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Kate Chess

How to Make Iced Coffee

Iced coffee is a gift on a hot summer day, cool and delicious. And really, there’s no need to buy it at a coffee shop. Making your own means you’re taking a positive step for environmental sustainability — and your wallet. Plus, when you make your own iced coffee, you can customize the brew to suit your tastes.

 

Iced coffee the fastest way possible

The quickest way to make iced coffee is to brew it hot and then bring down the temperature with ice. First, prepare a strong cup of regular ol’ joe using your favorite method — a French Press, a pour-over dripper, your office’s single serve pod machine. It’s important to brew the coffee strong because the next step will cause some dilution. Pour the hot coffee into a glass of ice to cool it. The ice will melt – you may need to add more to your iced coffee before you sip.

That’s it! Voila! You’re done.

Get our general brewing tips for a better cup.

Refrigerated iced coffee: Almost as fast, but less diluted

Is your iced coffee turning out too watery? Allowing time for it to cool in the fridge means less melted ice – and a less watery cup. For this method, brew a cup of coffee, or a whole pot. Next, let your coffee rest in the refrigerator — or even in the freezer — until its temperature drops. The cooler the coffee gets, the less it will melt the ice.

Once you feel coffee is cool, pour it over ice and get sipping.

Two glasses of iced coffee next to a bag of organic coffee

 

Iced coffee 2.0: Slow and delicious cold brew

Cold brewed iced coffee may seem like just a trend, but we’re pretty sure this delicious method is here to stay. Instead of using heat to extract flavor from the beans, the cold brew process utilizes time. That means you’ll need to plan ahead a bit.

The good news is, you can make this iced coffee at home without any special equipment. Cold brew is ridiculously easy! Just take coarse-ground coffee, add cold or room-temperature water and stir. Then allow the mixture to steep for at least six hours, or overnight. Finally, strain with cheesecloth or a filter. Ta da!

The magic ratio is 1:4 – four cups water for every cup ground coffee.  The finished cold brew concentrate will be double-strength, so make sure to add equal parts water before you sip.

Learn to make cold brew from a barista!

 

Iced coffee bonus points

• Use good quality coffee! To us, that means organic coffee sourced from small-scale farmers who are paid fairly for their work.

• What specific kind of coffee makes the best iced coffee? Anything you like hot will probably taste good cold. (French Roast fan? Try an iced French Roast. Prefer decaf? Make iced decaf.) That said, our coffee experts enjoy the fruity notes of natural process African coffees like Equal Exchange’s Organic Ethiopian and our special Cold Brew blend.

Read more about natural process coffee.

• Always use fresh filtered water, and make sure the beans you’re using are freshly ground. Your iced coffee will taste better!

• Like it sweet? If you’re using a hot-brewing method, try adding sugar before the coffee is cool. It will dissolve more quickly. If you’re doing cold brew, try adding simple syrup.

• Did you know you can coffee in an ice cube tray to create ice cubes that won’t dilute iced coffee? Genius!

• Utilize the power of science to cool your iced coffee quicker. Use a large container like a pan to create more surface area before putting it in the fridge. Or try a metal vessel to cool your iced coffee – metal conducts heat most efficiently.

 

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Earl Grey Iced Tea with Clouds of Cream

Have you ever tried our fair trade Organic Earl Grey cold? Bergamot oil lends citrus notes to this elegant black tea. Serve it over ice with cream that’s whipped just enough to swirl with the tea in lazy curls. Nothing could be cooler.

Earl grey iced tea with cream
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Earl Grey Iced Tea with Clouds

One lump or two? If you take your tea with sugar, make sure to add it while the tea is hot for the best dissolve.
Course Drinks
Cuisine English
Keyword Cream, Iced Tea
Servings 1

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Brew tea at double strength for 3-5 minutes. Make sure to remove tea bags promptly!
  2. Add sugar or sweetener if desired.
  3. Allow tea to cool in the refrigerator.

  4. Using a whisk or a hand-mixer, beat the cream until it just begins to froth and thicken – before peaks begin to form. Stop!
  5. Pour cooled tea over ice in a tall glass, leaving room at the top.
  6. Spoon in the cream.
  7. Watch in amazement, post on Instagram, etc.
  8. Sip away!

 

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See all our new iced tea recipes!

Coffee Scrub for Face and Body

Why pay for a fancy scrub when you can make one at home using fair trade ingredients?

To make this scrub, we mixed Equal Exchange’s Palestinian Organic Virgin Olive Oil and ground Organic Coffee (both known for the antioxidents they contain) with brown sugar (for exfoliation).  For little extra tingle, you can add a few drops of tea tree oil, too.

 

Coffee Scrub Proportions:

  • 1/3 cup ground coffee
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1-2 drops tea tree oil (optional)

 

A bowl of ground coffee and sugar sit next to a measuring cup of oil and some measuring spoons.

Instructions:

  1. Mix coffee and sugar.
  2. Stir in olive oil and tea tree oil to form a paste.
  3. Get your skin wet and apply the scrub to your face or body. Rub it in, using a gentle circular motion. (Sensitive skin? Test your scrub on a small patch of skin first.)
  4. Rinse well with cool water. Ahh!

 

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Sun Tea

Here comes the sun! On a hot day, it’s easy to make a refreshing beverage from fair trade and organic tea without turning on your stove, as long as you don’t mind waiting. Tea leaves will impart their flavor to water at any temperature – and a blast of sunshine speeds up the process. It’s so simple, we hesitate to even call this a recipe, but here goes:

 

 

a pitcher of tea and a cup
5 from 1 vote
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Sun Tea

This tea can be made with your favorite variety of organic black, green or herbal tea.

Course Drinks
Servings 16

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon cool, filtered water
  • 8 bags organic tea
  • simple syrup, honey or agave
  • lemon, desired
  • ice

Instructions

  1. Fill pitcher or gallon-size canning jar with water.

  2. Add eight teabags and leave in the sun to steep.

  3. Wait 2-3 hours, until the tea is the color you prefer.

  4. Sweeten with simple syrup, honey or agave and add lemon.

  5. Serve over ice.

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Decaf Coffee: We Remove Caffeine, Not Flavor

Experimenting with ways to eliminate those too-much-coffee jitters or sleep better at night? You don’t necessarily need to give up coffee. Decaf can be a satisfying substitute — especially when you choose a decaf made through an all-natural process that leaves the flavor intact.

 

What is Caffeine, Anyway?

Go-juice. Caffeine fix. Jolt of joe. Day-starter. Jet fuel. All these nicknames for a cup of coffee refer to properties that come from caffeine. But what is caffeine? It’s a substance that naturally occurs in coffee beans — likely the reason why humans domesticated the coffee plant in the first place. Speaking more precisely, caffeine is an organic compound, a stimulant chemically derived from xanthine. It temporarily blocks adenosine receptors in the brain and stimulates parts of the central nervous system.

So, caffeine is a drug — a legal and popular one. It wakes you up, makes you feel more alert. It keeps you up, staving off drowsiness. But what if you don’t want that?

If you’re trying to cut out caffeine, one option would be to simply stop drinking coffee.  But if you’ve come to truly love the taste and smell of coffee, the way I do? If you appreciate the feel of a warm mug in the hand? If you look forward to the morning ritual of brewing a pot at home or sipping a cup in a cafe with a friend? Well, quitting can be hard to do.

A better option: you could switch to decaf.

 

Why Try Decaf? (Or the True Story of a New Decaf Drinker)

Decaf gets a bad rap. Before I ever tried it, I heard lots of negative things about how it tasted. But when I decided to switch to decaf, I was pleasantly surprised. True confession time: I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between my old regular coffee and the new decaf varieties I tried.

One explanation for this is that the decaf I was drinking was high-quality coffee — 100% organic Arabica beans, sourced from farmer co-ops in direct trading relationships. It had been roasted by people who really knew what they were doing and it was freshly ground. The all-natural decaffeination process probably also helped. Still, I was surprised how little I missed what I’d always thought was an essential component to coffee.

