I drink a lot of Coffee. I will often get a takeout coffee from one of the big-three coffee houses in the UK, Costa, Caffe Nero and Starbucks. I’m a big fan of the macchiato and lattes.
When I buy coffee beans from the supermarket I will generally try to buy fairly traded ones, however when I get a takeout, I just get what is on the board, so I thought I’d take a look at them and see who is the most ethical.
Costa coffee is my least favorite of the three brands. I often find their coffee is extremely bitter, perhaps caused by the machines not being kept well, as the bitterness changes from store to store. Costa uses what they call a mocha bean which is 6 parts arabica and 1 part robusta. Arabica is generally considered the best bean but harder to grow, and therefore more expensive, where as robusta is easier to grow but has less flavor. If you ask for any coffee in Costa you will get this blend, however Costa do offer a fairtrade option at no extra cost, all you have to do is ask for it. This blend is made from six different bean varieties, but they do not mention which. I have yet to try asking for the fair trade option, however this is defiantly a bonus if you can get all their drinks but in an ethical variety!
Caffe Nero is in close contention for my favorite coffee company. Every cup they serve contains two shots of espresso, compared to the one found in both of the other companies I’m reviewing. The price of their coffee is also lower, however they do allow smoking in some of their coffee houses which is a big negative. The blend used by Nero is a combination of arabica beans from Southern America and Africa. The beans Nero server however are not â€œFairtradeâ€ in the sense they are not endorsed but the Fairtrade organisation. Nero claims they pay above the standard rate for beans compared to high volume robusta beans often used in instant coffee. However, the high quality, arabica beans used in Nero are bound to be more expensive. Their corporate policy does acknowledge that for sustainable coffee farming, the growers must be paid a fair rate, but they will not try to meet Oxfam’s key action guideline: â€œRoaster coffee companies to buy increasing volumes of their coffee under Fairtrade conditions (starting with 2% of their volumes in the first year)â€. This suggests they are more interested in profits than ethics.
Starbucks is most probably my favorite coffee company. Their variety of drinks is good, and more often than not, the coffee tastes good. Their staff appear to be very well trained and I like that they try to build community with their book drives and community boards. Starbucks offers a range of coffees beans for sale in store, however they generally only use three varieties at a time; their standard bean, a fairtrade variety and a specialty variety. When you ask for a coffee you will always get their standard bean. If you want fairtrade you will normally have the option of drip coffee, however this means you can’t have any of the nice tasting drinks like the latte (yum). All of Starbucks beans are of the arabica variety. Starbucks claims to have an ethical an sustainable policy in regards to buying beans. In FY 2004, the paid on average $1.20 per pound, which is 74% above average. ON a side note, thats 25 cents for a 100 grams, or around 12p which you pay Â£3.99 for in Starbucks. They also have loads of information about how they are nice to farmers at: http://www.starbucks.com/aboutus/origins.asp . Starbucks cups appear to be the only ones on the market which are in part recycled which is an added bonus.
Baically, none of the three are perfect. Nero appears to be doing the least to support fairly traded coffee, with Costa providing the easiest way to get a nice cup of fairtrade. If you can settle for nearly fairtrade, then Starbucks is your best taste/ethic ratio. However if we want these stores to get better, we need to start going for the fairtrade options, unlucky for Nero as they don’t have one!