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10 best ethical coffees for Fairtrade Fortnight and beyond

In search for a high-quality and guilt-free caffeine fix? Look no further

Lottie Gross
Monday 21 February 2022 09:28
<p>The Fairtrade certification is the easy way to make sure the coffee you drink doesn’t do harm to others</p>

The Fairtrade certification is the easy way to make sure the coffee you drink doesn’t do harm to others

Have you ever thought about where your coffee comes from? What life is like for the farmers that grow and pick it? Possibly not – but with Fairtrade Fortnight upon us, now is the time to think about just how fair your morning fix is.

The Fairtrade certification guarantees that farmers are paid a fair price for their coffee, employees are given fair wages and working conditions are fair and equal among all staff. It is, in short, the easy way to make sure the coffee you drink doesn’t do harm to others.

Fairtrade coffee abounds on the shelves of our supermarkets – it’s not hard to find in Tesco, Waitrose and even Aldi. And many smaller, independent brands and roasters go further than the Fairtrade certification requires, buying direct from the farmer at prices well above the Fairtrade minimum of £1.40 for Arabica or £1.70 for organic.

But which Fairtrade or ethical coffee is the best? We tried almost 20 different coffees to bring you a definitive list of the finest Fairtrade drinks on the market right now.

How we tested

We’ve taste-tested each coffee, either as an espresso or through a French press, as well as dug into the Fairtrade and ethical background of each brand to ensure it’s a fair drink for all.

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Not all of these coffees have the Fairtrade certification, but they all adhere to the minimum standards of the Fairtrade Foundation and live up to, or go beyond, their values of local sustainability.

The best ethical coffees for 2022 are:

  • Best for easy drinking – Cafedirect mayan gold: £3.75, Sainsburys.co.uk
  • Best for a special weekend treat – Noble House prepared maya key organic coffee: £8.50, Noblehouseprepared.com
  • Best for the equality conscious – Land Girls sumatran coffee: £8.95, Land-girls.co.uk
  • Best well-balanced brew – Farrer’s Fairtrade costa rica: £6.25, Farrerscoffee.co.uk
  • Best for those with a sweet tooth – Easy José dalia casancho coffee: £11, Easyjosecoffee.co.uk
  • Best bargain – Tesco Finest sumatra mandheling coffee: £3.50, Tesco.com
  • Best supermarket staple – Waitrose No.1 java coffee: £2.80, Waitrose.com
  • Best autumnal flavours – Terrone autopilot blend: £9, Terrone.co.uk
  • Best after-dinner treat – Jewel & Kong frijanes: £7.50, Jewelandkong.com
  • Best punchy espresso – Watchhouse 1829 espresso: £12, Watchhouse.com

Cafedirect mayan gold

Best: For easy drinking

Cafedirect does things differently to most coffee companies. It was the UK’s first ever Fairtrade coffee brand and today can be found on major supermarket shelves all over the country. Over 50 per cent of its profits are invested back into the farming communities its products come from, and so far that has amounted to over £6 million, distributed by the brand’s charity Producers Direct.

Cafedirect has a vast range of coffees but there’s one standout brew that we absolutely loved: the mayan gold 100 per cent organic arabica. It has serious caramel notes on the nose, and your first sip offers a dark, rich flavour with a pleasing bitterness without too much punch. This coffee is extremely drinkable – dangerously so, in fact – and pairs sublimely with a caramel digestive.

Noble House prepared maya key organic coffee

Best: For a special weekend treat

It’s not cheap, but this organic, ethically sourced coffee from Noble House Prepared is a real treat. The blend of arabica and robusta beans comes from the Chalmeca community in the Arcadia Copan region of Honduras and the Rahmet Kinara cooperative in Sumatra, Indonesia. We brewed this in an espresso machine to make a flat white with oat milk and it was divine, but it comes in an omnigrind so is suitable for almost any method and pairs well with normal cow’s milk as well.

The Noble House Prepared brand is interesting in itself, too – formerly an events company providing fine-dining food for weddings and large-scale events, it pivoted during the pandemic to connect the public with its high-end suppliers. The result is an online shop offering access to some of the finest food and drink, and this coffee is a shining example of the quality it sells.

Land Girls sumatran coffee

Best: For the equality conscious

This coffee comes with a story of female empowerment. Set in the hills of Sumatra, just beyond the glistening Lake Laut Tawar, Ketiara is a women-led cooperative founded by Ibu Rahmah, originally set up to help local women provide for their families.

Now, you can buy its beans (whole or ground) via Land Girls, a UK-based roastery that focuses on supporting women. The coffee itself has a dreamily rich smell in the packet, and it’s strong to taste with a real bitter kick – almost American in style. You might pick up notes of apricot or citrus, but the overarching flavour is earthy. We prepared it with a French press and paired it with some gingernut biscuits for a mid-morning elevenses – a perfect combo.

Farrer’s Fairtrade costa rica

Best: For a well-balanced brew

If you’re an all-day coffee drinker, this is the brew for you. Grown in the fertile, volcanic soil of Costa Rica, this is a medium roast, well-balanced coffee with a divine chocolatey finish. It has all the characteristics of a good brew that you can sip at any time of day, and we particularly enjoyed it with a Viennese swirl.