When you think about it, though, there are all kinds of ways we modify our coffee already. Many people add milk or sweeteners or both. We serve it over ice. We experiment with different brewing methods. And we all have different sensory equipment — different taste buds, different receptors. Why not give decaf a spin and see what YOU think?

Shop Decaf >>

 

Equal Exchange’s Decaffeination Process

Equal Exchange’s decaf coffee is decaffeinated with a process called CR3 Natural Liquid Carbon Dioxide Decaffeination, first patented in Germany in 1970. Here’s how it works:

  1. Unroasted (green) coffee beans are moistened with water and pressurized in a chamber with liquid carbon dioxide, which draws the caffeine out of the bean.
  2. The CO2 is circulated through an evaporator to separate the caffeine from the CO2.
  3. The CO2 is then recondensed and recirculated through the coffee. This cycle repeats until the decaffeination is complete.
  4. The coffee is dried to return it to its original moisture content.

The use of carbon dioxide and water poses no risk to your health (think of carbonated water – it contains the same natural liquid carbon dioxide). This process removes 99.9% of the caffeine, yet leaves the bean and its natural oils intact.. These are the two reasons why Equal Exchange switched from offering Swiss Water Process in 1996 to the CO2 process — more caffeine is removed and the taste is fantastic!

 

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Terri’s Pasta Salad

This savory staple is great for picnics, barbecues, or an easy dinner on a warm night. Stop yourself from eating it all in one sitting — we think it tastes even better the next day.

 

a bowl of pasta salad with vegelables sits on a wooden table next to a fork
4.5 from 4 votes
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Terri's Pasta Salad

This is the best version of the classic American pasta salad we've ever had. We used fair trade Organic Olive Oil from our partners at PARC in the West Bank in the dressing.

Course Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 1 lb short pasta, like radiatori
  • 4 pieces bacon
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1/2 red onion
  • salt to taste

Dressing

  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/8 cup grated parmesan or other hard cheese
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • salt to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Boil the pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain and allow to cool.

  2. Cook bacon until crisp, then chop.

  3. Quarter tomatoes and slice cucumber.

  4. Dice onion into tiny pieces. Soak in cold water to reduce its bite. Drain well.

  5. Mix pasta with vegetables and bacon. Salt to taste.

  6. Blend all dressing ingredients and toss with pasta. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

Eggplant Boats with Pomegranate

In this Mediterranean-inspired recipe, smokey roasted eggplant pairs perfectly with a tart, creamy sauce while the sweetness of pomegranate seeds bursts on the tongue.

It’s a beautiful dish, too —  testers here were in such a rush to eat, we had trouble snapping a pic that did it justice! Maybe you can do better …

Roasted eggplants topped with creamy sauce and bright pomegranate seeds
5 from 1 vote
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Eggplant Boats with Pomegranate

We used fair trade olive oil from our partners in the West Bank to roast the eggplants. We also mixed it into the sauce. Za'atar seasoning and pomegranate seeds set this vegetarian side dish apart from the pack.

Course Side Dish
Cuisine Mediterranean, Middle Eastern
Keyword Eggplant, Olive Oil, Pomegranate, za'atar
Servings 4

Ingredients

Roasted eggplant:

  • 2 eggplants
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small garlic clove crushed
  • Pinch of salt

Garnish:

  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 tsp za'atar

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

  2. Slice eggplant in half lengthwise, then score each half with a sharp knife in a diamond pattern.
  3. Brush eggplant halves with olive oil and lay, skin side down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper.
  4. Roast for 35-40 minutes until flesh is soft and beginning to brown. Allow to cool. (Having a cookout? Grill the eggplants instead!)
  5. While eggplants are in the oven or on the grill, remove the seeds from pomegranate. Stir together all sauce ingredients.
  6. Spoon a generous amount of sauce over each cooled eggplant half. Sprinkle with za-atar and pomegranate seeds and an extra drizzle of olive oil.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi.

 

Episode 4: Farmers Sharing Knowledge for Better Chocolate — and Better Outcomes

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Episode Transcript

Intro: 0:02 Everyday grocery store items like bananas, chocolate, coffee, these are global commodities. They pass through a lot of people’s hands on their way from the fields to your grocery cart. This is the stories behind our food podcast, the podcast where expert guests share insider knowledge about every step along the process. I’m Danielle Robidoux and I’m Kate Chess. And we’re your hosts.

Kate: 0:28 Danielle and I are here today with Cristina Liberati, who administers grants that support farmer cooperatives as they improve their quality, productivity and financial stability. Cristina deals with an astonishing variety of people, small scale farmers in a number of countries, plus agronomists, tasting professionals, folks who work for the u s government and more. And all of these people are working toward the same goals. Let’s hear more about how that works. Thanks for joining us, Cristina. Thanks for having me. Your job is clearly very complicated. How would you explain to a stranger what it is that you do for a living?

Cristina: 1:03 Well, I’ll start with my job title. I am the grant projects manager at equal exchange. So, what is the grant projects manager do at equal exchange? There’s really kind of two scenarios. One of them is your average come to the office, write emails, the usual have meetings. The other scenario is I’m in the field visiting with farmer cooperatives and, supporting educational workshops or giving workshops. All of this is related to managing this grant project that we have.

Kate: 1:39 Can you tell us about the scope of the grant?

Cristina: 1:42 Yes. So it’s actually, we, we have in the past had more than one grant, but the one that I’m referring to mainly is the USAID. So that’s the U S agency for International Development Cooperative Development Program. So it’s a multi year project where we applied for funding to do special projects with our farmer cooperative partners in three countries originally, Ecuador, Peru and Dominican Republic. And we work on lots of different activities related to strengthening our cooperative partners.

Kate: 2:21 Is there anyone else involved in this besides equal exchange?

Cristina: 2:29 So USA ID has many different funds. One of them being the cooperative development program. And within the cooperative development program we were one of nine, grantees. So some of the other grantees include the land o’ Lakes International Development Program. Another group called National Cooperative Business Association, specifically their arm that does is international projects called Clusa.

Kate: 2:57 Cool. Yeah, that sounds like so much. It’s kind of hard to wrap my mind around. What is it like, I guess we can all imagine sitting in an office and answering emails. Some of us might do that ourselves, but what’s it really like? Can you describe what it, what it’s like when you’re visiting producers in Ecuador or Peru?

Cristina: 3:17 Sure.  well first Ecuador and Peru are, are fairly different, but sure. Yeah. My mainly in a project activity would involve, you know, flying down there and that always takes longer than, and then you’d like to thank, but oh, depending on where you’re going, I’ll take one or two days to get to your destination. At this point, you know, we’ve had such great relationships with our cooperatives that we can kind of call them up and say, I’m arriving at the airport at this time. Will you come pick me up? And they’re great about that. Usually pick us up, we’d go visit the offices of the cooperative and say hello. And, and one thing you kind of forget when you work in a US based office is physical contact is almost uh, discouraged. But if you go to Latin America and you are saying hello to someone, especially if you haven’t seen them for a long time and you don’t do the kiss on the cheek, it’s actually offensive. So there’s a lot of kisses and hellos. And how are you and this time of year happy new year, happy new year old lasts at least to like February.

Cristina: 4:30 Usually there’s some kind of meetings scheduled. If, they have a processing plant. Say if I’m going to visit NORANDINO in northern Peru, they have a coffee processing plant. We usually kind of tour the plant a little bit or do a little walk around as things change. We’ve worked on project activities to implement, you know, kind of new kinds of laboratory equipment in, in a co op like Nora and you know, and so want to see how it’s working, chat with staff about how it’s going, say hello to folks and then sit down and have meetings specifically around what was your work plan for the project this year, how’s it going, how can we support you? Is there anything we need to troubleshoot? Then you usually go for a nice leisurely lunch, uh, in a place like, uh, where NORANDINO is Savi Che is the most popular lunch and you know, that’s also, it’s a working lunch. You kind of continue to update each other on what’s going on. We try to provide as much information as we can about what’s happening on the u s market side or with equal exchange changes that are happening here.

