Cucumber Peppermint Iced Tea

Time to chill out! Cool down our already-cool Organic Peppermint Tea by infusing it with fresh mint and cucumber and serve it over ice!

 

A jug of tea with a cup and some cucumbers
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Mint and Cucumber Infused Peppermint Iced Tea

Extra minty and cool as a cucumber -- and naturally caffeine-free! Infused tea can remain in the refrigerator for several days.
Course Drinks
Keyword Cucumber, Iced Tea, Mint
Servings 5

Ingredients

Instructions

Preparation:

  1. Bring water to a boil and pour it into a pitcher
  2. Tie the strings of the tea bags together and add to the water
  3. Let it steep until the water cools to room temperature, then put it in the refrigerator to cool fully.
  4. 2-3 hours before serving, add half of the sliced cucumber and a few sprigs of mint to the tea in the pitcher.

To serve:

  1. Add ice to the pitcher (tea bags can remain or be removed)
  2. Pour into glasses
  3. Garnish each glass with a fresh cucumber slice or two and fresh mint.

 
 

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Organic Cacao: Bean to Bar

Do you know where chocolate comes from? Have you ever seen a cacao bean or a cacao pod? Most people have only experienced the end result, like a chocolate bar or a cup of hot cocoa. These divinely delicious products can be magical – inspiring our palates, bringing back fond memories, and simply making us happy.

The manufacturing of chocolate is a precise and scientific process, and yet, it still holds some of this magic and inspiration. From the cacao farms that can feel like enchanted forests, to the manufacturing plant, each step impacts the final quality of the chocolate and each step is a combination of science and art. Due to the great care and pride that our producers put into their work, these beans can be transformed into chocolate that will wow the senses and put a smile on your face.

So, sit back, bite into a delicious piece of Equal Exchange chocolate, and read about how it was crafted – from bean to bar.

Growing

Rows of cacao seedlings

Cacao or cocoa comes from the cacao tree or Theobroma cacao. Theobroma is a Greek word that means “food of the gods.” The cacao tree is an evergreen found in over 50 tropical countries, and estimated to be grown by 2 million to 2.5 million producers, 90% of whom are small-scale farmers with 12 acres or less.

The tree can grow up to 30 feet but is often pruned to make harvesting easier for the farmers. Once a tree is planted, it can take up to five years before it produces cacao pods, and it can continue to produce pods year round until it is 25 or 30 years old. Every year, cacao trees grow thousands of flowers on their trunks and branches. Only a small percentage (as low as 1%) of these flowers will actually produce a cacao pod or masorca. This pod, which is the fruit from the tree, can be similar to the size and shape of a football and grows out of the trunk and branches of the tree. Pods can be found in a range of colors from dark brown to orange, red, yellow, and green. A cacao pod will begin to ripen 5-6 months after it flowers. Each pod contains beans, the seeds of the fruit that are shaped like a flat almond, surrounded by a sweet pulp. There are roughly 30-50 beans in a typical pod. These beans are what ultimately get transformed into cocoa powder or chocolate.

 

Harvesting Cacao Pods

A smiling man cuts a cacao pod from the trunk of a tree

Once the pods are ripe, they are cut down from the trees, typically with machetes or, for the higher pods, using long poles with a cutting edge. They are cut with care so that the stalks are not damaged and can produce fruit the following year. Though pods can be harvested year round there are two major harvest times: the main harvest and the mid-harvest, which falls about six months after the main harvest.

 

Removing Beans

A group of people sit on the ground with piles of cacao pods. A man cuts into one.

Once on the ground, the pods are graded for quality and placed into piles. The pods are then opened with a machete or a wooden club by cracking the pod so that it can be split in half. The beans, still surrounded by the sweet pulp, are removed and piled on top of large leaves, often from banana trees.

 

Fermenting

Cacao beans ferment in cement bins, stirred with a giant wooden paddle.

Once the cacao beans have been removed from the pods, they are fermented to remove the mucilage, stop the bean from germinating, and to begin flavor development. Many farmers traditionally ferment the beans in a large pile on the ground in between banana leaves or sacks. Some producer groups, such as our producer partners in the Dominican Republic, the farmers of CONACADO Co-op, bring the beans to a central fermentation area where they are fermented in wooden boxes for a period up to six days. Fermentation is essential to the development of a high quality cacao bean that will be transformed into gourmet chocolate.

