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Coffee Certifications - do you care?

Unfortunately, coffee certifications are not a significant factor in most of the coffee available in the USA. The biggest coffee roasters from Folgers to Starbucks do not participate in independent certifications, and very few customers seem to pay attention. But to be fair, the certifications can be rather boring and detailed, so I get it. I'll share some of my thoughts and preferences briefly here.


First of all, these certifications are about the coffee farm production, and they have nothing to do with taste. The SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) is the de facto standard for grading coffee quality and taste, not these certifying organizations. But most specialty grade coffee is already shade grown, uses sustainable practices, and commands a premium price whether it is actually certified or not.

The most well-known certification is USDA Organic, and the Bird Friendly & Fairtrade certifications requre USDA Organic certifications as a prerequisite. The other significant certification is Rainforest Alliance - I like their frog logo. Each of these have fairly similar standards for labor and farming practices, but their focus and the details vary a bit. I'll list some of the key focus differences between the organizations, but know that the vast majority of their standards overlap with one another.



USDA Organic has a focus on not using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.




Bird Friendly has a focus on, predictably, farms that retain a tree canopy that is suitable for birds.



Rainforest Alliance has a focus on farm development. Helping the farms to grow with practices that are economically and environmentally sustainable.



Fairtrade guarantees a slightly above market price paid to the coffee exporter. Hopefully the premium makes its way back to the farmers.



At Doney Coffee, I exclusively roast "specialty" quality coffee, because I like to enjoy drinking my coffee. Currently, the Friendly Neighbor and Dark Sky are 100% USDA Organic certified beans, while the Dawnshot Espresso is 80% Rainforest Alliance and 20% Organic. Donkey's Kick is also a combination of Rainforest Alliance and Organic. The rotating light roast is sometimes certified but often not, though it always has the highest SCA scores. Basically, I prefer to use certified coffee whenever I can find it at an excellent quality and acceptable price, but I do not have a strong preference between the various certifications.


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