Cristina: 5:40 And then, I’ll oftentimes you will have a field visit either the same day or the following day where you go visit with individual farmers. And again, it’s part of, it’s just going there and sitting and having a chat. And some facetime and  you know, accepting graciously whatever find beverage they offer you. In Peru, sometimes it’s Chicho, which is a fermented corn drink.

Cristina: 6:09 I was recently in Paraguay and they offered us ted today, which is a kind of herbal concoction that they serve cold and you drink through a straw. But the generosity of our farmer partners is always astounds me and they’ll, they will give you anything they have and a lot of times they have beautiful fruits and things from the farm that they offer you as well. And then you know, if we implemented specific project activities with that farmer, we talk about that, you know, if they tried, uh, you know, a new Pr, uh, compost or went to a workshop around how to improve their pest management of the bugs that were eating their crops. So we, you know, we talk about that and how, how it went and what they, what suggestions they might have. So that’s, that’s in a nutshell that, that could repeat itself over a couple of days. And sometimes I go and we do workshops. If we’re workshop coming up in Peru to train more people in a capitalization, education program curriculum that we have so that we can offer that education program to more cooperatives in the future.

Kate: 7:28 That’s such a great picture of a sort of daily process of what this might be like. Thanks for that.  Just like as a basic 101, what is a producer co-op in the context of Latin America?

Cristina: 7:42 Yeah, so again, Latin America is pretty large and produce our co op could mean a lot of things. My experience is mainly with coffee and get cow small farmer, producer, co-ops in Peru and Ecuador and Dominican Republic. So but given that, I think there are some generalizations we can make, the most essential function that these cooperatives provide is purchasing the raw product that the farmers are producing.

Cristina: 8:12 And a lot of times they’re aggregating it and providing a service of a postharvest processing they call it. So taking the raw product and turning it into a semi-finished product for export. So in the case of cacao for example, it needs to be fermented and then dried. And often you have better quality control and if you do that for many farmers at once versus the farmers doing individually. So the co op serves that function and also they’re the ones out there looking for international markets and clients and you know they serve as the face of the farmers in the kind of international market at the same also they invest some money back into the co ops and services for the farmers. Sometimes that takes the form of like a health campaign where they have an optimologist come and fit people for eyeglasses and or a lot of times it involves them hiring a agricultural technicians to go and support the work on the farms on a daily basis. Just those are just some small examples.

Danielle: 9:24 I have a question specifically on scale and how big some of these cooperatives are. I know you work in a few different countries and kind of what’s the range of how many families are in each cooperative. And I don’t know if you have any opinions on like is there a too big or what’s like the right size for how many family farms are in the cooperative? What your thoughts are on that?

Cristina: 9:51 Yeah, it’s a really interesting question. I work with cooperatives that range from a couple hundred producers up to almost 10,000. Wow. And there are, it’s a big one, although in, you know, there’s a cacao co op in Ghana that has I think something like 80,000 members, I mean massive. So it makes, uh, some of the 10,000 member Coopa Look, look small. I wouldn’t say that there’s a right or wrong answer here. I think that each scenario provides different challenges and also different benefits. So when you’re really small, oftentimes the cooperative is like a tight knit family for better or for worse. Right. So, yeah, and it makes sense like if you love your family, but you need a little space from them sometimes. And in those scenarios, often if you are introducing a new technology or a new idea, it’ll be adopted by everyone pretty quickly. And that’s, as long as it’s a good piece of information, that’s a good thing. On the other hand, there can be a lot of infighting and politics that the organizations don’t always mature to the level where they can handle that. And so I think you have a lot of vulnerability at that size sometimes. They also, you know, might not be able to access the same kind of markets that a larger co-op would because they just aren’t producing at a scale that some clients find efficient to buy from.

Cristina: 11:28 But you know, there are successful co-ops at every size, I think. And the larger co-ops you’re able to, they often develop into multifunctional businesses. So they’ll have an arm that does part raw processing. Like they might have a factory where they turn the cacao into cacao powder. They might have their own bank or credit union that serves the members, but also the rest of the community. The challenge with those large cooperatives I’ve seen is they often lose contact with their membership. And so that’s risky. Also, it’s sort of the opposite of a tight-knit family. You just have this loose aggregation of folks that it doesn’t really matter to them that they are a member of this particular co-op. It’s just the one that’s everywhere, you know, it doesn’t feel personal anymore. Yes. Yeah, yeah. To talk about individual farms now, the farms that make up these are the farmers that make up these producer co-ops.

Kate: 12:27 One of the aims of this program, it sounds like focuses on quality. What our issues are about quality when we’re talking about organic farming.

Cristina: 12:38  Yeah. I think issues with quality can range from organic to nonorganic. some of the challenges specifically with quality for organic farmers are they can’t use the same chemicals to combat like insects and different diseases that, conventional farmers are able to access. And so sometimes they can be much more success susceptible to those things and that will, of course, affect your quality and your productivity. On the flip side, I think organic farmers tend to have more diversity of, of product and of, uh, crops within their farm. And that from a flavor perspective and a variety of perspective is usually a benefit. And so, you know, I work in part in,it’s kind of like the specialty good cacao, area and you have more diversity and interesting flavors that can come from organic farms usually then it conventional farm in. That’s a generalization.

Kate: 13:54 When you say diversity, you mean like they might be planting more than one variety will have this of cacao or different kinds of things other than cacao as well or both?

Cristina: 14:03 Yeah. And cacao has thousands upon thousands of varieties and it’s one of the most complex foods on earth in terms of variety of flavors. There’s like 6,000 aromatic compounds. Weight might be 600 beyond that a lot. Yeah. I’m, it’s up there with wine and coffee and those other products that people really like to save her and look for a flavor notes and having a different varieties of cacao on one farm can give you more complexity of flavor and also other crops are going to interact and, have an impact on what people call sometimes terroir, which is the taste of a place or a unique flavor of a product.

Kate: 14:53 I’ve heard that before. Referring to other kinds of products like wine. What is … are farmers … Is this sort of coincidence or is it something farmers are deliberately working to develop?

Cristina: 15:06 Often it’s just a circumstance. You know, you inherit a farm that’s got a mess of varieties and it can be a challenge because if you don’t know, you know, what those, what the potential is of those varieties. It, you know, what good is it to you. And also in terms of farm management, sometimes the trees aren’t planted in rows. They’re just kind of scattered all over the place. They’ve been pollinated by who knows what. And you have, you don’t know exactly what varieties you have. So it can be messy, but if you know what you’re doing, you can really benefit from, from that diversity and complexity

Kate: 15:51 People on the consumer end. And certainly, people in the middle, people who are buying these commodities have sophisticated ideas about what qualities are desirable or what tastes delicious or what can get the most money. Are Farmers included in those conversations.?

Cristina: 16:43 We talked a little bit about wine a second ago and that is, is a crop where farmers are very often included in those conversations. The products that equal exchange works with and as of yet we don’t work with wine but someday maybe. Yeah. Here’s to that! The answer is no. Farmers aren’t always included in those conversations. I’d take, coffee has come a really long way in that aspect and Equal Exchange was really a pioneer in that movement to include farmer’s in conversations about quality. And my office mate is the green coffee buyer and she was just looking at hundreds of reports of quality analysis that they’ve done in our lab here that she’s bringing down to Peru to talk to the farmers. About next week. So this is very much an ongoing thing. And in it’s been a lot slower, that development, but it’s happening now and I’d like to think our project has played some part in that.

Kate: 17:17 Yeah. What are, what are the advantages, just to break it down, why would a farmer who’s really good at growing plants need to know how the finished product is gonna Taste?

Cristina: 17:28 So a product like cacao is the prices generally determined by the New York Stock Exchange and not by the quality of the product that they’re offering. And having some knowledge about the quality of your product gives you a voice and power in negotiations around its value in a way that many farmers typically have not been included in before or given before.

Kate: 18:00 So how does it work? How do they, how do they get included?

