What is Fair Trade Coffee? A Comprehensive Guide

What is Fair Trade Coffee? A Comprehensive Guide

Everything you need to know about the process of getting coffee Fair Trade certified.
by Lauren Chamberlain | October 02, 2023

What is Fair Trade Coffee? A Comprehensive Guide

What is Fair Trade coffee?

A Fair Trade-certified coffee means that the coffee has been audited throughout the supply chain to meet certain sustainability and labor standards.


How Coffee Becomes Fair Trade Certified?

Fair Trade Certified logo

Coffee sold through a Fair Trade organization also makes its coffee growers and producers pay a minimum price, higher than the commodity price of coffee. There are several organizations (such as Fairtrade America, Fairtrade International, and Fair Trade Certified) that certify coffee as Fair Trade.

Fair Trade Coffee Versus Direct Trade Coffee

Direct Trade is a catch-all term for sourcing processes that get a coffee roaster as close to dealing directly with the coffee farmer as possible. While Fair Trade and Direct Trade might have similar goals of fairly paying coffee producers in the end, the Fair Trade label is a third-party certification while Direct Trade is more of an ideology. If you see a Direct Trade logo on a bag, it’s only “certified” by the coffee roaster, based upon their specific internal definition of Direct Trade coffee.

Why Does Fair Trade-Certified Coffee Matter?

 The Fair Trade movement highlights that coffee farming is a risky endeavor from which farmers often struggle to make money. As the coffee market is currently facing a price crisis, a Fair Trade certification is one way to ensure that every farmer is paid a Fair Trade premium that is above the base commodity price, hopefully bringing them closer to earning a sustainable living.

Should You Only Buy Fair Trade-Certified Coffee?

As with any certification, the Fair Trade program costs money. Not every small farmer, coffee producer, or producer group has the capital to participate in the certification process to acquire a fair trade label.

Many producers, especially of specialty-quality goods, such as coffee, do find increased premiums based on quality whether in direct trade relationships with roasters or more commonly long-term relationships with coffee importers and exporters. That said, coffee drinkers who buy exclusively certified Fair Trade ensures a minimum amount of compensation at a certain point in the supply chain.


What exactly is fair trade coffee?
  • Fair trade coffee is coffee that is certified to have been produced and traded according to fair trade standards, ensuring that coffee farmers receive fair compensation for their labor and promoting sustainable farming practices.
How does fair trade benefit coffee farmers?
  • Fair trade ensures that coffee farmers receive fair prices for their crops, providing them with stable incomes and enabling them to invest in their communities by improving infrastructure, healthcare, and education.
Is fair trade coffee more expensive?
  • While fair trade coffee may be slightly more expensive than conventionally produced coffee, the price difference reflects the fair compensation paid to farmers and the higher quality of the beans, as well as the cost of certification and oversight.
What are some standard fair trade certifications?
  • Standard fair trade certifications include Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade International, and the Rainforest Alliance. These organizations set standards for fair trade practices and certify products that meet their criteria.
How can I ensure that the coffee I buy is fair trade?
  • Look for the fair trade certification logo on coffee packaging, or purchase coffee from reputable retailers and roasters who prioritize ethical sourcing practices. Additionally, you can research specific brands and their sourcing policies to ensure they align with fair trade principles.


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