Is Organic, Fair-Trade Coffee Worth the Extra Cost?

Most of us don’t begin our day until we’ve had that cup or two of morning joe.  With something that is being ingested by most of us on a daily basis, it’s important to know what’s actually in our coffee, and how it is made.  There are many different classifications for coffee, most of which you might not be aware of.  Here are four important ones to consider:


Fair-trade guarantees that the small local farmers are getting a fair price for their crops in third world countries.  In many cases, small farmers are being forced to sell their product below cost, and this hurts the farmer, his family and ultimately this affects the world with things “like forced immigration, inferior quality products and large-scale farming methods that often hurt the environment” (Nicole Chettero -TransFair USA).  A great documentary to watch on this subject is Black Gold: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.

USDA Organic

This certification is done by the U.S Department of Agriculture, and assures the consumer that the product is free of added pesticides and chemicals.

Rainforest Alliance Certified

Rainforest Alliance Certification means that the farms are are working hard to ensure they are not having a negative effect on the rainforest.

Bird Friendly Coffee

This certification is done by the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center.  “Researchers have documented steep declines in many migratory bird species in recent years. And while there are a number of reasons for that, Rice says habitat destruction on coffee farms is a big one” (Robert Rice, Scientist with the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center.”  Bird Friendly certification means that the coffee is grown under a canopy like coffee used to be grown, and this gives migratory birds a place to live.

How to cut costs

While there are many more certifications out right now for coffee as well as other food products, these are four of the more important ones to look for.  Once a farmer goes through certification for all four of these, the price for the coffee becomes quite costly for the consumer.  Rather than trying to do as many certifications as you can, pick one or two for the coffee that you purchase.  This way you you are still making a difference!

Because of increased expense, you may be tempted to go with a cheap regular brand for your morning brew.  However, it’s important to look at the long-term costs of a product.   Ask yourself these questions: Is this coffee contributing to the decline in the bird population, or is it ridden with cancer-causing chemicals that can ultimately lead to expensive doctor bills? But there is a way to find deals on organic, fair-trade, rainforest and bird friendly coffee.  Here are some tips:

  1. Order your coffee on Amazon using the Subscribe & Save option. This saves you an automatic 15% with free shipping, which can be combined with the occasional coupon codes that Amazon offers.  Then use gift cards you earn for free with Swagbucks to make your coffee as little as free!
  2. Start or join a local co-op, so that you can cut costs with local friends and family.
  3. Use gift card and Catalina deals to pay for your coffee. Target offers different gift card promotions each week (ie. Buy 4 boxes of cereal earn a $5 gift card), and these gift cards can be used to purchase anything in the store.  Grocery store chains like Kroger offer catalinas that are good on your entire purchase when you buy certain things. Use these catalinas on your coffee!
  4. Watch for deals on group buying sites like Groupon and Eversave. Recently both sites have run promotions for coffee websites which carry coffees with these certifications.
  5. Utilize other store rewards and promotions. Cost Plus World Market has a great fair-trade organic coffee, and they have a coffee rewards program.  For every six bags you buy, you will get one free.  With the coupons World Market put out along with Wednesdays being double coffee rewards day, you can get a serious deal on coffee!

As far as pesticides go, regular coffee is one of the worst things people consume.  It makes the top three in the new dirty dozen for food and the chemicals are actually killing workers and nearby residents near coffee plantations.  If these chemicals are hurting the locals in this way, how will they affect your health when you consume it on a daily basis?

Share your thoughts!  Will you be making an effort to purchase organic, fair-trade and eco-friendly coffee?

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  1. When I do drink coffee, I go organic, but stay away from it due to the acidicness of the coffee. I drink Teccino, which is herbal coffee, and it keeps me feeling better about the choice :)

  2. My husband and I own a coffee roasting company. Another certification that someone should look for is “Direct Trade”. Fair Trade is great, but there are still added middlemen that leave less money for the farmer. Direct Trade cuts out some of the middle and gives more to the farmer. Getting a Fair Trade Certification or an Organic certification is very costly for a smaller roaster. We have had organic coffees for a long time, but until recently could not label them as such because getting the certification was too expensive and took too much time. If you like getting beans from a smaller roasting company and don’t see organic coffees, you might ask them if they have organics that they just aren’t able to label as such.

    Our company recently began a partnership with World Vision called The One Cup Project. For every dollar you spend – that same amount goes to World Vision’s work in Africa. So, if you are interested in your coffee money doing double duty – this is a good option.

  3. My husband and I both drink 2 cups of coffee each morning. We are switching over to Organic/Fair trade. I got a great deal on Larry’s beans coffee with a deal through Eversave for Abe’s Market. We don’t have hardly any local choices for organic coffee, so I will be relying on finding online deals. It will be hard though if I end up not being able to find a deal before we run out. The only Organic/Fair trade coffee available in my town costs $10 for 10-12 oz.! ouch. I think that it is definitely worth paying some extra ( I think around$5- $7 /lb. is a good deal) for Organic/and fair trade coffee, but I don’t know about $15/ lb.! It might be hard to find room in our budget for that!

  4. I don’t drink coffee, but buy it for my fiance. I get the shade grown (or partial shade grown) which is bird friendly. However, I also buy Mystic Monk coffee for him, which is made by an order of monks.

  5. You are so darn informative! Thanks for the info yet again. I swear I’ll live another 20 years thanks to you and your tid-bits here TM. I read the dirty dozen url you listed too. Thanks so much for reminding me how important the stuff I pur in my family’s bodies truely is. I am sometimes thriving so darn hard to save a buck I forget to save our lives too. Again, kuddos for the brain food you share here. YUM

  6. I love all of your posts and have been making small adjustments to improve the quality of the foods we consume. My sister (a non coffee drinker) recently told me how bad the coffee I was drinking was….I am going to check out the documentary you suggested. Thanks for all of the helpful info. What coffee(s) do you drink? Currently I drink Folgers, I like a mild coffee. Thanks so much!

    • I drink Cost Plus World Market’s Fair-Trade, Organic Guatemalan Estate. I usually wait until Wed to get double coffee rewards (means you get a bag free when you buy 3) and use a coupon.

  7. I switched to organic coffee a few years ago, when i noticed that i would get sinus infections with regular (non-organic) coffee. It seemed strange to me, but after several times trying reg. coffee and getting a sinus infection i stuck with organic. Recently I’ve realized it must have to do with the pesticides, I get some kind of allergic reaction or something and it turns into a sinus infection.

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