6 Best Ethical and Sustainable Coffee Companies

May 02, 2023 • Donna Lu

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Whether you are a champion of equal pay or simply want to enjoy better quality coffee, investing in the best ethical and sustainable coffee companies will see you reach your goals. Unbeknown to many people, ethical and sustainable coffee has mutual benefits for the consumer and producer. 

Consumers of ethical and sustainable coffee enjoy better quality and better tasting coffee. By investing in this type of coffee, consumers also participate in nature conservation and reducing the effects of climate change. On the other hand, producers of ethical and sustainable coffee enjoy better profits and improved communal livelihoods. 

They can also practice nature-conserving farming without the risks of losing even more financial gains. So, it’s more beneficial to go for this type of coffee than that with untraceable roots. Ethical and sustainable coffee is also pretty easy to identify. 

Simply look out for the various certification labels on your coffee packaging, whether certified organic or Rainforest Alliance certified, to name a few. We’ve put together a complete list of the best ethical and sustainable coffee companies on the market today. So, if you wish to become a conscious coffee drinker, you can always start here.

Top Ethical and Sustainable Coffee Brands

1. Equal Exchange

Equal Exchange Logo
Equal Exchange

Launched in 1986, Equal Exchange is a for-profit, fair-trade worker-owned cooperative with headquarters in the US. Equal Exchange is a company specializing in selling sustainably grown and fair trade food products sourced directly from farmers. These include coffee, chocolate, tea, and foods, such as nuts & dried food, edible oils, beans, and pre-made condiments, among others. 

Brief History & Model of Equal Exchange

The company sells produce sustainably grown or made by small farmers and producer co-ops. The company started with the idea of trading food honestly and fairly. In fact, the founders of the company decided to take a big risk and their first import was fair-trade coffee from Nicaragua in 1986. 

Now, this was the time when the country was under a strict US embargo imposed on the Sandinista government. With this determination and bold alignment with peasant farmers and producers, Equal Exchange was born.

Offering an alternative to the corporate supply chain, Equal Exchange has developed a special worker-owner democratic model. In this model, each worker-owner is allowed a single vote to access shared financial information and invests an equal share in the business. Further, the company has a 5:1 top-to-bottom pay ratio and excess profit distribution shared among each worker-owner at the end of the year. 

Equal Exchange Coffee

Equal Exchange sells organic, decaf, and flavored coffee from various regions of the world. You will also find drip and whole bean coffee in the medium, full city, Vienna, and French roast options. Further, the coffee is sold as packaged coffee or bulk whole bean. You can also find the coffee in fellowship blends, pillow packs, and single-serve cups. 

2. Counter Culture Coffee

Counter Culture Coffee
Counter Culture Coffee

If you want to sample specialty coffee, Counter Culture Coffee is a company you should be exploring. The company offers a variety of specialty coffee from various regions of the world. So, if you want to sample and try out exotic flavors as the name suggests, Counter Culture Coffee is perfect.

Brief History & Model of Counter Culture Coffee 

Counter Culture Coffee was launched in 1995 in Durham, North Carolina with a commitment to quality, sustainability, education, and transparency. The company offers a variety of coffee with its origins traceable from seed to cup. 

Counter Culture Coffee is also B Corp certified and has managed to achieve the highest level of this certification. B Corp certification is a designation award to businesses that meet high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency.

Counter Culture offers another special component tied to its brand. The company operates multiple training centers and community hubs for coffee education. In addition to serving as home bases for its regional teams, these Counter Culture Coffee hubs also host wholesale partners and coffee lovers to learn more about sustainable coffee.

According to the roaster, their coffee is sustainably sourced, quality focus transparently traded, and B Corp certified. The roaster also offers regular retail purchasing, subscription & gift subscription programs, and wholesale options. With this roaster, you will find a range of single-origin coffee, particularly from Latin America and Africa, along with masterfully crafted and fun blends.

Counter Culture Coffee

Counter Culture Coffee offers various coffee packages.  You can purchase the coffee at retail or wholesale. Moreover, the coffee roaster offers subscription and gift subscription programs. When it comes to coffee, you can choose single-origin coffee from Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Alternatively, you can sample house-crafted blends. 

3. Allegro Coffee

Allegro Coffee
Allegro Coffee

Allegro Coffee is perhaps among the easily accessible ethical and sustainable coffee on the market. In addition to the company's flagship stores, you can purchase Allegro coffee at local grocery stores, such as Whole Foods and Walmart. You can also find coffee online at marketplaces, such as Amazon.

Brief History & Model of Allegro Coffee

Allegro Coffee was launched nearly 5 decades ago in 1977 in Boulder, Colorado. The US-based company was launched with the simple goal of providing the best coffees from around the world. But, unlike most ethical and sustainable coffee companies, Allegro Coffee took a different route by merging with a big conglomerate, Whole Foods Market.

