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Sara Fiore

How to Make Iced Tea Concentrate

One of our favorite things about summertime is iced tea! It’s surprisingly easy to make by the glass or by the pitcher, and there are almost endless flavor combinations and creative recipes to try. One of the easiest ways to make a lot of iced tea at once is to brew a strong iced tea concentrate, which you then mix with water and ice as needed. Watch the video below to see how it’s done!

Iced Tea Concentrate

  • Boil 8 cups water and pour into a heatproof glass pitcher.
  • Add 15 tea bags of your choice (with strings, tags and staples removed) and let steep for 5 minutes.
  • Remove the tea bags and let cool to room temperature.
  • Transfer to sealable containers and refrigerate.
  • When you’re ready to drink, add 1 part concentrate to 3 parts water and ice in a glass or pitcher.

Simple Syrup

Sweeten your tea without the sugar crystals lingering at the bottom of your glass! Simply combine 1 part sugar with 1 part hot water just off the boil and mix well. Add to your glass or pitcher of tea to taste.

How To Choose The Best Coffee Maker For Your Office

Coffee is the secret ingredient of many productive workplaces, and having it available at the office is a perk for everyone. But if you’re just getting started with a coffee setup, it can be hard to know what type of brewer is right for your office. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options out there! Here, we’ll break down the most common types of brewers so you can figure out what’s right for the size and general habits of your office.

1. Single Serve Brewer

One of the most popular options for small offices is the single serve brewer. Many people like them for the convenience of being able to brew just one cup of coffee at a time with minimal effort. There’s no waiting around for a full pot of coffee to brew, no leftover coffee wasted, and no one gets stuck with the hours-old last cup. If you have a lot of different coffee preferences in your office, the variety allowed by these machines is ideal — so fans of everything from decaf to dark roast can have what they want. Single serve machines are also designed to be user-friendly, both in their setup and day-to-day use. Convenience is key with these brewers!

The cons? Some folks feel that single serve machines sacrifice coffee quality, and others would rather not use disposable cups that these machines require. (We recommend a reusable filter as one alternative to single use cups!) If that sounds like your officemates, take a look at some other convenient or more customizable brewers.

2. Commercial Brewer

Commercial-style brewers are ideal for larger offices that need to provide more people with their coffee fix at one time. Does everyone come into work at once and need to fill their mug to start the day? Better to have a full airpot or carafe ready to go, with 12 to 32 servings of coffee per container. Another popular type of commercial brewer gives you a range of customizable single-cup brewing options, and all you have to do is add whole coffee beans to the machine.

Before you jump in, consider that most commercial brewers will require a hookup to a water source, plus professional installation and maintenance. Commercial brewers are built to withstand daily use and producing a large volume of coffee consistently, and as such are usually more expensive than home or smaller capacity brewers. While this will cost you more up front, it could save you the cost of replacing a less durable machine multiple times. If you have a busy, larger office, this could be a good investment.

3. Manual Brewer

Is coffee quality and customization paramount for you and your coworkers? Are you concerned about disposable single serve cups but only want one cup at a time? Manual brew methods may be the way to go. Manual brewers, like the Clever, Melitta, Chemex and French press, are best for single or small group servings. These methods take a little more time and effort but allow for maximum customization and individual preferences. You’ll need a place to boil water and a kettle, plus the brewing equipment itself — possibly multiples if folks will want to be brewing at the same time. Overall, this is the most complicated method for in-office brewing, but with a little practice, everyone will be able to make an outstanding cup of coffee to their liking whenever they want it.

4. Traditional Coffee Maker

When it comes to combining convenience with coffee quality, many offices opt for a more traditional-style coffeemaker in which you easily add coffee grounds and water to brew anywhere from 2 to 14 cups of coffee. The complexity and quality of these machines vary, so you’ll want to consider your budget and the needs of the people in your office when you’re shopping around. How much coffee will you need at one time? Six cups? Ten? How often will you be brewing? Many lower-cost coffee pots are designed for home use and may not withstand the demands of caffeine-hungry office workers, which could lead to breakage and ultimately spending more on a replacement. If you think your coffee maker will see a lot of traffic, opt for more of an investment piece that can withstand heavy use or has a good warranty. If you and your officemates only drink a coffee pot’s worth once per day, a typical home brewer could work for you. We recommend this selection of top-rated coffee brewers approved by the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Whatever brewer you choose, make sure to shop carefully for the right kind of coffee — like organic, fairly traded coffee from small farmer co-ops. After all, that’s the most important part!

(And if you’re buying whole bean, don’t forget a coffee grinder!)

Organic Vs. Conventional Tea: What’s The Difference?

As conscientious consumers, many of us look for the “organic” label when shopping. While we know that organic products have certain benefits, the extent of those benefits isn’t always obvious. When it comes to organic tea and conventional tea, you might ask: what’s the real difference? What makes organic tea a smarter choice than conventional tea, and why does it matter for you? Here are three reasons to feel good about choosing to buy and drink organic tea.

1. Organic means no chemicals. One of the clearest distinctions between organic tea and conventional tea is that organic tea is grown without the use of chemicals fertilizer, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. These chemicals have well-documented harmful effects on the environment, farmers and consumers who may ingest residues. Conventional tea-growing methods may maximize production in the short term, but there is a serious environmental and human cost.

Choosing organic tea, on the other hand, means supporting growing methods like plant- and microorganism-based natural fertilizers and pest deterrents, which are safer for the environment and for the farmers who work on the land. The benefit to you? No chemicals end up in your cup!

organic tea nursery
An organic tea nursery on the farm of Sarath Bandar, member of the Small Organic Farmers’ Association (SOFA).

