Taste Test: Best Socially-Conscious Coffee

Taste Test: Best Socially-Conscious Coffee

Co-written by Emily Walker.

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There’s no better way to start the day than with a good cup of coffee, and the ONE office is full of self-proclaimed java aficionados. We decided to put their expertise to the test by asking them to sample three socially-conscious coffees. Which coffee would take the top prize? Would office productivity skyrocket thanks to all of the caffeine?

The Coffees:

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We’ve done taste-testings before—for fair trade tea and chocolate— but despite searching multiple grocery stores in the DC area, we had a difficult time finding a good array of fair trade coffees.

Your best bet may be to check out local coffee shops in your area and ask questions to ensure the company is using ethically sourced coffee beans.

Ultimately, we decided to use three coffees carried more widely by retailers:

• A dark French roast from O Organics, which is certified fair trade and organic.
• The medium house roast from Rise Up Coffee Roasters, which is a certified fair trade and organic roaster based in Maryland.
• A medium roast from Starbucks (Rwanda Rift Valley, single origin). We know, we know—Starbucks isn’t fair trade and have run into some controversy in years past. But this bag is certified by Conservation International for its ethical sourcing, and we wanted to toss a major brand into the mix.

The Judges:

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Why should you trust the taste buds and opinions of our three judges? Let us count the ways:

Kedar Mankad: The man has done his homework on coffee. While he spends his day as ONE’s resident agriculture policy guru, Kedar has also conducted actual academic research on coffee sustainability. More than that, he practices what he preaches in his own personal coffee consumption. He goes through a bag of beans a week, owns five different coffee making devices, and every morning measures out beans on a scale before hand-grinding them.

Mary Scharffenberger: Mary doesn’t hesitate to admit she is a coffee snob. Her mother grew up in Europe, so Mary was raised on high-quality, fair-trade organic coffees from around the world. Her favorite thing to eat with coffee? Pain au chocolat.

Garth Moore: Garth has been drinking coffee since he was 11 (editor’s note: is this safe?!). He’s traveled extensively in Central and South America and learned first-hand how important coffee is to the economies and cultures of the region. His favorite place to buy coffee is at the local farmer’s markets. It is rare to see Garth without a cup of coffee in hand.

The Results:

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We made each coffee in a French press, and the judges carefully sampled each brew without cream or sugar. Each coffee sample was accompanied with some dark chocolate, which felt appropriate at 10am. Here’s how they ranked the coffees:

3. O Organics: Overall, the judges just weren’t a fan of the very dark roast, which they sampled first. “It’s very thick and bitter,” Garth said. “I could see myself drinking it as an after-dinner, dessert coffee, but never as my normal cup.” Its most redeeming quality: Kedar felt it was superior to what is currently in the ONE office coffee machine.

2. Rise Up Coffee Roaster: This blend got second place in our tasting. “I would definitely buy this coffee,” Mary said. “It’s a good medium roast and I could see myself have it as my morning cup.” Garth appreciated the coffee’s aroma: “It reminds me of the smell you get when you’re hiking in the mountains. Overall this is a great morning, bacon-and-eggs kind of coffee.”

1. Starbucks: The outcome was unanimous: this single-origin brew from Rwanda’s Rift Valley won the tasting. “Right off the bat, I love the smell and aroma of this coffee,” Kedar said. Mary agreed: “There are so many different layers to the aroma of this coffee—earthy, orangey.” Hands down, Garth agreed he liked this best of the three.

We’d love to hear your suggestions for good socially-conscious coffee! Where do you buy yours?

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