 This doesn’t mean that the company lost its vision of sourcing ethical and sustainable coffee. The merging simply led the company to move its offices to a larger facility and expand its product line to include fine tea, wellness tea, and drinking coffee. 

The one thing that remains constant is the company’s sourcing of organic and sustainably grown coffee beans, tea leaves, herbs, botanicals, spices, and chocolate. The merging also allows the purchase of coffee at the flagship stores, i.e. Whole Foods Market.

Allegro Coffee

Allegro Coffee offers a wide variety of coffee from around the globe. You can purchase coffee in the form of whole beans, grounds, or pods. The Company also offers single origin and blends with different style roasts. You will also find a good variety of decaf options if caffeine is not your thing!

4. Dean's Beans

Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company Logo
Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company

Brief History & Model of Dean’s Beans

Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company is the brainchild of Dean Cycon, who had previously worked as an environmental and indigenous rights lawyer. The company is committed to transforming for-profit businesses by creating meaningful change through ethical business practices, rooted in the respect for earth, the farmer, co-workers, and consumers. 

The company was launched nearly 30 years ago in Manchester, New Hampshire. Coffee traded by Dean's Beans is fully traceable and the company comes with various sustainability certifications. These include the B Corp, USDA Organic, Fair Trade, and Smithsonian Bird Friendly certifications. 

While the company started with coffee, it has diversified its fair-trade and organic products. Today, you will also find various cocoa-based products, such as hot cocoa mix, baking cocoa, and even sugar. Dean’s Beans also sell a range of fun branded merchandise, like brewing systems, coffee accessories, and even gift samplers. 

Dean’s Beans Coffee

Dean’s Beans offers a variety of green beans and roasted coffee.  You can opt for single-origin, blended, or decaf dark, medium, and medium-dark roasts. The roastery also offers a selection of flavored coffee and limited coffee editions. If you are feeling invincible, you can also craft and design your own coffee. When you fall in love with Dean’s Beans, you can always sign up for their subscription program. 

Whether you want to roast your own coffee or enjoy pre-roasted coffee, Bean’s Beans is an excellent supplier to try out. The organic coffee company offers a range of green whole beans and roasted beans to choose from based on your needs. This coffee is an organic and Fair Trade certified dark roast that offers a bold and robust flavor. The company is committed to social and environmental justice causes.

Pros

  • Organic and Fair Trade certifications indicate the coffee was grown and traded ethically and sustainably
  • Dark roast offers a bold and robust flavor profile
  • The company is committed to social and environmental justice causes

Cons

  • Dark roast may be too strong or overpowering for some coffee drinkers
  • The brand may not be as widely available as other options
  • Some customers may find the price point to be higher than other coffees

5. Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee Logo

Brief History & Model of Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee is a coffee roaster and retailer launched in 2002 in Oakland, California by W. James Freeman.  The company started with a focus on roasting small coffee batches (about 6 lbs per roast) to sell within 24 hours via a home delivery service. 

Eventually, the company opened its first traditional café and continued to grow. But, in 2017, about 68% of its stake was acquired by Nestle. Today it is considered a major player in third-wave coffee, specializing in single-origin coffee.

The company is committed to shortening its supply chain while bringing everyone involved in the growing, buying, roasting, brewing, and drinking together with its variety of single-origin coffee beans. So, unlike many roasters, most coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee comes from a single sustainable source of green beans.

Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee retails a generous collection of single-origin coffee and blends, you will also find a variety of special espresso roasts, decaf, instant, and cold brew coffee. You can also purchase a range of cool ceramic and drinkware from the company's site.

6. Stumptown Coffee

Stumptown Coffee Logo

Brief History & Model of Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Stumptown Coffee Roasters was launched in 1999 in Portland, Oregon by Duane Sorenson. The company started with a flagship café and roastery and continued to grow its café locations in other US cities. These include Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Orleans. 

In 2015, Peet's Coffee & Tea acquired Stumptown Coffee Roaster, which, in turn, is owned by JAB Holding Company. Stumptown Coffee Roasters has always been part of the third-wave coffee movement since its founding and focuses on sourcing ethical and sustainable top quality beans. 

The company began purchasing green coffee beans straight from producers in 2002. In fact, Sorenson and his employees visit partner coffee farms in person. He has even once set the record for the heist price ever paid for coffee. 

Stumptown Coffee Coffee Roasters

Stumptown Coffee Roasters sells a long lineup of single origin, blends, and 5 lb bags of coffee from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The brand also dishes out a good variety of decaf coffee. The brand also serves cold brew lovers with its canned cold brew. 

You will also find Stumptown Coffee Roasters' coffee pre-mixed with milk in a range of grocery stores. The roaster also offers a subscription program. You can also purchase coffee in bulk from the company.