2. Equal Exchange organic tea is grown on biodiverse small-scale farms, while conventional tea comes from mono-cropped plantations. Small-scale farmers promote biodiversity by using organic and biodynamic farming methods, allowing wildlife and local flora to flourish alongside tea farming. Since conventional tea is farmed in a way that prioritizes mass production in the short term, it is grown on large-scale plantations dedicated solely to growing tea. These plantations overtake large pieces of land, eliminating any variety of plant and animal life. Mono-cropping strips the soil of nutrients, destroys forests and leaves wildlife with no place to thrive. In the long term, this is is unsustainable and creates lasting damage to the land.

picking tea with a member of SOFA
Leif Rawson-Ahern, Equal Exchange Tea Supply Chain Coordinator picking tea with a member of SOFA in Sri Lanka.

3. Equal Exchange organic tea is grown by small-scale farmers who belong to democratic co-operatives. Co-op membership and land ownership empower farmers, support healthy communities and strengthen local economies. Choosing small farmer-grown organic tea means choosing more than just a farming method – it’s a way to support an entire alternative system of production.
Conventional tea, grown with mass production in mind, relies on the plantation model – which is not only bad for the environment, but bad for farmers, too. This notoriously exploitative system disempowers workers, subjecting them to unsafe living and working conditions in the name of profits for plantation owners.

farmer members of SOFA
Leif with the farmer members of SOFA’s Beenside Society.

The differences between organic and conventional tea are extensive, and that’s just the beginning! You can do your part to support our environment, healthy farmers and stronger communities by choosing small farmer-grown organic tea whenever you shop.
Not sure where to start? Check out Equal Exchange’s full line of organic, small farmer-grown teas.

For a first look at stories and videos from the field, new product announcements, special sales and more, sign up for the Equal Exchange e-newsletter.  Or follow us on Facebook and Instagram!

2015 Year In Review

At the end of every year, we reflect on the accomplishments, challenges, developments and memorable moments that have helped us grow. Here are a just a few of the highlights from 2015, which we’re so proud to share with you all – and which we couldn’t have done without your support!

1. Over 7.5 Million Pounds Sold!
Over the last year, you purchased a grand total of 5.8 million pounds of coffee, 64,500 pounds of tea and spices, 1.2 million pounds of cacao and 554,739 pounds of sugar from small-scale farmer co-ops around the world, benefitting hundreds of farmers, their families and their communities. Those are big numbers with a big real world impact for farmers.

2. Gender Equity Workshop in Nicaragua
Equal Exchange is a proud supporter of the Coffee Quality Institute’s Gender Equity program as a Sustaining Partner. In January, Coffee Quality Manager Beth Ann Caspersen participated in the second of four international workshops in Palacaguina, Nicaragua. The workshops aim to promote gender equity in the male-dominated coffee industry by bringing men and women together to work through difficult questions about gender roles and the division of labor on the farm and in the home.

Read about Beth Ann’s experience >

3. Coffee Leaf Resilience Fund
Over the last year, Equal Exchange has supported several of our key partners in the fight against coffee leaf rust: CESMACH, Finca Triunfo Verde, and Comon Yaj Noptic in Chiapas Mexico; Las Colinas in El Salvador; and San Fernando Co-operative in Peru. These co-ops have received more than a quarter of a million dollars-worth of investment to renovate and replant their members’ farms as well as increase productivity and access to training and adequate technology. We estimate that just in the past year, we have directly contributed to the replanting of more than 1 million coffee trees between these partners. The resilience fund is continuing into 2016 and we look forward to see the amazing work that our partners are doing to rebuild their farms and livelihoods post-coffee leaf rust.

4. Saveur du Kivu Cupping Competition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
In May, Coffee Quality Manager Beth Ann Caspersen traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to judge the country’s first-ever coffee cupping competition. Despite numerous logistical and technical challenges – like initially lacking running water and electricity!—the event came together through cooperative problem-solving, quick thinking and teamwork. The competition brought together diverse roasters and cuppers, local producers and international judges to experience some of the spectacular coffees and the growing coffee culture of the DRC.

Read a day-by-day account of the competition here >

5. Cooperation in Productivity Event in Colombia
This year, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of our partnership with our Colombian coffee partners, ASPROCAFE Ingruma. In July, Green Coffee Buyer Carly Kadlec and Coffee Quality Manager Beth Ann Caspersen visited Colombia to take part in a Cooperation in Productivity event. At the event, special guest Fredy Perez Zelaya of COMSA in Honduras shared knowledge and insight about how to thrive using organic and biodynamic practices in a region dominated by conventional coffee.

Read Carly’s reflection on the Cooperation in Productivity Event > 
Read Beth Ann’s reflection on the 20th anniversary > 

picking tea with a member of SOFA
Leif Rawson-Ahern, Equal Exchange Tea Supply Chain Coordinator picking tea with a member of SOFA in Sri Lanka.

6. A Visit to Sri Lanka, Plus Three New Teas
It was an exciting year for Equal Exchange tea! In September, we introduced three new teas: Organic Ginger, Organic Green Tea with Ginger and Organic Rooibos Chai. Not only does this mean more delicious options for tea drinkers, it means we are able to buy more tea and spices from small-scale farmers in an industry dominated by large plantations.

In December, our tea team visited our tea partners at Bio Foods and the Small Organic Farmers’ Association (SOFA) in Sri Lanka. They spent the week visiting farms, tasting teas, touring factories and talking about the tea industry with locals. Tea Supply Chain Coordinator Leif
Rawson-Ahern says, “Small scale farmers are incredibly rare in the plantation-dominated tea industry and our visit reminded us of the profound difference between large, conventional plantations and the small-scale tea gardens of the farmers we work with.  Unlike the vast, clear-cut and mono-cropped plantations that cover the Sri Lankan countryside, the small farms we visited were celebrations of biodiversity.”