Cristina: 18:05 Good question. Yeah, I think, first and foremost starting to ask the question, you know, oh, I didn’t know I could, you know, that there was more than one price for cacao. Our work has focused on in the project, really collaborating with some of the star co-ops in our supply chain who had already made some advances in this area too. Generally work at the Co-op level, but we worked with TCho chocolate in San Francisco to, uh, install little mini-factories, which we call the TCho calls, flavor labs at the cooperatives so that they can process small amounts of the Ra or the fermented and dried cow beans into chocolate or with or without sugar. That’s the way that most chocolate makers evaluate the quality of a product and make decisions about whether or not to buy. But many farmers had never even tasted their own beans and chocolate form. And so,

Kate: 19:07 wow. I just want to stop and think about that. That’s crazy.

Cristina: 19:11 Yeah, it’s a, it is a little bit mind-blowing, you know. So just even the gotten of leveling the playing field with the tools that are available was, was a huge step. And then from there it’s really sitting down at, at the table and tasting together and Cho and equal exchange. And our farmer producers got together a few times a year and we’re tasting chocolate or unsweetened chocolate together and trying to see if we were coming up with similar flavor characteristics and qualities and from there developing written documents that would help people speak the same language when they were discussing their results. So we worked together on a tasting form for Cocoa. And you know, related things to help people have, have a universal tool to look at and speak the same language. Yeah, that’s really inspiring. It’s easy to see how that can make a big difference.

Danielle: 20:20 Can I ask one question, thinking about some farmers for the first time tasting their own chocolate, is there any kind of funny experience that you can think of a reaction to that and you know, folks being excited or, wow, I didn’t know that, you know, when I was growing, could, you know how it tasted? I don’t know. I’m just interested in that like kind of reaction that they might’ve had to taste their own chocolate for the first time. It seems like it could really cool.

Cristina: 20:48 Yeah. You know it’s really fun, but in fun in the way that looking, I’ve, I’ve been, I’ve been a participant in tastings like this also, but often what we would advise the coops to do, or they came up with this idea on their own was create a chocolate and unsweetened chocolate made from beans that were processed really badly and one that was processed really well. And right away the farmers can tell the difference in the flavor and the quality of off, you know, uh, fermentation changes the flavor dramatically and it reduces the bitterness and the stringency of the cacao. And so if you don’t ferment properly, you taste that right away and you just want to spit it out. So and on the other hand, it really good, good cow. That is the process. Well, even without sugar is going to taste really nice. And so I’ve, I’ve been at workshops where they offer, you know, kind of a good example and a bad example, but they don’t tell you. And the faces on the of the participants are just kind of priceless. And I, yeah, I’ve seen that many times. It’s, to be honest, but it’s a, it’s a really great educational tool and I know that some of the farmer co-op quality managers have taken the beans from a particular farmer back to that farmer and said, you know how you’re harvesting all those underwrite pods. Yeah, here’s what you’re giving us and we can’t sell this to clients or we get penalized for it. And once they taste it, they understand.

Danielle: 22:33 Kind of going off of that in regards to this project, how much of it is kind of producer-led? And do you kind of feel as though small scale farmers are either represented underrepresented and the scope of this and what are your thoughts on that?

Cristina: 22:56 Yeah, you know, it occasionally we get together with other grantees from the cooperative development program and every time we go to these meetings, people are kind of astonished by the, by the way, our project seems to work and I’m always astonished by the way their projects work. But they’re like, you give the money directly to the co-ops and then they do the work. I’m like, what are you doing? This is the cooperative development program. A lot of them work through third parties or consultants to deliver services to the Co-op, but never deposit the money directly to the ops themselves.

Cristina: 23:38 But I think we have the advantage of working with co-ops that are developed to the point where they’re able to export. I mean they’re, they’re fairly sophisticated in the world and the co-op world. Yeah. But we also trust them and they, you know, we have the good fortune of them often trusting us. And so we establish a very clear work plan in a very clear budget. And then we make deposits and then they have to send us receipts on all those deposits. And if they don’t, they don’t get another disbursement. They also know that it, that their performance on the grant affects the commercial relationship and our, you know, if they do really poorly on the grant, it’s not going to necessarily damage the commercial relationship, but it’s not gonna improve it either. So we, we don’t, we don’t, uh, use one to leverage the other and that’s not what I’m trying to say, but it’s, it’s like engaging with a family member on a business project.

Kate: 24:36 If one thing goes poorly than the other one, it’d be awkward at Thanksgiving.

Cristina: 24:39 Right, exactly. Yes. Well spoken. And so I think, I don’t know if that answers your question, but it’s, I would say yes, it’s, it’s very much producer led in the design and the execution and the ownership. And One, one statistic I can give you, cause we were just evaluating our project, is I don’t know many times when people look at what charity to donate to, they look at how much goes to overhead. And I actually calculated that equal exchange has taken of 100% of the funds available to us, 3% to execute this project. And 97% of the funds went directly to the co-ops or services that directly benefited the co-ops. And so I think that’s pretty good. Yeah.

Danielle: 25:39 Yeah. I just, just ask that question and I have an international relations background and a lot of times that would be something that folks were concerned about. People just kind of going in and having their perspective telling people how to do things, but having a different energy around it saying, no, actually, you know, this, it’s important for the involvement to be produced led and having feeling that feeling of ownership and control over your own projects and that changes the energy behind it to me. But

Kate: 26:08 yeah, you also alluded to the fact that we’re talking about very different countries here. Something that’s going on in Peru with, you know, cacao is going to be different from something that’s going on in the Dominican Republic. Do people in the cooperatives decide what’s important for their specific group?

Cristina: 26:29 Yeah. I mean it’s kind of a balance, right? Sometimes you learn about something that’s going really well and you want to be able to share that with, with a cooperative that’s having a different challenge, even if they’re in a different space. But it, wherever possible, we try to have the producers tell those stories directly to other producers rather than saying, well in, you know, use Becca, Stan, I saw they did this and you should try this. You know, it’s, it’s very different than bringing someone from Uzbekistan together with someone from Honduras to share that experience.

Kate: 27:04 Yeah, cut out the middleman.

Cristina: 27:05 Yeah. Well, and it just, it has more impact if it, if you hear it from someone who you can relate to in their experience and goodness knows they don’t grow any cacao in Uzbekistan.

Kate: 27:16 Yet.

Cristina: 27:17 But that said like producer co-ops around the world, tend to face some similar challenges or I mean, and we even find we have similar challenges as Equal Exchange. The worker co-op with some of our producer co-op partners. Like, how do you get people to run for the board? How do you get them educated to run for the board? This is a question that I see here and we were just talking about it today actually. And it, I’ll be talking about it with a producer co-op, the Banana Co-op in Peru that I’m visiting next week. Same problem.

Kate: 27:49 That’s great. Yeah.

Danielle: 27:50 Yeah. Even thinking about having a cooperative that are geographically dispersed and trying to still honor that connection of the members together and how that can be more challenging as cooperatives grow. And I know that’s a problem. And that equal exchange has that, you know, you would kind of alluded to before talking about the different scale of the

Kate: 28:11 yeah. Big Cops that don’t see each other that much, where farmers might feel isolated or less connected. Makes Sense. Yeah. Yeah. Can you talk about information sharing that seems to be an ethos of this program?

Cristina: 28:23 Yeah, I would say it’s an ethos of equal exchange to I and I, my colleague Beth Ann Casperson, who I think did a previous podcast, which everyone should listen to, is really, such a proponent of this and you know, in the coffee world, equal exchange has shared a lot of information about how we roast or how we work with our partner co-ops. And that philosophy I think works its way into many things that we do include this project. And so one area I already highlighted was trying to have producers share information with other producers. So we organized over 15 different coop exchanges through the previous project, bringing together all of the representatives from all of the cops in their project to talk about specific issues related to quality productivity or financial management of the co-ops .

Danielle: 29:20 And kind of thinking, taking a step back, thinking about a timeline. And you know, originally the project was supposed to be five years and it’s kind of had three extensions, right? So that’s a huge difference in longevity and creating a longterm relationship. How have you been because of these extensions? How have you been able to see some of the, of the project directly?

