The Best Fair Trade Coffees for an Ethical Buzz

Brooklyn Roasting Company is our top choice for getting a caffeine fix.

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Hand holding coffee fruit growing on tree

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If you love coffee, you’re not alone: 7 in 10 Americans drink coffee every week, and 62% of us drink it daily. In addition, more than half of all coffee drinkers in the United States want to buy coffee that’s good for the environment, the farmers, and their communities.

That’s where certification programs like Fairtrade America, Fair Trade USA and Fair for Life come into play. These organizations utilize independent third-party evaluation and certification processes to verify that producers follow standards that include safe working conditions, fair wages, good agricultural practices, and environmental stewardship. Some fair trade organizations also provide development funds, which go back to the farmers and workers so they can decide how to put them towards community improvement projects.

We all have different tastes, so it’s impossible to find a one-size-fits-all flavor profile for every coffee drinker. But certain companies go above and beyond in an effort to protect farmers, communities, and natural habitats for birds and wildlife. Whether you drink your coffee drip, cold-brewed, or topped with a frothy crema, here are our top picks for the best fair trade coffees:

Best Overall: Brooklyn Roasting Company

5
Nicaragua Prodecoop

Brooklyn Roasting Company

Founded in Brooklyn in 2009, the company has a dedicated following for its lineup of single origin and seasonal coffees. From its medium-bodied Nicaragua Prodecoop with undertones of milk chocolate, apple and brown sugar to its citrusy Bali Kintamani, you’ll find flavor profiles not duplicated elsewhere. It's our top choice thanks to a focus on delicious, high-quality beans and Fair Trade purchasing standards.

Brooklyn Roasting Company also features custom and espresso blends, as well as a subscription service. The website is informative and easy-to-navigate so you can choose the best coffee for your personal taste. The company supports local organizations such as the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

What Editors Say

"This is my go-to for espresso. I love that the coffee comes in refillable/reusable cans." ~ Melissa Breyer, Treehugger Editorial Editor

Best Decaf: Level Ground Dark & Jitter-Free Decaf Coffee

Level Ground Dark & Jitter-Free Decaf Coffee

Level Ground

If you love coffee but caffeine gives you the jitters, this single origin decaf, which is also certified USDA Organic, has a sweet, rich taste without the buzz. While regular coffee contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine, decaf will have about 2 to 3 milligrams per cup. But you’ll still get a smooth, robust flavor profile from this ground or whole bean coffee sourced from small farmers in Colombia. Level Ground's Fair Trade and organic coffees are a favorite of Treehugger Senior Editor Katherine Martinko.

Best Budget: Ethical Bean Coffee

3.5
Ethical Bean Coffee

Ethical Bean

Inexpensive coffee doesn’t have to taste cheap. This 100% Arabica coffee is certified both USDA Organic and Fairtrade. From medium to medium dark to dark roast, you’ll find a flavor profile that works for you at a reasonable price point. There’s also a sweet espresso roast that’s noted for its ability to create a lovely crema when brewed for espresso. The subscription service makes sure you never run out of your favorite grind or bean.

Best Splurge: Death Wish Coffee Co. Ground Coffee

Death Wish Coffee Ground Coffee

Death Wish Coffee

If caffeine is your best friend, this is the coffee for you. Billed as “world’s strongest coffee,” this brand’s coffee contains twice as much caffeine as other brands for a serious wakeup call. Because they source only USDA organic and Fair Trade certified beans, you’re also supporting coffee farmers and sustainability whether you opt for the smooth, caramel undertones of their medium or the velvety chocolate undertones of the dark roast. There’s also a subscription service so you’ll never run out of caffeine.

Best French Roast: Equator French Roast Blend Fair Trade Organic

Equator French Roast Blend Fair Trade Organic

Amazon

Co-founded by two women in their garage in Marin County, California in 1995, the company has since grown to offer an array of single origin and blended coffees ranging from the light and fruity Guatemala El Injerto Natural to the walnutty Guatemala Concepcion Huista, of which $1 per bag is donated to Fair Trade Certified. This brand’s French roast is its darkest with plenty of smoky, sweet flavor. It’s both certified organic and Fair Trade, and the company was the first California coffee roaster to become a Certified B Corporation.