7. Bringing Farmers to the Forefront at the Northwest Chocolate Festival 
In October, our chocolate team and two colleagues from partner co-ops CONACADO in the Dominican Republic and ACOPAGRO in Peru traveled to Seattle for the Northwest Chocolate Festival. The festival was attended by about 14,000 people, with a great mix of industry professionals and consumers. For two straight days we provided tasty chocolate samples and information about our mission to support small farmers.
Grant Projects Coordinator Cristina Liberati, together with Elizabeth Burgos from CONACADO and David Contreras from ACOPAGRO, gave a presentation entitled “Better quality beans, better quality of life for cacao farmers.” This presentation highlighted the work that we have done together as part of the USAID Co-operative Development Program. At the Chocolate Makers UnConference, held just prior to the festival, they presented the Cacao Tasting Form that has been developed with the co-ops and the Peruvian National Cacao Judges to spur industry conversation and action toward a common and inclusive language of quality.

Thank you for all that you do to support small farmers and the mission of authentic Fair Trade.

Happy New Year from all of us at Equal Exchange!

The Small Producer Symbol: What Does It Stand For?

In the last year, you may have noticed a new logo on the package of your coffee: the Small Producer Symbol. The SPP (the acronym of the Spanish name, Simbolo de Pequeños Productores ) is a relatively new certification label that you can now find on many of our coffees and in stores nationwide.

Certification labels help us understand our food choices better, allowing us to make informed decisions about what businesses we want to support based on their practices. At first glance, the SPP symbol may seem like another logo in a sea of logos – but the movement behind it is unique and profound. The SPP is the first Fair Trade farmer-owned certification system, representing the emerging leadership of small farmers in global trade. In a world where certification systems have been defined and controlled by people in the global north, it’s exciting and important that farmers in Latin America are taking control and defining what a just trade system looks like to them.

The need for the SPP emerged as a response to changing Fair Trade certification standards, which have broadened to include coffee and cacao plantations. Many people find this move to be counter to the founding principles that focus on small-scale farmers, who have trouble competing with plantations on the conventional market. In response, the Coordinating Body of Latin America and the Caribbean (CLAC) began strategizing a way to keep Fair Trade fair for small farmers – and the SPP was born. The certification system is run by the nonprofit group the Foundation of Organized Small Producers (FUNDEPPO), who best understand the needs and goals of small farmers like themselves.

So what exactly does the Small Producer Symbol mean for farmers, and how are its standards different from other certifications? SPP standards are comprehensive, and include 50 criteria for small farmer member organizations, including maximum individual farm sizes and a maximum percentage of farm work performed by hired help. This means that plantations and large-scale operations are excluded from SPP certification. Buyers who use the SPP label, like Equal Exchange, must meet nearly three dozen criteria, including a minimum of five percent annual volume growth in program purchases. This means that buyers are committed to supporting the farmers of the SPP long-term. And most importantly, the SPP is run and governed by farmers themselves.

We’re proud and excited to support the Small Producer Symbol and the farmer-led movement it represents. We hope you’ll join us in supporting the SPP by spreading the word, seeking out the logo when you shop and choosing to brew the coffee that represents authentic Fair Trade.

Find SPP coffee on our webstore

Visiting A Primary Co-Op In Nicaragua

A conversation with Jose Alfredo Lovo Variegas, from a 2015 Equal Exchange delegation to Nicaragua.

In Dipilto, Nicaragua, a small community sits nested in the mountains right on the border of Honduras.

Houses perch on the mountainside along steep roads cut with deep grooves for traction, and mist hangs in the air like it’s situated mid-cloud. Here, the La Union community has grown around the coffee, which dominates the lush and hilly landscape.

Dense greenery rises in sharp inclines and falls into deep valleys, and coffee trees are everywhere. While these natural farms look wild, they are meticulously tended and maintained. Such high quality coffee thrives in its natural habitat, among shade, birds and diverse plant life. As organic farmers, the members of La Union co-op recognize and cultivate this natural relationship.

As a primary co-op, or association of small-scale farmers in a particular region, they are a part of PRODECOOP, the larger association of primary co-ops across Nicaragua. PRODECOOP’s size, resources and relationships are a real benefit to these remote farmers, and through them their coffee reaches the market and is sold at a fair price.

We spoke to the coordinator of La Union co-operative, Jose Alfredo Lovo Variegas, who goes by Fredo, about the history and current state of the co-op.

According to Fredo, the co-op structure has had benefits beyond trade: “We started in the 90’s. After the war, we were so polarized as a country between the Contras and the Sandinistas. We had different approaches and opinions on how to do things. PRODECOOP integrated these two sides.”

PRODECOOP has evolved with Nicaragua, and while this community has grown coffee for generations, the market has changed:

“Our grandparents picked coffee, put it in sacks, sold what they could at the local market and that was it. In today’s global economy, if you don’t know anything about agronomy, it’s hard to survive.”

On keeping up with the global economy, he continued:

“It’s been a learning process. Now we have a more professional staff: the daughters and sons of producers who have studied agronomy and other subjects like accounting. We want our children to know where they came from, and to come back after college and use their skills here.” Keeping younger generations interested and involved in coffee farming is a challenge both as the world changes and as coffee growing itself becomes increasingly difficult.

“La roya is the strongest disease threatening coffee and it spreads fast. It has always existed, but it’s become stronger due to climate change. It used to be that there was no roya above 1,000 meters. Now, it grows above that. We’ve been badly affected and our production is down, and dealing with it is expensive.”