Kate: 29:44 And if I can jump in, what’s next?

Cristina: 29:46 Yeah, sure. the, the extensions of time, we’re kind of a blessing and a curse. I mean you, when you think you plan for a five-year project and then it turns into eight, sometimes you’re running out of ideas or you know, it’s at what point do your teammates from other cops go and work on other things. But on the plus side, I would say, you know, trees take a long time to grow. So I’m, and cacao trees planted from seed, we’ll take about five years to mature and eve if, so, if you start right away on a productivity project, you may or may not see the results at the end of your project term. And this project has allowed us to really see some of those developments in productivity. You know, we did a bunch of what they call model farms.

Cristina: 30:39 So you know, kind of demonstrative farms within certain areas of the Co-op that do all of the improvements to the farm and they are supposed to serve as, as a model for their neighbors at those, model farms. The productivity went up by, you know, on average in some places like 496%. Wow. And so being able to see that is really satisfying and then you’re able to really share that knowledge. And, and I think with this extension of time, we’ve been able to much more kind of systematically and intentionally create records and tools that we can then use going forward. And that hopefully, you know, in the spirit of sharing are available on a wide scale to whoever finds them useful. All of these are products that we’ve created or tools, resources are actually on the equal exchange website. So feel free to check out the cooperative development page —

Kate: 31:43 –if you’re planning to start a cacao farm yeah.

Cristina: 31:46 Or you want to learn how to taste chocolate.

Kate: 31:49 Yeah, all right. You’re speaking my language. Yeah, yeah.

Cristina: 31:52 And what’s next?  Equal Exchange applied for and received funding for another cooperative development project that started in 2018 and we’ll go to her until 2023 or 2026 or who knows how many extents. Yeah. Yeah. That has to do with the government not knowing how much money to allocate at a particular time. Something that the shutdown is highlighting. Maybe they could use some financial management training.

Kate: 32:23 Great. Thank you so much, Cristina. You’ve been awesome. It’s really fun to talk with you and learn about what is going on.

Danielle: 32:32 Yeah. Thanks for chatting so much.

Kate: 32:37 Thanks for listening to the stories behind our food. A podcast by equal exchange, inc a worker owned cooperative. Love this episode. Please subscribe rate and leave a review. Be sure to visit equal exchange.co op to join the conversation, purchase products and learn more about small scale farmers and the global supply chain. This episode was produced by equal exchange with hosts, Kate Chess and Danielle Robidoux sound engineering provided by Gary Goodman. Join us next time for another edition of the stories behind our food.

Natural Process Coffee

Have you ever tried natural process coffee? If you have, you probably noticed a difference! Known as “naturals” in the specialty coffee industry, these coffees impart a heavy, expansive mouthfeel and flavor notes that are fruity and complex. Equal Exchange now offers natural process coffee — and fans of this style are devoted. But what makes naturals so distinct?

 

Drying Coffee with the Natural Process

Coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee plant. Like other seeds, they’re found within the fruit. In coffee-growing regions around the world, farmers wait for this fruit to ripen. Once the sugars are fully developed and the cherries are mature, it’s time to harvest them from the bushes where they grow. But what happens next? That depends.

Hundreds of small round coffee cherries are gathered on a cloth
These coffee cherries have just been harvested in Honduras.

 

Often, farmers remove the pulp that surrounds the seeds. Because this is commonly done with water, the method is called wet processing. But in some cases, the de-pulping step is skipped entirely. The coffee bean is processed within its cherry. The result is dry-processed – or natural-processed – coffee.

After farmers harvest the cherries, they spread them out on raised drying beds or bamboo mats to dry, with the beans still inside the fruit. The flesh shrinks down, making the beans resemble large raisins. They lose moisture over the course of the drying period, creating a dense sweetness. The process may sounds simple, but it takes skill. Workers must carefully remove unripe or defective beans by hand. They must also turn the coffee cherries regularly so that they dry evenly in the sun. Once drying is complete, which can take anywhere from twelve days to three weeks, beans are put through a hulling machine. This removes the dried pulp, parchment and silverskin. The green beans are now ready to be roasted.

Natural process coffee fruit dries in the sun on raised platforms
Ethiopian coffee farmers dry their beans as part of the natural process.

Environmentally Friendly – and Innovative

Natural processing is the most environmentally friendly method of processing coffee. Unlike with wet processing methods, there is no wastewater that must be evaporated in soak pits or filtered before it can be safely returned to rivers and streams. And when access to water is limited, as it is in many parts of the world, natural processing is especially practical. It makes sense that this method is very common in Ethiopia, where the coffee plant originated!  Equal Exchange works with small-scale farmer partners at SCFCU, located in the Sidama region of the country, to source the natural process beans we use in our popular Organic Ethiopian coffee.

The success of the dry-processing method in Ethiopia has encouraged coffee farmers in other parts of the world to turn to natural process coffee, too. Experimenting with processing is a one way to improve quality. Farmers at the COMSA co-op in Honduras are leaders in innovation. They’ve discovered that beans from the same lot can sometimes garner a higher score on the Specialty Coffee Associations of America’s 100-point scale when processed naturally, as opposed to with the wet process. COMSA’s willingness to try new things and their commitment to quality results in a final product that tastes phenomenal! In Fall 2018, a limited-edition seasonal in Equal Exchange’s Women in Coffee series featured natural-processed beans from COMSA.

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A group of twenty five people pose together under tropical trees.
A group of coffee farmers with their families and EE visitors at COMSA in Honduras.

Super-Savory Snack Mix

Party animals won’t be able to stop reaching for this snack on game day — it’s tangy, salty and a little spicy!

 

A close up of a snack mix containing fair trade nuts
5 from 1 vote
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Super-Savory Snack Mix

A twist on an old favorite, using fair trade cashews and almonds, this mix pairs well with iced tea or ice cold beer!
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Keyword Nuts
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 6

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 250.
  2. Melt butter on stovetop or in microwave.
  3. Pour into a large bowl, stirring in sesame oil, hot sauce and soy sauce. Add the spices, tasting and adjusting to suit your preferences.
  4. Break pita chips into bite-sized bits.
  5. Add pita chips, nuts and popcorn and stir to coat everything with the butter mixture. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet.
  6. Bake 10 minutes, stir, then bake another 10 minutes.

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Hot Chocolate Bar With Toppings!

Winter days and bad weather mean … hot chocolate season! Share a steaming cup of cocoa with friends, dressed up with custom toppings. Line up your favorite fixings and gather a group for a DIY hot chocolate bar. This is a fun, hands-on activity —  and an effective way to raise money or raise awareness. We’ll show you how!

 

First, you’ll need the cocoa!

You can’t have a roof without a foundation. And you can’t have toppings without a good cup of hot chocolate! Mix up one huge batch of cocoa for everyone, keeping it warm in a carafe or thermos. Or give each person the opportunity to pair their own dairy or plant-based milk with the cocoa of their choice.

Milk, soy miilk, almond milk and pother options

Equal Exchange offers a variety of amazing organic and fair trade cocoa options. Traditional Hot Cocoa keeps it super-simple, with powdered milk from Organic Valley right in the canister. This simple mix can be stirred with hot water for instant satisfaction. Looking for more adventure — or a dairy-free option? Our Spicy Hot Cocoa adds a touch of cayenne and cinnamon for a Mexican-inspired kick. And our special Dark Hot Chocolate includes shaved chocolate as well as cocoa for double the rich, chocolatey goodness. These two are Vegan and contain no dairy ingredients. Prepare them with skim, whole, soy, almond — whatever you like best.

For a truly gourmet experience, you can mix up hot chocolate from scratch, the European way. Just combine one tablespoon of Organic Baking Cocoa with 8oz of heated milk and a sweetener like sugar, honey, or agave, and blend it all together. Or try this decadent recipe for Rosemary Drinking Chocolate that calls for baking cocoa and chopped chocolate. Yum!

cups and organic hot chocolate

Set Up Your Hot Chocolate Bar

Here are some set-up ideas for your Hot Chocolate Bar. Ask members of your group to bring in mugs and arrange them all at one end of a long table. Then, line up toppings in low dishes or clear jars, so everyone can see what’s up for grabs and add what they like. Don’t forget serving spoons — and something to stir with.  Make sure to label the toppings, including allergen information for safety.  If different people are bringing in toppings, you might want blank labels and pens. This activity can get messy, so we recommend a tablecloth and napkins.