Not only is it Fairtrade, but the coffee is roasted by Farrer’s – the oldest roastery in the UK with over 200 years of experience in processing delicate coffee beans from its HQ in the Lake District. Not only are you buying ethical coffee, but by drinking this you’ll also be supporting one of Britain’s longest-standing independent businesses.

Easy José dalia casancho coffee

Best: For those with a sweet tooth

Deep in the rainforests of Peru, Dalia Casancho spends much of her time foraging in the jungle for herbs and plants to create natural remedies for her indigenous community. But her other passion is coffee production, and she single-handedly grows and harvests this truly exceptional coffee, using a honey process that creates a distinct sweetness in your cup.

Left to dry with the sticky sugary juice from the coffee cherry, the beans come away with a lovely flavour and this translates into the grounds perfectly. You might taste white grapes, honey or stone fruit in this coffee, which is roasted by Easy José and sold either as grounds for various preparation methods or as whole beans.

Easy José is dedicated to helping indigenous communities create sustainable income through coffee production while ensuring no harm is done to the natural environment.

Tesco Finest sumatra mandheling coffee

Best: Bargain

Sumatra is one of Indonesia’s top coffee-growing regions thanks to its fertile soil and balmy climate, and so it’s no surprise that Tesco has got in on the action with its own Finest range coffee. This is a sweet but earthy brew, best prepared in a French press, and has an intense dark chocolate flavour to finish. The coffee is Fairtrade certified and comes from a cooperative that supports small-scale coffee farmers in Indonesia.

Waitrose No.1 java coffee

Best: Supermarket staple

If you want a go-to Fairtrade coffee, this Waitrose No.1 bag is your new best friend. At an affordable £3.50 it’s a solid regular buy, and its rich, mellow flavour with a slightly spicy finish is one you won’t tire of. The coffee comes from the Kayumas cooperative in Indonesia, where volcanic soil provides a solid foundation for growing some fine beans. It was the first Fairtrade cooperative in Java and was founded with significant investment from Waitrose and the Fairtrade Foundation, so you can feel good as you sip this quality supermarket coffee.

Terrone autopilot blend

Best: Autumnal flavours

Tottenham-based Terrone takes its sustainability and ethics seriously. So much so, in fact, it sent its head roaster to Guatemala in 2018 to source the best coffee from the best farms they could find. Today, Terrone buys coffee from all over the world with the same care, and while it isn’t Faritrade certified, it generally pays twice the minimum Fairtrade purchase price for its beans, ensuring the farmers are getting a fair deal.

Its autopilot blend is a brilliant drink, available as whole beans or ground for your preferred preparation method, and it comprises coffee from Colombia, Guatemala and Myanmar. The result is a beautifully balanced drink with hints of cinnamon, toffee and apples – a lovely autumnal caffeine hit.

Jewel & Kong frijanes

Best: After-dinner treat

Unlike most companies on this list, Jewel & Kong isn’t just a roastery. It’s the farmers, producers and roasters of this spectacular Guatemalan coffee. Based in the Fraijanes region of Guatemala, where some of the world’s best coffee is grown in rich volcanic soil, this family-owned company creates a truly exceptional, 100 per cent arabica coffee.

While the brand is not Fairtrade certified, it is incredibly community and sustainability-focused. Pesticide use is minimal, the company plants trees alongside its coffee to help the environment, as well as providing housing and food on top of the wages for its employees. Some of its profits also go towards funding education for local children and wildlife projects that help conserve the endangered jaguar.

The coffee itself is velvety smooth and has hints of chocolate praline and toffee – perfect to round off a special meal at home.

Watchhouse 1829 espresso

Best: Punchy espresso

This is a serious coffee for serious caffeine drinkers. As an espresso, it has a real punch to it – the kind of hard-hitting flavour that’ll blow away any cobwebs you might have from the night before. But as you drink more it mellows out with notes of citrus and sweet maple syrup.

It’s not just tasty, though. Watchhouse is careful about how and where it buys its coffee. The brand works with small independent producers who usually can’t afford the Fairtrade certification, so while it’s not officially Fairtrade, it is still paying fair prices. Watchhouse told IndyBest that it typically pays 300 per cent of the recommended Fairtrade price for the speciality coffee it buys, and that its supply chains are managed by the Coffee Quality Institute who work to improve the lives of the farmers and workers involved in producing the beans.

The verdict: Fairtrade and ethical coffee

We absolutely loved the Mayan Gold ground coffee from Cafedirect, and the company is by far one of the most ethical out there right now with its Fairtrade certification, direct reinvestment in farmers and its charitable initiatives. We were also captivated by the work of Easy José, which buy its coffee directly from indigenous tribes in Peru, supporting a community towards sustainable living.

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For the latest discounts on coffee, espresso machines and more, try the links below:

For more sustainable favourites read our round of the best plastic free tea bags to make your brew better for the planet

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