Like many farmers struggling with la roya, they have banded together to learn about means of prevention, rehabilitation and coexistence with the disease. The co-op has been able to provide some resources to aid these efforts, but it can be costly, and the money is not unlimited. Though times are difficult, Fredo recognizes that teamwork and the co-op structure have been critical to individual survival.

“Last year, like this year, the harvest happened too late and people were losing money. With only two months to harvest, we offered credit to farmers to help them survive. Then we harvested our crop together, pooled our resources and calculated our volume together to deliver to PRODECOOP.”

Being part of a Fair Trade co-op isn’t just about having a safety net, either. It also helps farmers invest in their futures:

“One of the advantages of Fair Trade is that you can use the extra money for your children’s education. When you’re partners with PROODECOOP you have access to different benefits. The Fair Trade system operates with a conscience.”

Membership in the co-op also means that farmers share certain resources and responsibilities, from participating in democratic decision making to sharing equipment. A few years ago, members voted to buy a new depulper, complete with a washing station and a system to pitch coffee pulp back into the forest for compost.

Roberto Zepeda, on whose land the depulper now sits, paid a portion of the cost and the co-op resources covered the rest. Gradually, the other members paid back what was covered by the co-op credit – though some have yet to pay back their debt. Still, all of the farmers in the community are able to use the depulper, which is the first step in coffee processing. Without the co-op, paying the cost of this valuable new equipment up front would have been unrealistic or impossible for an individual farmer.

Coffee presents many challenges, but the farmers have relied on it for generations. Fredo explains, “Coffee is our sole source of survivial.” But they are hopeful, with faith in advances in organic farming, in their college educated children coming back with new ideas, and in their co-op.

“I trust in PRODECOOP because the same leaders have stood with us for nearly 25 years.  We won’t let PRODECOOP down because they have never let us down,” Fredo says. His determination, and the determination of the co-op, is clear.

Our Journey To PRODECOOP, Nicaragua

In January 2015, I had the extraordinary privilege of joining an Equal Exchange/PCUSA delegation to Nicaragua. These delegations connect supporters of Fair Trade, and Equal Exchange employees like me, with the people and places that make our products possible. Traveling to this new country, meeting farmers and seeing the co-ops firsthand  brought everything I knew about Fair Trade to life. Here’s a look into our week of learning and exploring. Our Nicaraguan coffees are on sale for a limited time, too!

Bienvenidos a PRODECOOP
We arrived in Estelí in the afternoon after a long bus ride from the capital city, Managua. Green volcanic mountains lined the horizon and expansive coffee drying beds spread out ahead of the warehouses of PRODECOOP. It was sunny, hot and lush — a big change from the northeastern winter I’d left behind.

PRODECOOP was Equal Exchange’s first trading partner back in 1986, and now is made up of 38 primary, village-level co-ops, totaling almost 1,000 small-scale farmers. PRODECOOP purchases coffee from each of these primary co-ops, processes it here at the headquarters in Esteli, and then sells 100% of it on the Fair Trade market. Needless to say, it’s a busy place.

We were welcomed warmly by Adilia Hernández, one of the co-op managers, and Luis Diego Calderón Masís, a gregarious visiting agronomist. The two of them led us on the tour of the premises, giving us a look into the everyday happenings of a busy coffee co-operative.

Drying, sifting and sorting
First, we walked through the drying beds, which were hot and overwhelmingly bright, raked continuously by men and women covered head-to-toe to protect them from the sun. We learned that many of the workers are university students working here part-time during school breaks.

Adilia told us that coffee beans take nearly a week to dry out completely, and the raking helps them dry evenly and prevents the growth of mildew. And when it rains? Workers rush to cover the beds with tarps, a process we watched unfold with practiced grace when a sun shower passed through.

Once the beans are dry, they are run through a series of machines that sort defects by size, shape and color— it was actually surprising just how many phases they went through. At the end of it, the reject pile was substantial: full of misshapen, broken or discolored beans that would mean bad-tasting coffee.

Finally, the beans are ready to be bagged, stored in the warehouse until they reach around 18% humidity and then sold on the Fair Trade market. Before it even reaches the roaster, your coffee goes through a lot. The beans that wind up in the bag are really the best of the best.

Roasting, cupping and quality control
With their commitment to quality, it makes sense that PRODECOOP has their own small-scale roasting operation. Historically, coffee producers have simply grown their crop, sold it and not been concerned with roasting or brewing. By roasting and testing their own beans, members of PRODECOOP gain more knowledge about, and thus control over, their product. And they get pretty amazing coffee out of it, too.

We got to try some of this coffee in their quality control lab with Agueda Emilce Ruiz Avila, who led us in a typical coffee cupping, or tasting. Cuppings are crucial for quality control and cuppers like Agueda are incredibly skilled in identifying nuances in aroma and flavor and understanding their relationship to quality. Agueda walked us through the cupping process and described the way to smell and taste each sample. At the end, we had a unanimous favorite.

Agueda told us that she developed an interest in quality control after working in the drying beds for a few years, but that the taste of coffee took a while to grow on her. Now though? “I love it,” she said. “I drink it all day.”

Manure, microorganisms and compost
Diego and Adilia led us back behind the drying beds and warehouses, to a shady area where the scent of manure wafted through the warm air. A herd of sheep peered at us through a gate. “This is where we make organic fertilizer,” Adilia told us. Manure, of course, is a key ingredient. Black tarps covered mounds of compost nearby, decomposing into fertilizer in the warm sun.

Healthy farms start with good soil, so the co-op puts a lot of energy into finding ways to maximize soil health. It’s a complex science with many components, from manure to earthworms to microorganisms, not all of which are readily available to the average coffee farmer. However, the co-operative’s investment in organic methods helps make these things more accessible to more farmers. There are many members who need resources, so it’s not always easy to meet the demand, but it’s clear that the effort is being made to share knowledge and resources.