Cocoa Topping Inspiration

What will you put in your cup? Think outside the box! Once you’ve heated up the cocoa — one serving at a time or in batches — and poured it into people’s mugs, give them lots of treats to choose from.

a linke of toppings in jars

SWEET: marshmallows, fluff, candy hearts, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, sprinkles, candy canes, truffles, shaved or crushed chocolate bars (try our top picks, Dark Chocolate Mint Crunch or Dark Chocolate Orange), ice cream, whipped cream

SAVORY: pretzels, sea salt (or perhaps a Caramel Crunch and Sea Salt chocolate bar in Milk or Dark), peanut butter topping, peanuts, almonds, coconut shavings, churros, waffle bits

SPICY: Cinnamon sticks, peppermint sticks, peppermint drops, candied ginger, shakers of ground cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg or allspice

ADULTS ONLY: Try spiking your cocoa with a shot of whiskey, rum, or the flavored liqueur of your choice. Or add in fresh-brewed fair trade coffee — our favorite thing!

Make This Work For Your Group, Cause or Event!

A hot chocolate bar is truly DIY and customizable. We think it’s a great activity for people of any age who like to have fun together — whether you’re a scout troop, an underground dance collective, a book club or a religious study group! DIY cocoa is also fun for parties and class celebrations. Just make sure to provide appropriate toppings for the size and tastes of your group.

A hot cocoa bar with finished cups of cocoa

Maybe you’d like to raise some money for a local charity, a school trip, an adoption or medical fundraiser, or some other good cause. This is a great way to do that! Ask for a donation for each cup of cocoa. Make sure it’s enough to cover the cost of the toppings — we recommend $2-3 a cup. Earn even more cash by ordering Equal Exchange cocoa at low wholesale case prices and selling it to folks for home use. We find people are willing to pay $7-8 per canister — a markup from the $5.30 per canister cost — when they know the profits are dedicated to a worthy purpose. (Especially once they’ve experienced how delicious it is!) This is called a table sale. Learn more about how do run one here.

Stacked of cocoa cans with a sign pricing them at $7 each

A hot chocolate bar is attention-grabbing and fun. So it’s a perfect way to get attention for an upcoming event. Invite your supporters over for some cocoa and tell them about the concert or book launch you’re planning. Combine it with an informal training or use it as an icebreaker at a meeting. Planning to run an Equal Exchange catalog fundraiser? Kick off your campaign with a hot cocoa bar — use it as an opportunity to let potential supporters taste the great fair trade products you’ll be selling.

toppings with a sign that says "try before you buy"


 

Ideas we didn’t cover?

We’d love to hear from you! If you tried this, let us know how it went. We’ll share our favorite pictures and tips on social media.

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A Holiday Party Around the World

As the days get shorter in the northern hemisphere and the winter solstice draws near, people all over are gathering close to share food, burn candles, and celebrate. Equal Exchange works with producer groups on four continents — and our coworkers here in the U.S. hail from many different lands, too. We checked in with three Equal Exchange worker-owners to learn about Christmas and New Year holiday traditions in their home countries.

A Peruvian Holiday

Gladys Minaya comes from Peru. There, she says, Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year — a birthday party for the Baby Jesus. They begin preparations with an advent wreath, lighting a new candle on each of the four Sundays before Christmas.

The main celebration takes place on Christmas Eve, when it’s common to attend midnight Mass, Misa de Gallo. Afterward, family members gather at home to eat different kinds of salad, lamb, and desserts. They set up a Nativity and play music for the Baby Jesus, Villancicos de Navidad. To emphasize giving, not receiving, they also collect for people who are less fortunate. On Christmas day, it’s traditional to eat a turkey dinner and visit friends in the neighborhood, bringing cookies!

And after Christmas, on January 6th, they bless their home for the New Year, praying and writing with blessed chalk on the front door of the house C+M+B. This stands for Christ Might Bless and is also is the initials of the traditional Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.

A multi-generational Peruvian family gathers at a holiday table taden with food.
Gladys’s family gets ready to eat a festive meal together. (She must have taken this picture — she’s not in it!)

A German Holiday

Martha Griem was born in the US, but both of her parents are German, so she grew up celebrating German traditions alongside American ones.

December 6th in Germany is Nikolaustag. Before going to bed the night before, children leave their shoes out to be filled with goodies by St. Nikolaus. Sometimes in the days that follow, St. Nikolaus himself will visit a group of neighborhood kids. As he passes out gifts to each girl or boy in front of all the others, he’ll tell them (thanks to intelligence provided by their parents) what they did well that year and what aspects of their behavior need improvement.  Advent calendars and Adventskränze — advent wreaths — are popular ways to count down to the holidays. People decorate their homes with trees and Weihnachtspyramide, spinning wooden carousels powered by candle-heat, depicting nativity figures.

The big celebration — once again — happens on December 24th. Germans share Christmas Eve dinner with neighbors and extended family. Martha’s family eats beef fondue. After the festive meal, the Christ Child personally visits each house! Children are made to hide while the adults meet with him in the living room. He leaves behind presents and sparkly things — glitter or small bells — as evidence for the skeptics.

A 1970s album cover shows three men in a sleigh with snow in their hair.
Merry Christmas from the Flippers — Martha’s family plays this album every year!

A Guatemalan Holiday

Marlon Cifuentes hails from San Felipe Reu on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Just like in Peru and Germany, here it’s also traditional to celebrate on the night of the 24th, a Catholic observance that has become so popular that even the non-religious join in. Guatemalans spend Christmas with siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts uncles and cousins. If you go out with friends beforehand, you’d better be back home for a dinner with your family by the stroke of midnight! Typical foods include tamales, apples, grapes, and perhaps a turkey. They enjoy ponche de frutas, a sweet drink made from fruits and cinnamon — usually non-alcoholic, so the kids can try it, too — and exchange gifts. And they share food with neighbors.

Because the holiday is so family-oriented, Marlon says that it reminds him more of American Thanksgiving than of Christmas. At midnight, you can see and hear fireworks going off everywhere. In small towns, they close off the streets for singing and dancing.

Here in Rhode Island, where he lives now, Marlon usually celebrates with friends. This year, he’ll go to the house of a friend — also a Guatemalan — so they can pretend they’re at home!

A smiling old woman holds her dog in her lap next to lights and holiday decorations.
Gladys’s mother and a canine companion with their Christmas decorations.

¡Feliz Navidad!

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

 


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Warm Up with Maple Almond Squash Risotto!

This risotto, cooked with white wine and chunks of butternut squash, makes for a quick, comforting dinner on chilly days, or a classy side dish that will impress your friends. The sweet and salty maple almond topping provides the perfect crunch. Looking for a new Thanksgiving recipe? You may have found it …

 

 

5 from 2 votes
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Maple Almond Butternut Squash Risotto

Enjoy one of our favorite fall recipes!

Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Italian
Keyword Almonds, Rice, Squash, Wine
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Servings 8

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups arborio rice
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 cup white wine divided
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup Organic Natural Almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • additional pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion and sauté until it softens and begins to brown. Add the butternut squash, the Italian seasoning and 1 tsp salt. Cook for 5 more minutes.

  2. Combine the uncooked rice, the stock, and half of the wine in a 9x13” baking dish or large cast-iron skillet. Add the cooked onion and squash mixture. Without preheating the oven, put the dish inside on a center rack, set the temperature to 400, and allow to bake for 15 minutes. Stir the mixture, return the dish to the oven, and continue to cook for 15 more minutes.

