Seeds Coffee - Birmingham, Ala Coffee Roasting / Coffee  / The Journey of a Fair Trade Coffee Bean
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The Journey of a Fair Trade Coffee Bean

Every bean that went into making your latest delicious cup of coffee has a story to tell. Each one has gone on an incredible journey, traveling over vast oceans, tropical forests, scorching deserts, and strange and exotic lands to arrive at its final destination: your local roaster.

Along the way, each bean racked up more miles in one trip than you’ll probably walk in a year – several times over. From distant places like Indonesia and Ethiopia they come, a marvel of international commerce. Because of this often intricate system of trade we’ve set up over the centuries, you can drink something that originated halfway across the world, a product of hard work from a poor farmer who you will probably never meet.

The process is not normally kind to those who grow the beans, though. In most coffee-producing countries, coffee farmers are underpaid and overworked. For decades, the system set up by distributors to buy coffee and pay farmers was very exploitative.

Thanks to the fair trade coffee movement, though, coffee farmers are seeing better wages and a better standard of living than they ever have before.

How a Fair Trade Coffee Bean Makes It Into Your Cup

The journey starts with the harvest.

During the harvest, harvesters take the cherries (yes, coffee comes from fruit!) and transported down a mountainside to the farmers, who depulp the cherries.

With fair trade coffee, farmers usually don’t have large, sophisticated machines to depulp the cherries in an automated fashion. They usually either use smaller electric machines or depulp the cherries by hand, making sure to spot flawed beans during the process.

The beans that are now exposed have to be washed. The farmers wash the beans for at least 24 hours, which removes the layer that covers them. Then, they have to be dried. The farmer will dry the beans in the open where the sun can shine on them for several days.

After they dry, the coffee beans are parchment beans; now it is time to pack them up and ship them. This process can be dangerous, since many coffee farmers live in isolated regions away from the nearest settlement. They may have to haul heavy bags of coffee across treacherous mountain roads, through tropical forests, and along roads that sometimes are barely more than dirt tracks.

The goal is to reach a trader in a nearby city or settlement who will buy the beans from the farmer. At this point, the parchment beans are rubbed and polished until the final layer is removed and the next step is achieved: the green bean.

The trader will take the beans and sell them to an exporter. The exporter then ships the beans across the globe – in the case of the Sumatra Huta Raja we sell from Indonesia, from over 10,000 miles away – to where it will be roasted and processed.

For us, that means it arrives at our roaster, where we roast the beans, giving them their characteristic brown appearance, and grind them to exacting standards so we can make them into your next drink.

How Fair Trade Coffee Helps Farmers

The process for fair trade farmers is often the same as it is for farmers who don’t participate in fair trade. One main difference is that there are often fewer steps in the process, and – most importantly – they get paid fair wages compared to what they usually get.

At Seeds, we work directly with coffee farmers from all over the globe to provide better than fair trade pay. This helps farmers hire workers, grow more coffee, and ultimately raise their standard of living, avoiding how farmers are often exploited.

The next time you come into a Seeds location in Homewood or Lakeview and drink a steaming cup of magic, think about where all those beans have been – where they were grown, the staggering number of miles they were shipped, and the scores of people from all over the globe who had to come together to bring you your favorite beverage.

Support fair trade coffee. You’re helping farmers you’ve never met get a better life – and you’re getting deliciousness along the way.