Local coffee and the continuing journey
After the tour, we returned to the patio where I made a beeline for the freshly brewed coffee waiting for us. Despite being 85 degrees outside, the hot coffee was exactly what I wanted. Looking out at the mountains, the palm trees and the tropical plants, I realized what an amazing thing it was to be drinking local coffee. When could I ever say that back home?

Soon, we’d be leaving PRODECOOP behind and driving north to the farms of Dipilto, where the journey of our coffee truly begins.

Our Cocoa Story: Big Change In The Dominican Republic

From decadent cookies to hot chocolate to the perfect mocha, there are lots of reasons to love our rich and flavorful organic cocoa. But what’s the best thing about our cocoa? It’s the story–about farmer ownership, empowerment and an evolving supply chain.

Shop Fair Trade Cocoa >>

It starts in the Dominican Republic, where cacao trees grow abundantly in the tropical climate and cocoa is huge industry. Historically, this industry has been dominated by 4 dominant exporters, and farmers have had little involvement beyond growing, harvesting and selling to intermediaries.

That’s where CONACADO (The National Confederation of Dominican Cacao Producers) has been blazing a trail since 1985. It began as a development project during a low in the global cocoa market, to study how cacao fermentation techniques could improve the quality of cacao production.  Before then, 100% of Dominican cacao production was low-quality unfermented beans, which could be sold cheaply to the United States. But after successfully proving that higher quality, fermented cacao could increase income to small farmers, CONACADO expanded its work to educate farmers on these techniques and organize them into regional associations, or bloques. Then, the co-operative entered a commercialization phase of the project and began seeking out niche markets for their unique, high quality cacao.

Today, CONACADO is made up of over 8,500 farmer members, and 70% of their cacao is sold as high quality fermented beans in niche markets, with 40% of it sold on the Fair Trade market.  Fair Trade premiums are distributed to the 8 bloques for use in community projects to improve education, infrastructure, health and development – and every project is determined, planned and executed through a democratic process.

In 2008, CONACADO made another bold move and purchased their own cocoa powder processing plant, taking a major part of production into their own hands. Now, rather than selling their beans to be processed by chocolate companies, the farmers are in control of producing their own semi-finished products.

“It is rare in the chocolate world for farmers to own any part of the chocolate processing, so the fact that CONACADO owns the plant is a game changer,” said Dary Goodrich, Equal Exchange Chocolate Products Manager. “In the conventional system, farmers are on their own selling to intermediaries who sell to huge multinational corporations, and a small handful of these corporations process the vast majority of the world’s cocoa beans into chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. CONACADO is flying in the face of all this.”

So how is the cocoa powder actually made?

First, the fermented and dried cocoa beans arrive by truck at the plant and are carefully sorted, roasted and ground into chocolate liquor. This liquor is run through a hydraulic cocoa press that separates the solids from the fats. The fats are called cocoa butter, an essential ingredient in chocolate, though in this stage it’s mostly flavorless. During separation, the dry solids are pressed into a densely packed block which gets pulverized into cocoa powder. All the while, the staff performs quality checks and tests and ensures that each step of the process runs smoothly.

Dary recalls, “It’s a noisy process, but it’s always fun to move through the plant and watch the beans from CONACADO farmers get processed into an Equal Exchange product.” In 2014 alone, Equal Exchange purchased over 200,000 lbs. of cocoa directly from the plant for our baking cocoa, hot cocoa and spicy hot cocoa mixes. 

The process, and the ownership of the plant, is not without its challenges – but with that comes a lot of learning and a lot of pride. It hasn’t been easy for CONACADO to fill the capacity of the plant and find markets for their cocoa powder and cocoa butter, but this significant ownership is a big step for the co-operative and a major development in the Dominican cocoa industry.
So the next time you add a spoonful of cocoa to your mug, we hope that you love it even more!

Shop our organic cocoas: baking cocoa, hot cocoa mix and spicy hot cocoa mix.

Year In Review: 2014

Last year, we accomplished so much together. We’re so proud to have the support of coffee drinkers, chocolate lovers and authentic Fair Trade enthusiasts like you. You make it all possible.

Last year, our chocolate products used over one million pounds of organic, fairly traded cocoa beans and 500,000 pounds of organic, fairly traded sugar from small-scale farmers.

And Equal Exchange customers brewed, shared and enjoyed over 5.5 million pounds of coffee from small farmer co-ops.

That is a remarkable, incredible positive impact in the world of authentic Fair Trade. Thank you.

Here are some of the other highlights and projects from the last year!

Uganda Stoves Project
In the spring of 2014, together we raised $4,720 to help Ugandan women build energy-efficient stoves in their communities. These new stoves will make a remarkable difference in the lives of mothers and families. They require 50% less firewood, can cook more dishes at one time and more quickly, and provide a warm, smoke-free environment for families to spend time together in.

Read more about the inspirational Uganda Stoves Project.

Red Cherry Challenge
In June, we launched the Red Cherry Challenge, a yearlong initiative to support farmers in Guatemala and El Salvador. Several of our partner co-ops there have been hard hit by coffee rust, or roya, among other climate change-related problems. Participants in the Red Cherry Challenge see 10 cents for every pound of coffee they buy go toward funding resiliency and recovery efforts in these co-ops. Our customers raised $2,500 for the Red Cherry Fund so far. The Red Cherry Challenge continues into 2015, so it’s not too late to join and increase your positive impact!

Sign up for the Red Cherry Challenge and make your purchases count in 2015.

Small Producer Symbol (SPP)
In 2014, Equal Exchange adopted the Small Producer Symbol (or SPP, based on the Spanish acronym). This is the first Fair Trade farmer-owned certification, and is run and governed by small-scale farmers themselves. This is a bold and exciting next step in the authentic Fair Trade movement, and Equal Exchange is proud to bear the symbol that represents farmers in leadership roles.

