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SUSTAINABILITY profile

Producing a better future.

Sound Consumer | November 2003

by Alicia Lundquist Guy

The new buzz on bulk coffee

(November 2003) — You may have noticed the recent change in the bulk coffee section at PCC stores. Perhaps the bin that houses your favorite coffee bean has been playing musical chairs. Well, we did it not to confuse the caffeine-deprived, but to make room for new neighbors.

PCC is pleased to offer shoppers a revamped selection — some familiar favorites and some new beans — from four brands of bulk coffee beans — Equal Exchange, Kalani Organica, Tony's Coffee and the newly welcomed Vigal Coffee.

All of PCC's bulk coffee selections are now shade-grown, certified organic and certified Fair Trade. All bulk coffees had been shade-grown and certified organic for some time, but now we have converted our entire selection to meet certified Fair Trade standards, ensuring that coffee farmers are paid a livable wage in the midst of sometimes wildly fluctuating world coffee bean prices.

The change has been brewing since March, when PCC grocery buyer Stephanie Steiner sent a letter to old and prospective new coffee vendors inviting them to participate in a coffee tasting. Steiner set up a taste test at the PCC office in May.

Eleven coffee companies submitted coffee bean samples of their French Roast and a variety of choice. Vendors hand-delivered their freshly roasted samples to Steiner's desk at the very last moment to ensure the freshest quality. All coffees were repackaged before brewing so brewers and tasters could not know the coffee brands; it was a blind taste test.

Participants were invited to examine and smell the beans, taste the coffee and give each blend a numerical score along with comments. Combine 22 pots of coffee with several dozen PCC office workers and well ... there was a lot of feedback, along with a slightly more frenetic workday! One taster commented, "I really enjoyed all the French Roasts, but I ... wanted to find out what (my favorite) was after the results were in."

Eight of the best selections of French Roast coffee beans were then taken to the Greenlake and Issaquah PCC stores, where shoppers were invited to submit their comments in another blind coffee tasting. The free cup-o-joe and the opportunity to play a part in the selection of products at PCC created a nice diversion for shoppers on their weekly grocery trips.

After the results were tallied, local roaster Tony's Coffee came out the winner of the taste test with raves of, "full flavor, smooth, chocolaty and rich!" Tony's Coffees and Teas, Inc., was born in Bellingham in 1971 and has provided specialty coffees to loyal coffee drinkers at Caffe Ladro for years. They have been a PCC coffee vendor since 1998 and their coffee is served in all PCC delis.

Another high scorer in the tasting, with accolades of "full body, my favorite!" was Vigal Coffee. Vigal, originally a small coffeehouse in San Jose, California, is considered by many to be one of the finest craft roasters in America, and creates specialty coffees utilizing a lighter Northern Italian roasting technique. Tony's Coffees purchased Vigal Coffee in 1995.

The decision was made to keep PCC's current bulk coffee vendors, (Equal Exchange, Kalani Organica and Tony's) and add Vigal. Kalani Coffees have been available at PCC since 1993. PCC has had a working relationship with Equal Exchange since 1995. Equal Exchange has been a pioneer in the sustainable coffee industry, making Fair Trade coffee available to the American market in 1986.

Tony's was certified as a Fair Trade Coffee Roaster in 2000, and now sells the most Fair Trade coffee in Washington State, according to Darryl Miller, marketing manager at Tony's Coffees. Kalani Organica, a favorite of many co-op shoppers, agreed to purchase Fair Trade coffee beans to meet PCC's criteria.

All Fair Trade coffee available at PCC is certified by Transfair USA, a non-profit organization and the only independent, third-party certifier in the United States. Transfair states, "through regular visits to Fair Trade farmer cooperatives conducted by Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) and partnerships with U.S. companies, Transfair verifies that the farmers who produced Fair Trade Certified™ products were paid a fair price."

Given the complicated nature of a global food economy, seeing the now easily recognizable Fair Trade label on favorite products — such as coffee, tea and chocolate — puts consumers' minds at ease when purchasing some of life's little luxuries. As a PCC shopper, you can further enjoy the highly acclaimed flavor of your morning java knowing that your beans are good for the birds, the farmers and the land they came from. That's grounds for another cup!

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