Certification and Labeling Programs

You can easily identify ethical and sustainable coffee companies through their labels. Different companies can have one or more certifications. Here are some of the common certifications designated to the best ethical and sustainable coffee companies;

Fair Trade Certified

Fairtrade-certified coffee refers to coffee that has been through a fair supply chain, ensuring farmers and producers enjoy fair profits and equitable relationships. Fairtrade coffee usually comes with a traceable and transparent chain, from seed to cup. This practice was developed to protect the peasant farmer to ensure they receive fair pay for their beans. 

Rainforest Alliance Certified

Rainbow Alliance Certified Coffee receives its certifications from an organization with the same name. The Rainforest Alliance is an international NGO launched by American environmentalist, Daniel Kratz and operates in over 70 countries. 

The NGO was launched to protect nature and the livelihood of farmers and forest communities by creating sustainable social and market conditions. Rainforest Alliance certification is offered to companies that deal with agricultural products by adhering to environmental preservation and sustainable practices. 

Organic

Organic coffee refers to coffee fully grown by adhering to organic farming practices. This means that the farmer or coffee grower uses 100% natural means, depending on the earth, and diverse flora and fauna. It also involves the use of minimal fertilizers while completely avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Most coffee companies get their organic coffee certification from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Direct Trade

Direct trade is a model adopted by coffee companies whereby they source green beans directly from the producer or farmer. These companies tend to harness long lasting relationships with the farmers to establish mutually beneficial trade relationships. Direct trade is usually practiced by coffee sellers and roasters, chocolate makers, and tea makers, to name a few. 

Other Certifications

When shopping for ethical and sustainable coffee, you will notice that some companies hold less popular certifications. Nonetheless, these certifications are just equally important. Examples include the Bird-friendly certification offered by the Smithsonian Institution. 

Bird-friendly certified coffee or cocoa is offered to companies that sell coffee grown by preserving critical habitats for birds and wildlife, fighting climate change, and protecting biodiversity. The certification is also eligible for companies that support farmers committed to conserving bird and wildlife habitats by practicing sustainable farming. 

Other examples include the B Corp Certification. The B Corp certification is offered to businesses that meet high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency. You can easily find out the certification a company holds through its website. Alternatively, you can physically verify the certifications on their coffee packaging through the label or seals.

Tips for Supporting Ethical and Sustainable Coffee Production

Purchasing ethical and sustainable coffee ensures you enjoy the best quality coffee with the best flavors. However, it also benefits the rest of the world. First, you are guaranteeing that the farmer that grew your coffee is fairly compensated for their work. Moreover, this type of coffee supports the conservation of nature and biodiversity while also contributing to fight against climate change

  • To support ethical and sustainable coffee, it’s always advisable to buy coffee from local roasters.
  • Further, avoid single-use coffee cups or reusable cups.
  • Avoid single-use cups. Bring your travel mug with you if you are purchasing a coffee to go. Here is a guide on Sustainable Cups.

Before investing in your coffee, you should also take the time to research the supply chain of the company. In general, the best ethical and sustainable companies will be very transparent with the traceability of their coffee. Lastly, no matter where you are, you should join the efforts for advocating for fair and sustainable practices when it comes to coffee.

Our Top Picks - Sustainable Coffee Companies Beans

So, are you ready to become a conscious coffee drinker? Our 6 top recommendations can set you up with this experience, no matter your needs. Here’s a summary of why these companies stand out. Find more products here: Sustainable Coffee Brands.

1. Equal Exchange: Editor’s Pick

Equal Exchange
Equal Exchange

Equal Exchange offers a variety of fair trade and organic food crops, such as coffee, tea, cocoa, and snacks. The brand prides itself in directly purchasing from small-scale farmers from whom they have harnessed long-term relationships and partnerships. 

You will find a variety of coffees including bulk whole bean, fellowship blends, pillow packs, and even, single serve cups.

Pros

  • High-quality coffee with a variety of flavor profiles and origins to choose from.
  • Sourced from small-scale farmers around the world, which promotes fair trade and supports local communities.
  • Grown using sustainable and organic practices, which aligns with the brand's commitment to environmental and social responsibility.
  • Comes in eco-friendly packaging made from compostable materials, which reduces waste and ensures that the packaging is biodegradable.
  • Offers a unique "Fairly Traded" initiative, where the brand works directly with farmer co-operatives to ensure fair prices and wages for workers.

Cons

  • The variety of flavor profiles may be overwhelming for those who prefer a more simplified coffee selection.

2. Counter Culture Coffee: Best for Regional Specialty Coffee

Counter Culture Coffee
Counter Culture Coffee

Counter Culture Coffee also has multiple training centers/community hubs for coffee education. These hubs are a home base for their regional teams and also allow wholesale partners and coffee lovers to learn more about the world of sustainable coffee.