Learn more about the groundbreaking Small Producer Symbol.

Cooperation in Quality
In 2014, we held our ninth annual Cooperation in Quality Seminar in Chiapas, Mexico, led by Quality Control Manager Beth Ann Caspersen. Ten cuppers from three different coffee co-ops in Mexico (Finca Triunfo Verde and CESMACH in Chiapas, and CEPCO in Oaxaca) came together for some hands-on learning about coffee quality, roasting and the tasting experience. The Cooperation in Quality Seminar brings diverse groups of cuppers together to cultivate a deeper understanding of the coffee they sell and the needs of buyers. This serves to professionally develop and empower the small farmer supply chain by passing on critical knowledge of the coffee industry and market. With every coffee tasted at the cupping table and every test batch of coffee roasted, the relationship between the coffee drinker and coffee producer grows stronger.

Read more about Beth Ann’s exciting Cooperation in Quality experience in Chiapas.

Cooperation in Productivity
In June, Green Coffee Buyer Carly Kadlec traveled to Marcala, Hoduras for our first Cooperation in Productivity event, a meeting of minds between farmers from both Honduras and El Salvador. Members of El Salvador-based co-op Las Colinas traveled to Honduras for intensive workshops and farmer-to-farmer learning. This was a successful and special opportunity for farmers to share their unique experiences and knowledge in order to strengthen the greater community of coffee farmers. The philosophy behind the event is summed up by Rodolfo Peñabla, the manager of COMSA: “If there is only one brain, it can only think so much. But, add another brain and another and another. What do you get? Farmers who generate ideas together. This is what we need.”

Read Carly’s reflection on the Cooperation in Productivity event.

MANE Conference & Producer Visit
In November, three representatives of farmer co-ops came to visit Equal Exchange and participate as panelists in the MANE Coffee Conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Sonia Vásquez and Fredy Zelaya of COMSA (Honduras) and Marco Antonio Tzunun of Manos Campesinas (Guatemala) came to offer their perspectives on the ongoing crisis of coffee rust, both as agronomists and coffee producers. After participating in the conference, they visited the Equal Exchange café in Boston and the Equal Exchange office in West Bridgewater, MA to get to know some of us and talk about a few of the challenges facing farmers back home.

Grow Together Fund
In 2014, we launched the Grow Together Fund in partnership with food co-ops across the U.S., an effort to strengthen small farmer supply chains in the nuts and dried fruit category. With every purchase of Equal Exchange Cashews at participating stores, Equal Exchange and the store made a donation to the Grow Together Fund to support a tree planting project at APRAINORES Co-op in Honduras.  By the end of the year, we raised $30,000 together! These funds will help plant new cashew trees, provide technical assistance, and create a Revolving Loan Fund which the co-op will manage to make small short term loans available to producer members. We’re excited to be laying to groundwork for healthy harvests, strong trade relationships and thriving communities.

Stay up-to-date with the developments of the Grow Together Fund.

USAID Cooperative Quality and Productivity Program with Small-Scale Cocoa and Coffee Farmers 
This five-year program began in 2010 with a grant from USAID, and this year we received a two-year extension in order to build upon the success and progress of the first four years. Our co-op partners involved in this project are Oro Verde, CONACADO, ACOPAGRO and Norandino. The work focuses on developing three key areas at the co-op level: quality, productivity and capitalization. Each area is critical to the empowerment and success of the co-ops, and there has been tremendous development in each. Some milestones include: building cocoa quality flavor labs and devising a cocoa tasting form, implementing a model farm program to improve productivity, and seeing the beginning of member equity programs so farmers can start to invest in their cooperatives. We are excited to be able to build on this foundation in the coming years. Stay tuned!

A Fair Trade Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a fun time to show love for your community, the environment and the farmers who grow our food. Here are some of our favorite ideas and activities for celebrating the things you love this February.

1. Try out a few chocolate-based recipes to share with friends! Our Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies will warm your taste buds (and your heart). And who doesn’t love a cup of Fair Trade, organic hot cocoa? Get creative and try our Chai-Spiced Hot Cocoa for a unique twist on this seasonal classic.

2. Hold a short and sweet Valentine’s Day Fundraiser with our delicious organic chocolate. Wrap bars in pairs with decorative ribbon or twine, or sell individually wrapped Chocolate Minis. This is a great way to show love for your community!

3. Do something sweet for wildlife by making a pine cone bird feeder. The cold weather in many parts of the country may mean less time spent outdoors, but this is a fun and easy way to connect with the environment during the winter – especially with kids. Here’s how to do it. 

4. Celebrate great partnerships with a chocolate and coffee tasting. Check out our guide to chocolate and coffee flavors and try out our recommended pairings. This is particularly fun with a group – host it at your congregation or community group.

5. Get crafty with the kids and make handmade valentine cards out of recycled paper for classmates, family members and friends. Cut out heart shapes and decorate with colored pencils, stickers and glitter. Attach individual chocolate hearts or chocolate minis for added sweetness!

Have other ideas? Tell us in the comments!

4 ways to take your holiday sale to the next level

Want to continue to make your holiday sale unforgettable by offering fair trade gifts that make a real difference in farming communities around the world? Here are some bonus ideas that will take your sale up a notch and keep people engaged year after year.

gift bags of dark chocolate minis1. Get creative. Decorations and personal touches like ribbon, stickers and fun gift tags make any gift so much more fun. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others – this is a great way to get more folks involved and let their creativity shine.  For your sale table, use a colorful tablecloth and a string of lights to make it festive and eye-catching. Use display racks to help create space and make it easier for customers to browse.