  3. While the risotto bakes, make your maple almonds. Melt butter in a skillet. Add the almonds, the maple syrup and the extra pinch of salt. Stir to coat almonds and allow to toast, then remove them from the skillet promptly. Leave them to cool on a plate or a piece of parchment paper.

  4. Take the risotto dish out of the oven and stir in the parmesan cheese and the rest of the wine. Broil in the oven for five minutes, until it bubbles. Top with the maple almonds.

Buon appetito!

Who Grows Your Chocolate? An Update

You probably already know that cacao is the crop from which cocoa and chocolate are made. West African countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivôire produce most of the world’s cacao. Starting a few years ago, labor abuses in West Africa began to get international attention. You may have heard about poverty wages, unsafe working conditions, the worst forms of child labor and even modern-day slavery. You may have heard that farming practices that damage the environment were common, too. But what’s going on with that now? Have things gotten any better? Let’s take a look at the current state of affairs in the chocolate industry, and what you can do to help.

 

Shop Fair Trade Chocolate Now >>

 

A split cacao pod. Chocolate is made from the dried and fermented seeds of this plant.

Taking the Measure of the Cacao Industry

Every two years, a global consortium of organizations, including Green America, the International Labor Rights Forum and Oxfam, publishes a report called The Cocoa Barometer.  Though minor progress has been made in the industry in recent years, the 2018 Cocoa Barometer doesn’t show much good news on the horizon for cacao farmers. As the executive summary puts it, “If business as usual continues, it will be decades – if ever – before human rights will be respected and environmental protection will be a basis for sustainability in the [cacao] sector.”

Here are some of the biggest challenges:

The price of the crop is currently low and unstable.

Between September 2016 and February 2017, the price of cocoa cratered, dropping from around $3,000 per ton to below $1,900 per ton. Smallholder farmers are most vulnerable to price drops and, without a guaranteed minimum price, they bear all the risks of a volatile market. They can’t afford it! A report by Fairtrade International calculates that farmers in Côte d’Ivôire earn an average income of just $0.78 per day. That’s 37% of what’s considered a living income in rural Côte d’Ivôire.

A map of the countries of West Africa
Map of West Africa by Peter Fitzgerald.

Cocoa still exploits children.

Though growing and harvesting cacao can be hazardous for anyone, the report estimates that in West Africa alone, over 2.1 million children currently perform this work. The 2018 Barometer reports that “not a single company or government is anywhere near reaching the sector-wide objective of the elimination of child labour, and not even near their commitments of a 70% reduction of child labour by 2020.” In fact, the number of young workers has risen in recent years. The report notes that because child labor “is a symptom of deeper problems, it will not be eradicated without tackling systemic poverty.”

Some workers don’t get paid at all.

Financial insecurity can exacerbate the worst form of child labor — slavery. Green America reports that sometimes, farming families “are in such dire means of desperation for the money companies contracted by the chocolate industry promise, that they sell their own children into the illegal and inhumane child labor industry.” The Food Empowerment Project cites Abby Mills, Campaign Director of the International Labor Rights Forum, who says “every research study ever conducted in [Western Africa] shows that there is human trafficking going on, particularly in the Ivory Coast.”

Cacao farming contributes to deforestation in West Africa.

Historically, cacao has been a slash-and-burn crop. But global cacao production has increased fourfold since 1960 and now, more than ninety per cent of the region’s original forests have been destroyed. The Barometer attributes this damage to a combination of “corporate disinterest in the environmental effects of the supply of cheap cocoa, and to an almost completely absent government enforcement of environmentally protected areas.”

 

Individual Decisions Matter

These problems are hard to tackle — and big corporations aren’t doing enough. The Hershey Company, Kraft Foods, Mars Incorporated and Nestle signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001, showing they were aware of the problem and resolving to take action. But as the continued rise of child labor in the cocoa industry shows, the Protocol has failed.

What can we do, as individuals? Here are some suggestions for disrupting the “business as usual” attitude that the Cocoa Barometer talks about.

You can tell your friends about what’s happening in the West African chocolate industry. Show them the 2018 Cocoa Barometer or Equal Exchange’s Chocolate Infographic.

You can let big companies know that you care about this issue and that you’re paying attention to how they handle it! Write to Harkin-Engel Protocol signatories, or tag them on social media. These big players need to hear from customers that abusive practices aren’t acceptable, so that they have motivation to change their systems.

You can opt out of chocolate produced by the worst forms of child labor and forced labor. Eat less  chocolate or — even better — switch to fair trade chocolate that’s traceable, so you can feel confident about the conditions under which it was produced. Find out which brands are rated highly on Green America’s Chocolate Scorecard.

A man and a woman proudly display cacao pods, from which organic chocolate is made.
Ramon Mosquea and Glenys Rosario are members of CONACADO, one of Equal Exchange’s partner co-ops in the Dominican Republic.

What about Equal Exchange Chocolate?

We currently source 100% of our cacao from Latin America.  We work only with democratically organized groups that are part of the fair trade system and have the vision of improving the lives of farmers and their communities. We visit our partners, with whom we’ve established personal relationships. They are not slaves or children working in inhumane conditions — they’re smallholder farmers who are proud of their work and want to sell organic cacao for delicious chocolate through a fair system. The fair trade minimum price Equal Exchange guarantees and the advance credit our partners receive helps them weather the ups and downs of the market, improve their farming practices, and plan for their families’ futures.

And you’re among the first to know about an exciting new development! Our Chocolate Team wants to share the following BREAKING NEWS:

Equal Exchange is committed to supporting authentic, transparent and democratically structured supply chains worldwide. In the context of abuses in West Africa, we have connected with a group that is working hard to create an alternative. This year we have begun a relationship with a fair trade cacao cooperative in Togo, in West Africa, and we look forward to using their beans in our products beginning as soon as Spring 2019.

Chocolate shouldn’t be cheap. It should be fairly produced, and delicious!

 

Members of the ACOPAGRO co-op in Peru and their children pose with cacao pods.

 

Why not browse Equal Exchange’s selection of  Fairly Traded and Organic Chocolate!

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Resources:

Cocoa Barometer 2018 by the Barometer Consortium.

Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry” by The Food Empowerment Project.

 

USAID Grants and the Democracy of Information

We recently interviewed Cristina Liberati, who administers grants that support farmer cooperatives in Latin America as they improve their quality, productivity, and financial stability. Because of this project, small-scale cacao producers in rural areas can taste samples of the product they grow and assess its quality. This democratization of knowledge makes it possible for farmers to participate fully in a global market! Read the interview below to learn about how Cristina got her start in the chocolate industry, the unexpected spicy perks of international travel, and her hopes for the future of fair trade.

 

Sharing Knowledge is Good Business

Q: Hello, Cristina! What is your position at Equal Exchange?

A: My position title is the Grant Projects Manager. Grant projects have been a part of Equal Exchange’s past for some time, but starting in around 2010, Equal Exchange partnered with another chocolate company, called TCHO Chocolate, in San Francisco, to apply for a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), so those are funds from the US government that are used to support projects in developing countries. And this is a multimillion dollar grant and has involved four countries in the last seven years — Peru, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Ecuador — and as a result of its scope and size, it’s the largest grant project that Equal Exchange has ever done.

Q: You get paid by Equal Exchange, but your work is in this sort of development realm, non-profit, aid work. Is that correct?

A: It’s a complicated question. I am a worker-owner at Equal Exchange, but for any time I spend on the grant, we actually get reimbursed by USAID.

Q: What value do you think this work has to Equal Exchange’s business?

A: Equal Exchange is a funny company in that we are a for-profit business with a social mission, and there are benefits to doing this kind of work that are not quantifiable — you can’t say “oh, well our sales tripled because we did a project in the Dominican Republic with a cacao cooperative.” But there are specific activities that we’ve done that do contribute to our commercial activities, such as improving the quality of coffee and cacao coming from particular groups, which is a clear connection to our being able to provide higher quality products to our customers. We purchase organic, and it is a major challenge for organic farmers worldwide to produce as much raw product as their neighbors who are producing with conventional methods and chemicals, so part of our project is working with small farmers to improve their productivity. Which helps us! And, finally, we work with the co-ops to improve their financial management practices. It’s always better to have a partner who is financially and managerially stable than one who is not. And unfortunately, that’s more the exception than the norm for agricultural cooperatives.