Best Shade-Grown: Birds and Beans

Birds and Beans Coffee

Birds and Beans

Traditionally, coffee was grown in shade or part-shade, but as the industry became big business, forests were cleared for full sun farms, which require less management and a higher yield, resulting in habitat loss. Shade-grown coffee is produced on farms that protect habitat for migratory and resident birds and wildlife.

Launched in 2008, Birds and Beans has received the Smithsonian Certified Bird Friendly coffee designation, indicating sustainably grown coffee farming that’s also USDA Organic and Fair Trade certified. The company offers French, medium, dark, espresso roast and decaf varieties, as well as a subscription service.

Best Certified Organic: Tiny Footprint Coffee

Tiny Footprint Coffee Cold Brew

Tiny Footprint Coffee

Founded in 2010, this company is carbon negative. For every pound of coffee sold, the company donates a portion of the proceeds to fund restoration in Ecuador’s Mindo cloud forest. As the trees mature, they will remove more CO2 than emitted in the production and distribution of the brand. The beans, which include light, medium, dark and espresso roasts, are shade-grown and USDA certified organic, and most of the company’s coffees also are Fair Trade certified.

Best Subscription Service: Grounds for Change Coffee of the Month

Grounds for Change Coffee of the Month

Grounds for Change

Sign up for the Coffee of the Month club, which includes free shipping, and you’ll receive two 12-ounce bags of a different Fair for Life Fair Trade Certified coffee for your chosen time period. You can choose from whole bean or four different grinds, and the coffees also are certified USDA Organic. The coffee is carbon-free certified as well by CarbonFund.org, which means the complete carbon footprint from crop to cup is offset with tree planting. Many of the coffees also are shade-grown, and the company is a member of 1% for the Planet.

Best Instant: Mount Hagen Instant Coffee

Mount Hagen Instant Coffee

Thrive Market

Sometimes you don’t have a brewer handy, so this tasty instant coffee is the solution. The brand, which also is certified USDA Organic, comes in a glass jar or handy coffee sticks, which are super-convenient for camping, backpacking, or if you’re an infrequent coffee drinker who just needs an occasional jolt of caffeine. This instant coffee also can be used to add coffee flavor to homemade baked goods such as brownies or frosting.

Final Verdict

Our top pick is Brooklyn Roasting Company for its range of offerings, but Ethical Bean gets high marks as well for offering fair trade certified coffee at a budget price.

What to Look for in Fair Trade Coffee

Certification Seal

Look for coffee that has a certification seal by a third-party independent organization such as Fairtrade America, Fair Trade USA and Fair for Life.

Type of Grind

Choose the proper grind for your preferred brewing method. For example, a fine ground is best for espresso machines, while a coarse grind is preferred for French presses. The coffee roaster often also has tips on the website for the best type of brewer to use for each type of coffee.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Where does fair trade coffee come from?

    Fair trade coffee comes from nearly every coffee growing country in the world, including Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Peru, Rwanda, Sumatra, and others. To ensure you’re buying fair trade coffee, look for the seals that indicate a coffee has been certified fair trade by third-party independent organizations such as Fairtrade America, Fair Trade USA and Fair for Life.

  • How much more does fair trade coffee cost?

    Because fair trade guarantees a minimum price for coffee farmers, many consumers think fair trade coffee always costs more. That’s not necessarily true. In fact, there’s a great deal of variability in how much you’ll pay for coffee, and there are excellent fair trade brands at every price point from budget to splurge.

  • Is fair trade coffee organic?

    Not always, though fair trade organizations often do incentivize organic farming methods by offering farmer training in organic methods and by paying a higher premium for organic products. To ensure a product is, in fact, organic look for the USDA Organic seal

Why Trust Treehugger?

Treehugger wants to help you support fair wages and sound environmental stewardship for coffee farmers and their communities around the globe. Arricca Elin SanSone is a health and lifestyle writer specializing in home, kitchen, and gardening.

She researched the market based on fair trade certification processes and each company’s individual ethos. Treehugger team members also suggested fair trade favorites.

View Article Sources
  1. Foley, Sinead. “NCA Releases Atlas of American Coffee.” NCA, National Coffee Association of U.S.A., Inc.

  2. Liboureau, Claire. “Are Fairtrade Products Really More Expensive?Fairtrade Foundation, Fairtrade Foundation.