“Coffee professionals who pursue perfection see fair trade as a sort of minimum wage when what we really want is a living wage for everyone in the supply chain,”
Mike Torkaz

No morning is complete for some Wayne State students without a cup of coffee. As far as school supplies go, it may be as essential as a textbook or a laptop.

“I drink coffee everyday. About eight to ten cups,” said junior nutrition and food science major Colin Wilson. “I just think of it as fuel to start my day.”

Except, it is unclear if students are opting for fair trade coffee when they purchase their java. With endless options of coffee beans, brewing techniques and other modifications, it is easy to gloss over a fair trade certification.

“I don’t pay attention to fair trade. The two priorities in my purchase are taste and price,” Wilson said.

According to Fair Trade USA, the leading third-party certifier in the U.S., fair trade “is a global trade model and certification that allows shoppers to quickly identify products that were produced in an ethical manner.”

However, some local coffee roasters and sellers believe certified fair trade standards do not always go far enough when it comes to compensating coffee growers.

Derek Craig is the coffee manager at Astro Coffee located in Corktown.

“Coffee professionals who pursue perfection see fair trade as a sort of minimum wage when what we really want is a living wage for everyone in the supply chain,” Craig said, stating his views were his own and not that of Astro Coffee.

Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company’s roast master and green coffee buyer James Cadariu said directly buying from coffee farmers is starting to replace the traditional fair trade model.

“We’re trying to hash out new models for how people should be paid,” Cadariu said. “One is just going directly and paying them more, because there are fewer middlemen involved.”

Cadariu has traveled to India, Mexico, and Central America in an effort to find specialty coffee, and to establish relationships with coffee growers.

Another payment model is the use of coffee auctions. Smaller growers will bring their coffee to auctions where buyers bid against one another, which result in better prices for the farmers. There is also another incentive for farmers to participate in these auctions.

“Farmers then get specific training for what is going to make their coffee better,” Cadariu said. “There’s a path for them to make more money. At some of these auctions, coffee has gone for as high as $35 per pound.”

Price can also be an issue when it comes to fair or directly traded coffee. Students on a budget might experience sticker shock, but Craig said the elevated cost is justified.

“I think that the actual cost of being a good human is something we can no longer afford to default on,” Craig said. “While the monetary cost will always go up as we devote more of ourselves into the quality of our work, it should not be the deciding factor on whether or not an action should be taken, but another challenge to overcome.”

Cadariu had similar feelings about the price of ethically produced coffee.

“I think we need to pay more so that were paying fair prices to people, which is kind of the point of fair trade in the beginning,” Cadariu said. “I’m just not sure it went far enough.”

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