Pros

  • Sourced from multiple origins, which offers a diverse flavor profile and variety.
  • Grown using sustainable and ethical practices, which aligns with the brand's commitment to environmental and social responsibility.
  • Comes in eco-friendly packaging made from compostable materials, which reduces waste and ensures that the packaging is biodegradable.
  • Offers a blend that is specifically designed for cold brew, which can be convenient for those who enjoy cold coffee.

Cons

  • Availability may be limited due to the small-batch production and sustainable sourcing practices.
  • Some consumers may prefer more adventurous or trendy coffee brands over approachable blends.

3. Allegro Coffee: Easily Accessible

Allegro Coffee Organic French Roast Ground Coffee
Allegro Coffee Organic French Roast Ground Coffee

This coffee is an organic French roast that has a bold and rich flavor. The ground coffee is convenient for quick and easy brewing.

Pros

  • Organic certification indicates the coffee was grown without the use of harmful pesticides or fertilizers
  • French roast is known for its bold and rich flavor
  • Ground coffee is convenient for quick and easy brewing

Cons

  • French roast may be too strong or bitter for some coffee drinkers
  • Ground coffee may lose freshness and flavor more quickly than whole bean coffee
  • The brand may not be as well-known or widely available as other options

4. Dean's Beans : Best for Green and Roasted Coffee

Dean's Beans
Dean's Beans Ahab's Revenge

Whether you want to roast your own coffee or enjoy pre-roasted coffee, Bean’s Beans is an excellent supplier to try out. The organic coffee company offers a range of green whole beans and roasted beans to choose from based on your needs. This coffee is an organic and Fair Trade certified dark roast that offers a bold and robust flavor. The company is committed to social and environmental justice causes.

Pros

  • Organic and Fair Trade certifications indicate the coffee was grown and traded ethically and sustainably
  • Dark roast offers a bold and robust flavor profile
  • The company is committed to social and environmental justice causes

Cons

  • Dark roast may be too strong or overpowering for some coffee drinkers
  • The brand may not be as widely available as other options
  • Some customers may find the price point to be higher than other coffees

5. Blue Bottle Coffee: Best for Single-Origin Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee
Blue Bottle Balanced Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee doesn't only allow you to purchase a wide variety of specialty coffee. The ethical and sustainable coffee also runs multiple cafes in different cities, allowing you to sample their coffee on-site. The roastery operates cafes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, and Asia (in Japan, South Korea, and China). This specialty coffee company offers a balanced roast that provides a smooth and well-rounded flavor. The brand has a strong focus on sustainability and ethical sourcing.

Pros

  • The company is known for its high-quality, specialty coffee offerings
  • The balanced roast offers a smooth and well-rounded flavor
  • The brand has a strong focus on sustainability and ethical sourcing

Cons

  • The price point may be higher than other coffee options
  • Some customers may prefer a bolder or more complex flavor profile
  • The brand may not be as widely available as other options

6. Stumptown Coffee

Stumptown Coffee
Holler Mtn. Stumptown Coffee

Stumptown Coffee Roasters are committed to sourcing ethical and sustainable coffee. However, this company found fame from a pretty unique product offering. The company is an early innovator of cold brew coffee in nitro cans. To date, the brand continues to develop a variety of these products. This high-quality coffee is a medium roast that offers a balanced and nuanced flavor profile. The brand has a strong focus on sustainability and ethical sourcing, and is known for its specialty coffee offerings.

Pros

  • The company is known for its high-quality, specialty coffee offerings
  • The medium roast offers a balanced and nuanced flavor profile
  • The brand has a strong focus on sustainability and ethical sourcing

Cons

  • The price point may be higher than other coffee options
  • Some customers may prefer a darker or lighter roast
  • The brand may not be as widely available as other options

Conclusion

Investing in the best ethical and sustainable coffee companies not only allows individuals to support equal pay and enjoy better quality coffee, but it also creates a positive impact on both consumers and producers. Consumers who choose ethical and sustainable coffee benefit from the superior taste and quality it offers, while actively participating in environmental conservation and the fight against climate change.

On the other hand, producers of ethical and sustainable coffee experience improved profits and enhanced communal livelihoods, enabling them to engage in nature-conserving farming practices without jeopardizing their financial gains. By opting for coffee with traceable origins and certifications such as organic or Rainforest Alliance, individuals can easily identify ethical and sustainable options. Our comprehensive list of the best ethical and sustainable coffee companies serves as a starting point for those who aspire to become conscious coffee drinkers, fostering a positive impact on both society and the planet.

Author

Donna is a coffee lover and freelance writer from Tanzania. Coffee runs deep in her family, tracing its roots to her grandmother’s running of their first coffee farm in the mid-70s. During the summer seasons, she enjoys writing and co-running her grandmother's small robusta coffee farm with her sister in northwest Tanzania.

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