghe first started investigating Fair Trade Certified coffee last spring when he was contacted by Dr. Steven Hoffman of the Political Science Department and chair of the university’s Environmental Studies Program, and some students, about the possibility of purchasing beans from a Minneapolis company called Peace Coffee, which distributes Fair Trade Certified products.
“We already had an agreement with Dunn Brothers,” Van den Berghe said, “and we asked them if they could supply us with Fair Trade beans, possibly through Peace Coffee. It got complicated, however, because to ensure quality, Dunn Brothers likes to roast its own beans, and Peace Coffee also roasts its beans.
“This summer Dunn Brothers said they would check into the possibility of ordering and roasting Fair Trade beans for our campus,” Van den Berghe said. “It turns out that they could, and not only are they ordering the certified coffee for St. Thomas, they’re planning to make it available in the 14 Dunn Brothers shops throughout the Twin Cities.”
Chris Eilers of Dunn Brothers said his company is in the process of taste-testing the different kinds of Fair Trade Certified Coffee available through TransFair. “We are roasting samples of it in small batches and deciding which kinds we think our customers will like the best.”
Eilers estimated that Dunn Brothers would have the Fair Trade Coffee available in its shops within the next several months. It will be sold by the cup and by the bean.
“Bruce’s (Van den Berghe’s) call was the initial catalyst for our involvement with Fair Trade coffee, ” Eilers said. “From a social standpoint, this makes sense and it is something we are happy to do. We hope that the TransFair coffee eventually will account for 5 percent of our business.”
“I’m glad that Dunn Brothers was able to make all the arrangements,” Van den Berghe said. “We began serving their traditional fresh-roasted coffee on campus about a year ago and it has been a big success; coffee drinkers at St. Thomas recognize the name and quality. We hope they also like our new Fair Trade blend.”
Another source of ethically produced coffee is the independently operated Rockey Grounds, located in Brady Educational Center on the south campus. Lorna Rockey, the coffee shop’s owner since 1994, has traveled extensively in her other career as a global photographer and has made it a point to visit coffee farms in Hawaii as well as Brazil, Guatemala, Kenya, Mexico and Tanzania.
“I’ve always been interested in how our coffee is produced and how the coffee farms operate,” Rockey said. “We try to use beans that are ethically grown and from distributors who promote fairness.”
Some of the beans used at Rockey Grounds come from Dunn Brothers, and some come from a 10-year-old Duluth company called Alakef Coffee Roasters, which supports fair trade and sustainable agriculture by purchasing “as many quality organic coffees, and coffees with fair-trade status, as possible.”