 

Drying

Caaco beans dry on beds inside a tent

After fermentation, the beans are dried, bringing the humidity of the beans down to between 6-8% for storage and export. Cacao beans are often dried in the sun, which can happen on tarps, mats, or patios. They are continually raked so that they will dry more evenly. The drying process can take up to a week. However, if the beans are dried too long, they will become brittle. If they are not dried long enough, they run the risk of becoming moldy. Some producers also have access to automatic driers, which are used when the weather is rainy or cloudy and they are unable to sun-dry the beans. Once dried, cacao beans can be stored for four to five years.

 

Roasting, Winnowing and Grinding

A stainless steel funnel and a machine with a lot of tubes in a chocolate processing facility

When the dried cacao beans arrive at the processing plant they are first cleaned to remove any debris. Next, the beans are roasted to darken the color and to further bring out the flavor characteristics of the cacao. The beans can be roasted at different temperatures and for different lengths of time, depending on different variables such as humidity, size of the beans, and the desired flavor.

After roasting, the beans are “winnowed” to remove the shells from around the bean, leaving only the roasted cocoa nib, which is the key ingredient for making chocolate.

Next, the cocoa nibs are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor, also sometimes called cocoa mass. Despite the name, chocolate liquor has absolutely no alcoholic content. Chocolate liquor can either be used directly in the production of chocolate bars or further processed to separate the fat, known as cocoa butter, from the cocoa solid, leaving cocoa presscake. Cocoa butter is used in chocolate bars and beauty products. Cocoa presscake is milled into cocoa powder to be used for baking cocoa and hot cocoa.

 

Conching

Chocolate is agitated within a conching machine

Once the beans are processed into chocolate liquor and cocoa butter, the manufacturing of finished products can begin. To make chocolate bars, chocolate liquor and cocoa butter are blended with other ingredients such as sugar, vanilla, and milk (for milk chocolate). These ingredients are then refined. For Equal Exchange chocolate bars, this means the particle size of the ingredients is refined to such a small size that they cannot be felt by the human tongue, giving the chocolate much of its smooth texture. This mixture is then “conched,” or mixed and aerated at high temperatures. This process thoroughly blends the ingredients, taking out some of the acidity of the cacao and further developing the flavors that will appear in the final bar.

Traditionally, conching has been an extended process of mixing the ingredients for long periods of time, often for days. It is now common for companies to use soy lecithin, an emulsifier, to help blend the ingredients, allowing them to drastically cut down on conching time and costs. We are proud to say that Equal Exchange does not use soy lecithin in any of our products. Instead, our bars are crafted using extended conching for a period of 24-72 hours depending on the bar. It is our belief that this method creates a superior chocolate that is both incredibly smooth and full of well-balanced flavors. Read more about soy-free chocolate.

 

Tempering and Molding

Finished chocolate bars roll out of a machine in their molds

After the conching is complete, the chocolate is then “tempered” through a slow, stepped decrease in temperature. During this process, the chocolate is cooled and then warmed, then cooled further and warmed once again, and so on until it reaches the correct temperature, creating an even crystallization of the ingredients throughout the chocolate. If done well, tempering is what gives the chocolate its smooth texture and snap when broken in two. After the chocolate is properly tempered, it is ready for additional ingredient inclusions such as almonds, coffee beans, or sea salt. The chocolate is then poured into molds, which form the shape of the bar. The chocolate cools until it becomes solid and is then removed from the molds as chocolate bars. Once the bars are cooled, they are wrapped in their inner wrapper to keep the chocolate fresh for 12-24 months. They are then labeled, packed in cases and stacked on pallets ready to be shipped to and eaten!

 

Quality Analysis

A man buries his face in a bowl to take in the aroma of a chocolate sample

We want to make sure every chocolate and cocoa product that leaves our warehouse is of the highest quality. Our Chocolate Tasting Panel meets weekly (and sometimes more) for intense product evaluation. Tasting Panel is a hand-picked group of the best mouths at Equal Exchange, from various departments. The members have undergone extensive sensory training and calibration as a group, honing their skills and continually developing their palates. Panel often compares a new shipment of chocolate to a previous shipment, to ensure consistency. Another task is to write a descriptive analysis of a product’s aromas, flavors, aftertaste, mouthfeel, and so on, using a special “intensity” scoring system.
Ready to try fair trade chocolate?

 

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Organic Sugar: Cane to Table

The sugar we use in our chocolate and cocoa comes from fair trade and organic sugarcane! Our co-operative partners work hard to provide a quality product. From the farmers who plant the cane to the mill workers who package the sugar, the transformation from cane to table takes an incredible journey. So, mix up a cup of our hot cocoa, take a sip, and while you allow its subtle caramel sweetness to cover your senses, read about how this sugar was formed – from cane to table.

