Almost all certified coffee in the U.S. falls into at least one of these categories — and it’s not hard to find beans that are double- or even triple-certified. Though many of these blends will run a little more than your typical supermarket grounds-in-a-can, they undeniably taste better — and they rarely cost more than other specialty coffees.

Fair Trade

All coffee is grown on worker-owned cooperative farms where the use of agrochemicals is limited and the surrounding ecosystem is protected. Growers are guaranteed a minimum floor price for their beans to help protect them against sudden price drops in what has always been a volatile market. About 70 percent of Fair Trade coffee sold is also certified organic.

Rainforest Alliance

All coffee is grown in ways that preserve the area’s natural ecosystem. For instance, all coffee bushes are planted beneath a canopy of native rainforest trees. The Rainforest Alliance also aims to establish certified farms as buffer zones surrounding national parks and other protected areas, so that large areas become viable wildlife habitat. Nearly 20 percent is also certified organic and the rest is minimally treated.

Certified Organic

Like all USDA certified organic products, organic coffee must be grown on farms that have forgone the use of pesticides and other chemicals for three years. Because this method is usually much more suited to shade farms, most organic coffee also carries one, or even two, of the other certifications.


One of the original types of coffee certifications, Bird-Friendly coffee, a small but well-known part of the market, is certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Council with the goal of rebuilding avian and other wildlife habitats. All coffee is shade-grown and plant species required for a healthy bird habitat must be incorporated into the growing area. All must also be certified organic.

Story by Sarah Schmidt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2006. This story was added to in June 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2006.