Life isn't fair, so let it be ethical

February 05, 2014

A few times a month, at least, I get the question, “Which of your coffees are Organic/Fair Trade?” The 
answer is never straight-forward. Simply stating that at Flat Black we are conscientious in our selection 
of green (unroasted) coffees sounds as if I am evading the question; on the other hand, going into a 
long-winded discussion about how the terms ‘organic’ and ‘fair trade’ are not particularly relevant to the 
small scale farms and co-ops from which we tend to purchase sounds like I’m trying to cover something 
up: that we don’t use those terms because we’re not concerned about the socio-ecological impact of 
Neither response is incorrect; however, it is the approach that is misguided. For the consumers 
who simply want a coffee with an official certification, we have that. The Timor Maubese is extremely 
popular, available on our shelves just about year-round, and is Organic/Fair Trade to boot. What’s 
missing is the question, “Why?” It is organic for a reason, and a fascinating one at that: After years of 
civil war on the newly divided island of Timor in 2002, the fledgling economy turned to coffee as a major 
export. While coffee had nominally been grown on the island during Portuguese occupation, 
independence from Indonesia turned it into a cash crop. From its inception, the coffee farming 
community was committed to a high-quality, sustainably grown crop and never had to retro-fit 
generations-old plantations growing conventional produce. [1, 2]
On the other side of the world rests Panama. The volcano Barú in the Boqueté region is home to 
the family owned brand Barú Indian High. The family owns several estates on the peak and have made a 
commitment to maintaining the unique characteristics of their crop for which the generations previous 
were known. Yet, despite the attention the family pays to a superior product, it carries no official 
designations such as Organic or Fair Trade. It just so happens that, as a small company, they are able to 
allow only the highest-grade beans to leave the farms; ethics and sustainability are inherent in the way 
the company operates. [3]
When I buy or taste coffee, I focus on its story. Certifications may tell a piece of the story, or 
may allude to some aspect of it; really, though, I want to be able to taste the origin in my cup. What 
does a Panamanian volcano taste like? Being able to answer this question in a cup of coffee without a 
doubt assures me that the people responsible for making that cup took fantastic care of it, from seed to 
brew. Organic and Fair Trade certifications are not necessarily to be cast aside, but oftentimes a superior 
product is created from a passion for quality that cannot be summed up in an official designation. Let 
the coffee tell its story and you may find a human connection beyond what you ever expected.


susan maguire:

Just saw your company on Chronicle. Very interested. Not really sure what name to order without tasting. We like our coffee very strong.
Have any suggestions?

Sue Maguire

February 11 2014

Rose Milefsky:

Hi, Sue! Thank you for your comment. This is Rose, the author of the post and leader of Flat Black’s 50 Broad Street location.

As far as ordering a strong cup of coffee goes, all of our coffees are “strong” in their own ways. If you stop into one of our locations, our baristas would be happy to let you sample the brewed coffees (we have three every day) and are always ready to answer questions about the product.

March 07 2014

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