Growing

an illustration of organic sugarcane growing

Sugarcane is most commonly planted from using cuttings of the cane as seed. Each cutting segment contains a bud that will sprout the new cane. It takes about one year for the cane to reach maturity.

Harvesting

An illustration of harvesting organic sugarcane with oxen

As harvest season approaches, co-operative extensionists will test the sucrose level of the sugarcane. Once levels are high enough, the farmer is authorized to begin harvesting. Most of our farmer partners harvest their sugarcane by hand with machete, and gather the sugarcane into bundles. From the bundles, it is transported, often by ox teams, to a co-operative collection center. There, the bundles are weighed out, tagged with the farmer’s code, and the farmers are given a receipt which they can cash in at the co-op on a weekly basis. From the collection center, farmer members split the cost of transporting their cane collectively to the mill.

Milling

an illustration of organic sugarcane on a conveyer belt being milled

At the mill, the bundles are recorded by their tags, opened, and sent first through a chopper and shredder. From there, the sugarcane is passed through a series of 3-6 mills, often in the shape of rollers in order to squeeze out as much cane juice as possible.

Clarifying

An illustration of organic sugarcane being clarified in a tank

Cane juice is acidic which creates favorable conditions for the rapid decay of sucrose. In order to prevent this decay, limewater is added into the cane juice. Next, the juice is heated causing any dirt and sediments to chemically bond to the limewater and separate from the juice for easy extraction.

Evaporating

The clean cane juice is heated to evaporate excess water until it reaches the consistency of syrup.

Crystallizing

Once the sugarcane reaches the right syrup consistency, a “seed” is introduced in the boiler. The “seed” is an established sugar crystal that begins the rapid growth of other sugar crystals until the whole boiler is full of sugar crystals.

Drying

The sugar crystals are then passed through a centrifuge which draws all of the liquids away from the sugar crystals. The liquids left over are a cane syrup called a “mother liquor.” This liquor typically is passed through a boiler two or three more times until all of its sucrose is extracted in the form of sugar crystals, and the syrup leftover is sold as molasses. After the centrifuge, the sugar crystals are passed through a dryer that lowers the temperature and humidity of the crystals.

Packing

The dry sugar crystals pass through several magnets to detect for further impurities before being packaged. Our partners package the majority of their sugar in bulk quantities from superpacks (one ton bags) to 50lb brown paper bags.

 

Quality Analysis

We test each incoming sugar shipment to ensure that it is of utmost quality. Our Chocolate Tasting Panel meets weekly (and sometimes more) for intense product evaluation. The members have undergone extensive sensory training and calibration as a group, honing their skills and continually developing their palates. Panel will compare an incoming shipment of sugar to a previous shipment to make certain that there are not any off flavors or problems with the new sugar.

 

And that’s how it’s done! Ready to taste the results?

 

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Mint Blackberry Green Iced Tea

Dress up a cup of Organic Mint Green Tea with extra mint, plus juicy blackberries. This vibrant iced tea has a fresh, summery flavor!

A mug of iced tea on a table with fruit
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Mint Blackberry Iced Green Tea

For a stronger fruit flavor or a cleaner-looking glass,  skip step 3. and use a blender to juice the berries and strain the liquid into your tea instead.

Course Drinks
Keyword Blackberries, Iced Tea, Mint
Servings 1

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Brew a double-strength cup of tea, using two tea bags but otherwise following the instructions on the box.
  2. Allow tea to cool, or continue on if you're in a hurry - the ice at the end will cool things down.
  3. Add a handful of blackberries and muddle them to release flavor.
  4. Add honey or agave to taste.
  5. Add ice and allow to cool.
  6. Garnish with fresh mint and enjoy!

 

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See all our new iced tea recipes!

Shade-Grown Coffee

Shade-grown coffee is as natural as it comes — the low-to-the-ground plant thrives as part of a healthy ecosystem surrounded by other species of plants and wildlife.  Equal Exchange’s mission to work with small farmer cooperatives has led us to work in regions with extensive landscape degradation. The market access we provide to producers in these regions is critical to restoring these landscapes. Because we’ve been working with our co-op partners for so long, we’re able to source outstanding beans. And much of the coffee we buy is shade-grown. The plants that shade the coffee give shelter to birds and insects, sequester carbon and serve as a source of food for local communities. That’s not all. Shade actually helps make for a sweeter cup!