  • Display table signs and educational materials to draw people in and generate interest in what you’re offering.
  • Assemble bite-sized chocolate minis in gift bags using your favorite stickers, ribbons and bags or start with our Minis Packaging Kits.
  • Pre-assemble your own gift baskets with Equal Exchange goodies, topped with a bow with a set price. Perfect for a gift that’s good to go.

holiday scene of ribbon, coffee mug and marshmallows2. It’s all about the samples. Everybody loves the chance to try something delicious, and they’ll want to buy once they have a taste! Some of our favorite tried-and-true treats:

  • Break chocolate bars into bite-sized sample squares. (Don’t forget tongs!)
  • Brew batches of coffee and sample it out in small cups. The aroma alone will draw people to your table and they can “try before they buy”.
  • Offer olive oil in a dish with pieces of fresh bread for dipping.
  • Bake and serve cookies or brownies using Equal Exchange cocoa or chocolate chips as a “gift with purchase” .

3. Make the distinction. You know that fair trade is important for our global community, and now is a great time to tell your own community why it matters. The mission behind Equal Exchange’s ethically-sourced products will really set your holiday sale apart from gift options at corporate chain stores!

  • Check out our variety of educational resources and talking points to help you have inspiring conversations about fair trade.
  • Give out an Equal Exchange pamphlet with each item sold so the person can give the gift with info that explains why it’s special.

Person selecting products for a catalog fundraiser

4. Not sure what products people want to buy? Take orders from our Fundraising Catalog and order exactly what they want while helping your group raise funds for your own causes. Your group gets a 40% profit margin!

Enjoy the spirit of the season, and thank you for bringing the best of small farmers to your community.

Let’s Celebrate A Fair Trade Thanksgiving

At Equal Exchange, we’re celebrating a Fair Trade Thanksgiving by sharing the many things that make us feel grateful. From family and friends to the food on our tables and the farmers who grow it, there’s a lot to be thankful for!

Thanksgiving is a great time to celebrate our passion for fairly traded food and the relationships that make our products possible. We couldn’t do it without our longstanding partnerships with farmer co-ops or the incredible support of people like you.

While sharing tables full of delicious things from near and far, we’re celebrating cooperation, collaboration and the hard work behind it all. We’re thankful for the company of friends and family, for our co-op, for our customers and for the farmers we work with year after year. Whether you’ve done the planting, the harvesting, the cooking or just the eating, you are a valuable part of our authentic Fair Trade community. You’ll always have a seat at our table!

Happy Fair Trade Thanksgiving from everyone at Equal Exchange. Watch our video to hear some of the things we’re thankful for.

What are you thankful for? Tell us in the comments!

Need some recipe ideas for your Fair Trade Thanksgiving? Try these seasonal classics with our fairly traded ingredients. Better yet, select ingredients are on sale for a limited time!

Celebrate Fair Trade Month With Equal Exchange

October is Fair Trade Month, and there’s a lot to celebrate!

You already know that Fair Trade is important to farmers, communities and the planet, and that Equal Exchange’s partnerships help improve lives and land around the world. How will you showcase your support of better trade this month?

We have a few ideas to get you inspired and spreading the word about why Fair Trade matters.

  1. Kick off your celebration with fun recipes featuring fairly traded ingredients! Transform fall classics like brownies and muffins into creative Fair Trade treats for your friends, coworkers or classmates. Try using our baking cocoa, chocolate chips and dried fruits for a unique, delicious twist. Take a look at some of our favorite recipes, including Pumpkin Chocolate Muffins, Spiced Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies and Chocolate Covered Apples on a Stick!
  2. Brew an extra cup and share the Fair Trade experience. Try hosting a coffee hour or tea time featuring Equal Exchange. Brew up your favorite drink, whether it’s coffee from Ethiopia or tea from India, and share with friends at your home. You can talk about where it comes from, the importance of a healthy global community and how individuals can make it stronger. Bring your favorite blend of coffee to your office to share with coworkers, and let them know that supporting small farmers makes the world a better place.
  3. Hold a table sale for your congregation or community group, featuring all fairly traded foods and gifts. Fair Trade Month is a great opportunity to try a table sale for the first time, and even start generating interest for a Fair Trade holiday bazaar. Talk to your group about the positive impact their purchases make and start a conversation about living your values through everyday purchases. We can help you get started.
  4. Celebrate our producer partners by reading some of their inspirational stories. Many farmer co-ops have overcome serious obstacles, challenges and disadvantages. Every worker has strived to build successful businesses, stronger communities and better futures. Get to know their histories and day-to-day stories by checking out our blog.
    • Explore biodynamic and organic coffee farming innovations with Las Colinas and COMSA.
    • Meet two co-op managers from Peru.
    • Learn about the inspiring co-ops that grow our tea.
  5. Fair Trade Your Halloween! October also brings us this fun and spooky holiday, and with it comes lots and lots of chocolate. This year, make sure your treats are Fair Trade. Hand out fairly traded Chocolate Minis to your neighborhood ghosts and goblins, and talk about why supporting an ethical chocolate industry is important for kids around the world. Our Halloween Kits will help you get started with fun info cards and delicious bite-sized Minis. You can also spread the word with a digital Trick-or-Treat for a chance to win weekly prizes!

How will you celebrate Fair Trade month? Share your ideas in the comments!

Want more ideas and creative ways to bring Fair Trade to your community? Sign up for our newsletter and be the first to hear about new products, recipes, farmer stories and sales.

Trick or Treat? Why Fair Trade Halloween chocolate matters

Halloween is just around the corner, and that means it’s time for candy, trick-or-treating, costumes and more candy. Every year, Americans spend over a billion dollars on millions of pounds of Halloween chocolate — enough for every sweet tooth in the country and then some!

