How to Properly Decode the Labels on Your Coffee Bags

Organic? Fair Trade Certified? You shouldn’t need a Ph.D to figure out what that label on your beans means (but it wouldn’t hurt).


95% of beans are grown, harvested, and processed without synthetic substances.


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Fairtrade is the certification offered by Fairtrade International (FI), which seeks to uphold fair labor practices for small-scale farmers.

Fair Trade Certified

Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) split from the larger FI organization in 2011. FTUSA’s “Fair Trade Certified” label applies similar labor standards to coffee producers of varying scale.

Direct Trade

Direct Trade refers to coffee companies that have set up private partnerships with growers and producers. Without middlemen like distributors and certification organizations, companies say they can foster better relationships and offer better benefits to producers.

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

Requires coffee farms to uphold various environmental standards, such as biodiversity protection and forest preservation. Only 30% of beans need to be produced in compliance with Rainforest Alliance standards to receive this label.

Terms to ignore, as there are no legal or industry regulations: “sustainable,” “natural,” “ethically farmed,” and “shade grown.”

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