Shade-Grown and the Environment

Coffee is a shade-loving shrub. But in recent decades, people have developed sun-tolerant varieties of the coffee plant. These varieties, grown on plantations in a mono-culture system, do what they’re meant to — produce large yields. People clear forests of native plants to plant these large fields of coffee. And a growing environment without crop variety doesn’t support biodiversity. Over 98% of Equal Exchange coffees by volume are certified organic. (Our few non-organic coffees are clearly labeled.) The overwhelming majority of these organic coffees are shade-grown. Shade trees and various types of crops and plant-life are an important part of the ecosystem for birds and pollinators.

Some of the non shade-grown coffees that Equal Exchange sources are produced in locales where deforestation has occurred. The land in these areas is in transition; it’s still in the process of being restored with agroforestry systems using coffee as the principal crop.

Want to learn more? Watch our documentary about farmer partners who grow coffee in buffer zones around protected biospheres in Peru:

Shade and Sweetness

The coffee beans we roast are the seeds of the plant. They’re found in its small round fruit, its cherries. Some fruits, like bananas, can be picked when green; they’ll continue to ripen after harvest. Coffee is different. It will not ripen any more once the fruit is off the bush. For that reason, skillful growers wait until the cherries are mature, when they’ve developed as much sucrose as possible. The sucrose in the cherry flavors the coffee in the cup — and it depends on factors like altitude and shade cover. Coffee plants needs sunlight to develop, of course. But they thrive when they grow in partially shady conditions.  According to the Coffee Quality Institute, shade-grown coffee will have 3% more sugar than coffee that is grown in full sun.

What about Certified Shade-Grown?

While the shade-grown certification system is appropriate for some growers, it comes with costs.  We don’t believe it provides sufficient additional benefits for us to ask our producer partners to go through this process on top of the fair trade and organic standards they are already meeting. It’s important to note that both organic and fair trade standards have environmental components that cover much of what shade-grown certification requires. From our perspective, shade certification doesn’t alter in a significant way the practices of farms that are already fair trade and organic certified.

Shop Organic Coffee >>

Shade-grown coffee with conifer trees
Shade-gown in Honduras at the COMSA cooperative.

Pineapple Coffee Fizz

This effervescent coffee cocktail matches cold brew with sweet pineapple and gin. Mix it up for endless summer vibes! We like it best with fruity Ethiopian coffee.

 

A cold brew cocktail with a wedge of pineapple
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Pineapple Coffee Fizz

Bubbly and sweet with a serious kick.
Course Drinks
Keyword Coffee, Cold Brew, Gin, Pineapple
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings 1

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coffee, prepared as cold brew, Equal Exchange Organic Ethiopian.
  • 1 (1.5 oz) shot gin
  • 2 tsp simple syrup
  • 2 tsp fresh pineapple juice
  • tonic water
  • fresh pineapple chunks

Instructions

  1. Add cold brew, gin, simple syrup and juice into shaker
  2. Shake with ice
  3. Strain into a glass and add fresh ice
  4. Top with tonic water
  5. Garnish with pineapple

Here’s to summer!

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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The Search for Sustainable Packaging

We’ve been selling organic, fairly traded coffee since 1986 and our coffee bags are without a doubt one of our most recognizable products. When you’re in the grocery aisle, those bright red mylar bags are hard to miss.

But those red mylar bags are single-use and destined for the landfill in every municipality we sell them in. We are on a mission to change that.

Seeking a Righteous Alternative

We’re not on this path alone. Packaging is a clear opportunity for companies wanting to offer more sustainable options. And for good reason — 30% of US household trash on average comes from product packaging (Allaway et al pg. 5). Equal Exchange’s Environmental Sustainability Committee has been tracking our impact on various environmental metrics since 2015 and because of that we know about 30% of our company’s solid waste tracked goes to a landfill, much in the form of mylar coffee bags. Unfortunately, in seeking a righteous alternative, we’ve discovered that there are no simple solutions.

Compostable options have been leading the way in terms of alternative coffee packaging, so we’ll focus on them. Biotrē, made by Pacific Bag, accounts for coffee’s need for shelf stability with paper-based bags that have a lining of PLA, a plastic made from plant materials instead of petroleum. There’s a good article on Biotrē here.

But based on our research, this material could be problematic for two reasons.