Where does all that chocolate come from? West Africa produces 70% of the world’s cacao (the main ingredient in chocolate,) and 40% of that comes from the Ivory Coast. Big corporations purchase most of this cacao from intermediaries to make the chocolate bars and candy that you see in stores worldwide.

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The story behind that supply chain is a grim one: illegal child labor in West Africa is a problem that has plagued the chocolate industry for decades, with little improvement despite international pressure.

Without access to the market, many family-owned cacao farms rely on intermediaries to buy their crop, but these middlemen pay so little that many farmers struggle to get by. Out of desperation, some turn to illegal child labor and enlist kids from their extended families or communities to work excessively long, hazardous days in the field – to an abusive extreme far beyond normal chores or help.

Thousands of other children are trafficked from Mali and Burkina Faso and sold to cacao farmers in the Ivory Coast. These adolescents, desperate for work to help support their families, are deceived by traffickers who promise them good jobs. Once over the border, far from home and their own languages, these children are also forced to work long days of dangerous labor with no access to education, proper nutrition or health care. Most are unable to escape or seek help.

Despite this being a well-documented, ongoing crisis, we have seen little actual progress where it is needed most. And it is this cacao, harvested by exploited children, that often ends up in mainstream chocolate.

The Equal Exchange supply chain is different: we work with small farmer co-operatives in Peru, Panama, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. We have a close working relationship with our farmer partners and visit their co-ops often – we know them, and they know us. We’re invested in the well-being and success of the individuals, communities and small businesses behind our chocolate.

We’re working to promote a system that eliminates the desperation that causes some farmers to use unpaid laborers. In our system, there are no middlemen or brokers, and our producer partners receive above-market prices for their crops and other Fair Trade benefits. Additionally, nonprofit, independent certifying organizations monitor these cacao farms to verify that they follow fair labor standards. In every sweet square of our chocolate, there is integrity, honesty and pride.

You can help change the face of the chocolate industry and promote a system where all workers are paid a fair price. This year, give your neighbors a fairly traded treat: Halloween chocolate that supports fair wages, farmer-run businesses and sustainable agriculture. Celebrate the holiday by handing out chocolate that makes a statement in support of a healthy supply chain, and tell your neighbors why it matters to you.

It’s easy to add Fair Trade to any of your Halloween traditions. Our dark and milk Chocolate Minis are perfect for trick-or-treaters, and Halloween-themed baked goods taste even sweeter with fairly traded chocolate chips or baking cocoa. We’ve even collected some of our favorite recipes for you to try.

Take a break from scary stories and spread the word about fairly traded Halloween chocolate — better for farmers, communities and kids all over the world. This year, celebrate with us and Fair Trade your Halloween.

Drink A Better K-Cup With Equal Exchange Single Serve Coffee

The coffee world is always changing and evolving – that’s part of what makes it so exciting. Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz about Keurig* coffee makers and K-cup* single serve coffee, and everyone at Equal Exchange has been in on the conversation. We’ve been listening, too, to the concerns and preferences of our customers and doing everything we can to learn about this new corner of the coffee market. After many months of discussion and development, we have an exciting announcement: Equal Exchange is now offering three of our most popular blends in single serve cups for your Keurig. We’re proud to be able to offer you a single serve cup that’s truly different: environmentally friendly, good for farmers and absolutely delicious.

We’re no stranger to environmental issues, and we’ve been paying attention to the conversation about waste that surrounds typical, disposable K-cups. Because sustainability is important to us, and we know it’s important to you, we researched many manufacturing options to find the best, most environmentally friendly cup and packaging available. What we found is really exciting: a cup that is #5 recyclable plastic with a recyclable aluminum lid and an 88% compostable filter. This is a big step forward from most cups on the market, and we intend to follow the latest developments in single serve packaging in order to bring you the best.

Better still, this new product line is exciting for our farmer partners, who will directly benefit from more of their organic, Fair Trade coffee reaching the market. We’re excited to bring 100% organic, small farmer coffee to the millions of people who already choose single serve coffee every day. Small-scale farmers need your support and the support of the marketplace, and it’s beneficial for our partners to be included in this new coffee territory. The more certified organic, Fair Trade coffee that we can buy from our partners, the more they can grow their communities, strengthen their farms and support their families – it’s a real difference!

And of course, our quality control team (and our body of coffee-loving worker-owners) is devoted to great-tasting, superior quality coffee. We all have our favorite brew method, and know that the excellence of a good pour-over or French press is, of course, incomparable! But for convenience and versatility cup-by-cup (which we know many of you want) the single serve cup is the frontrunner. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice taste for convenience; that’s why we’ve worked hard to merge these two worlds, using a proprietary grind ratio and selecting the most popular blends to give you the best tasting K-cup. The end result? A single serve cup that we have tested, tasted and loved. Finally, you can have the exceptional taste and quality you expect from Equal Exchange, in a way that works for you and your Keurig.

We know that many of you already brew K-cups or know someone who does, so why not enjoy a better cup? Bring Equal Exchange coffee to your office, congregation, school, home or anywhere Keurig-style machines are found. Drink up some organic, small farmer-grown coffee and savor the taste of your favorite blend. Toss the cup and lid in your recycling bin, add the grounds and filter to the compost for your garden, and then let us know what you think!

To learn more about this exciting new addition to our line of coffees, check out our single serve coffee main page.

If you have a Keurig-style brewer and would prefer a reusable brew cup, buy our favorite one here!

*Equal Exchange is not affiliated with KEURIG, Inc. “KEURIG®” and “K-CUP®” are registered trademarks of KEURIG, Inc. Not compatible with KEURIG® VUE® or 2.0 Brewing systems