Q: What was your job before this? Your job description, which lists all your various duties, is really overwhelming! How did you get into this, how did you prepare for it, and what else have you done?

A: Before coming to Equal Exchange, I worked for TCHO Chocolate, who we partner with on the grant. I was hired there as a tour guide of the chocolate factory, and that really helped me to learn the chocolate business from the other perspective — you know, working with consumers and also having to explain production of cacao to people who know very little about it, and learning at the same time, myself. That was a great introduction into the world of chocolate. Prior to moving to San Francisco, I did go to graduate school for International Affairs, and I have lived in Latin America and studied in Latin America for a number of years. Because that’s where we primarily carry out our grant activities, knowing the language very well and knowing the culture to a certain extent helped prepare me for this work.

Cristina Liberati (far right) with a group of Equal Exchange and CONACADO partners.

10,000+ Partners

Q: The grants cover both cacao, coffee and banana farmers. All these crops may be grown in the same regions, but they’re totally different businesses. And you’re also working with project coordinators and grant consultants. What are your relationships like with all these different kinds of people? How do you balance that?

A: It’s a fun challenge, for sure. I have regular calls with each group or consultant that we work with, and that really just helps to keep on the same page of how the activities are developing. We also through our grant program helped to organize 15 different cooperative exchanges, where we brought different representatives from the farmer groups in our project together, to share information and learn about the activities they were doing and about those crops. I think my job is unique in that I get to serve as a nexus for all that information, so if I learn about how one group is, say, for example, identifying local trees with great productivity characteristics and cataloguing them, I can share  — with their permission — what they’ve learned with another group who’s interested in the same type of activity.

Q: What about your traveling?

A: I travel about 30% of the year, and oftentimes what I’m doing is visiting with the cooperatives that are part of our project to see how the activities are playing out in person. Also, to troubleshoot any issues they might be having, because sometimes it’s hard to get people to talk about challenges and issues over the phone. It’s also great to just meet face-to-face with folks every once in a while. The other primary thing that we’re doing when we’re visiting our partners or these countries is holding workshops or the exchanges that I talked about, amongst different producers.

Q: Do you have trouble keeping people straight, just because there’s so many people?

A: Not really. I’ve been working with the same people now for almost seven years. The cooperative in the Dominican Republic has 10,000 members, so I don’t know everyone. But there are teams of people that I’ve worked with over and over. On farm visits, I try to visit farmers that I have met before and some that I haven’t. I always write a trip report, so I try to go back to my trip reports to refresh my memory of people’s names if I don’t see them or talk to them often.

Q: To what extent are you accountable to USAID? Who do you feel like is your boss and what keeps you accountable to this grant?

A: That answer is pretty simple. It’s the farmers that we’re trying to serve and that are our partners. We’ve been very lucky that USAID has been supportive of the work that we’ve done and of course, like anyone who offers you money, they want you to account for that properly and would like to hear about the outcomes of the use of that money, and I think that that’s fair. I also feel accountable to the worker-owners of EE that this is a good use of our time and resources as a cooperative. But I’ll stick with my first answer as to who I feel MOST answerable to.

Fertilizer Production and Distribution Center in Cibao, DR co-financed with the USAID Co-operative Development Program and CONACADO

Tasting Chocolate — and What That Means for Co-Ops

Q: You do some quality-control work around chocolate. Is that right?

A: Yes. If I had to say I had a specialty, chocolate would be my specialty, because I did work in a chocolate factory before I came here, and it’s the crop that I know the most about, and it has been the largest focus of the grant. I’m on the Quality Control Panel at Equal Exchange, that meets once or twice a week to make sure that our chocolate is both high-quality and food safe for customers. I’m not going to complain about having to eat chocolate for my job!

Q: Equal Exchange has worked in different capacities with producers about analyzing their own products in country so that they can keep on track of whether tweaks need to be made, or how high quality their stuff is. Can you talk about that at all?

A: Sure. Beth Ann Caspersen, who’s the Quality Manager for coffee has been doing this for many years with coffee cooperatives. I do a bit more of it with cocoa cooperatives, but the ideas are the same. The way that chocolate makers analyze a sample of cocoa beans is by making it into chocolate liquor or a solid chocolate sample, and tasting it. For almost the entirety of the history of the chocolate industry, producers have been excluded from conversations about quality analysis that chocolate makers do. Through this grant and through a partnership with TCHO, we installed laboratories that would allow them to make chocolate liquor samples. And we work together with our partners to create a standardized tasting form and tools to train people to be cocoa tasters that were never publicly available before. And what these tools have allowed our partners to do is negotiate the value of their product with their clients, based on its quality. So instead of shipping a bunch of beans to a chocolate maker and then basically receiving a price from that chocolate maker that is determined by them, the producers can say, “We’ve tasted this. We know it’s worth this. And this is the price we’d like to ask you for it.” That has been a really exciting part of what we’ve done.

 

Cristina (standing, with black shirt and glasses) celebrates with a group of cacao partners.

Innovation, Hot Peppers, and the Future of Fair Trade

Q: What cool work stories do you have to share with us?

A: Last year, we decided to create what we call the Innovation Prize Program with our USAID grant and we were offering prizes up to $50,000 to cooperatives for new and novel ideas to tackle problems they had, either in quality, productivity, or what we call capitalization and one of the cooperatives that we work with called ACOPAGRO, based out of Peru, came to us with an idea for an irrigation program. The project manager there said to me, “You know, we’ve actually had this idea for some time, but couldn’t find funding for it, and I told my colleagues: ‘you know who we should ask about this? We should ask Cristina. We should ask Equal Exchange. Because they’ll listen to us and our idea.’” That felt really good.

Q: Did they get the prize?

A: They did get a prize!

Q: Can you tell me another story?

A:  I was visiting Peru, a remote community along the riverbank of the Amazon, and the community members just had this incredible energy and were doing some wonderful things. They had formerly been coca producers for cocaine, and wanted to change from illicit crops to licit crops and were supported with growing cacao by a previous project. We went and we helped with some improvements to their fermentation area and drying area. But somehow, they found out on my first visit that I really like hot peppers. And when I came back for my second visit, they offered me a whole plate of hot peppers that they had grow specially for me to try. Which was fun, but also somewhat painful!

Q: Right, ‘cause you had to eat them all!

A: I took a few bites. I think I have a picture of that somewhere.

Q: Were they good?

A: Yeah. Oh my gosh. The food in Peru is incredible, in general. And part of it is because they know how to use those peppers!

Q: What are the lessons learned from this work?

A: I’ve seen, over the past few years, that several of our partners have had to deal with natural disasters that just seem to be more frequent and more intense every time. What I’ve learned is that the resilience of the people we work with is just truly incredible. One should never underestimate the strength, the creativity and the love for the land it takes to be a farmer. I definitely had no idea of the magnitude of that before.

Q: What’s your outlook for the future of fair trade, of farming, and of these specific communities that you have gotten to know?

A: That’s a big one. I think that fair trade or alternative trade — as a strategy and a philosophy — is more and more important every day. For me, the basis of fair trade is the relationships between the people who grow our food or produce other products, and then the people who use those products. And we do have opportunities, with technology, to connect with those people in ways that weren’t options before. But on the other hand, people continue to want cheaper and cheaper options. One of my friends told me recently that her grandparents used to spend 25% of their income on their food. Nobody seems willing to do that anymore. If people aren’t willing to pay for fair food, the farmers that we work with as it is barely get by. They do it for the love of the land that I talked about. Compounded by climate change issues, I’m not sure what that means. But people will keep eating, and they seem to not get tired of chocolate and coffee. Or bananas. So we’ve got to keep fighting to do this work the right way.


This fall, we’re posting content about Food and Democracy — and the important ways they intersect — up until the U.S. primaries on November 6th. Stay up to date by following the hashtag #FoodForDemocracy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!


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