A worker puts bags of coffee into a box

The Downsides of Compostable Packaging

First, most of these bags never actually get composted. Yard debris compost facilities rarely if ever accept packaging. Facilities that accept food waste and yard waste together are more accommodating, but still about half of all food waste composters won’t accept compostable plastics, and only an estimated 4% of US households have access to pickup food waste composting collection (Platt et al, Allaway et al pg 17). For example, many of our worker-owners live in Portland, Ore. which is one of those municipalities that only accepts food waste for composting. So, if they bought a Biotrē bag they would either have to compost it in their own backyard heaps or put it in the landfill. Any compost made with compostable packaging or utensils cannot be used on organic farms according to USDA standards, because they are considered synthetic inputs — much of which is derived from GMO corn (Sullivan).

Second, there is the full life cycle of environmental impacts that packaging has (beyond just its disposal) to consider. In 2018 The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released a comprehensive review of academic studies on packaging covering the previous 20 years and concluded that “compostable packaging that is composted does not consistently fare better than non-compostable packaging that is either landfilled, incinerated or recycled” across a wide array of environmental criteria (Allaway et al pg 11-12). The report goes on to cite that “higher impacts for compostable options are due to several factors, including higher production-related emissions” (Allaway et al pg 12) and the fact that composting doesn’t enjoy the “higher benefits of recycling,” (Allaway et al pg 13) which reuses materials, thereby cutting down on resource extraction. Biotrē was not evaluated in any of the studies covered by the DEQ’s review and may have lower production-related emissions than the compostable packaging that was studied, but we do not know.

Even if it is, we come back to the limited infrastructure for composting.

Where Does it All Go?

Some companies and thinkers in this arena have been adopting a “build it and they will come” approach, suggesting that if more and more companies adopt compostable packaging, more composting facilities will be built to handle the demand. We don’t know if that will happen. We do know that recently several Pacific NW composting facilities have stopped accepting compostable food service ware (which is different from packaging, which this post is about, but still telling) and released this press release on why. Even if waste management caught up and most “compostable” packaging was able to be composted, we’d have the higher energy inputs for alternatives to consider. Furthermore, viewing this issue solely from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective, David Allaway (DEQ) says, “If Oregon could recycle or compost 95 percent of its waste (all waste, not just packaging), we’d reduce [Oregon’s] greenhouse gas emissions by about six percent” — driving home again the fact that the greatest energy impact of any packaging material is incurred upstream at the time of its manufacture, and that recycling and composting are helpful but insufficient by themselves.

There are well-intentioned people on both sides of the compostable packaging debate, but it is our view at Equal Exchange that we need to keep searching for a more environmentally sound solution, ideally one that is recyclable. We’re keeping an eye out for one, and will continue evaluating compostable options and considering any that turn out to be lower-impact at the production stage.

 

This article was co-written by Equal Exchange worker-owners Ellen Mickle and Lincoln Neal.  Questions? Email Ellen: emickle@equalexchange.coop


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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
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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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Congregation Spotlight: Grandview United Methodist

Dorothy Killebrew is a member of  Grandview United Methodist Church in Lancaster, PA, one of Equal Exchange’s top faith based customers. Here is Dorothy‘s description of how her congregation connects with fair trade and social justice:

“Ours is a growing church with an average attendance about 250 members, with new members joining all of the time. This is because we’re an open and affirming Reconciling Congregation which makes people feel comfortable and safe. And whenever a new member joins we give them a gift of an Equal Exchange product whether it’s a box of tea, a bag of coffee, or a can of cocoa.  

We make it easy for people to access and purchase the Equal Exchange products throughout the week; they‘re available in a heavily-trafficked room where neighbors come to drop their kids off for Scouts or to participate in exercise classes. We also don’t seek to make a profit; we don’t use the products as a fundraiser. And we occasionally do things like Sunday school lessons and announcements to educate people about fair trade and the people it affects.

We also sell Equal Exchange products through an honor system where people can take the products they need and leave a check. Finally, as a member of a clergy choir in Central PA, I bring products once a month to display at every choir concert. What this means is that by May this year I will have taken a display to 26 different churches. My clergy colleagues always buy; but those attending the concert often purchase as well!”

Keep up the amazing work, Dorothy and friends!

 

To be featured in the Congregation Spotlight, please send a few paragraphs about how your congregation uses Equal Exchange products to promote justice. Don’t forget to include some photos, the higher the resolution the better!

Learn more about how you can sell Equal Exchange products in your congregation or community here>>

Image shows samples of Equal Exchange coffee, chocolate and tea.