January 25, 2006

Eating Some (Fair-Trade) Humble Pie

by peterb

Lord knows that in my time I've said some mean things about fair-trade coffee. I've tried to like it, but every time I go buying it on my own I end up with something that tastes bad. Since my super power is the ability to generalize a single instance of disappointment into a scathing indictment of an entire industry, this led to some enjoyable ranting where I prove, using logic, that all fair trade coffee everywhere, by the immutable laws of the universe, must taste horrible.

The Green LA Girl, however, called my bluff. So now I will publically recant my earlier statements and say, without reservation, fair-trade coffee is awesome.

Monkey and Son Logo

Monkey and Son

The way in which she called my bluff was to send me and psu a package of Monkey & Son Krakatoa. It is without a doubt superb coffee, and I enjoyed every cup I've had of it. I'm getting more. Enough introduction: let me tell you a bit about the coffee.

Despite the super-cool logo, I was initially worried when I opened the package. The beans are a glossy, unearthly black, as if they are made from licorice, or obsidian. The smell — in the bag — is also terribly unappetizing. It's a bit of a mix between burnt rubber and new car leather. But coffee beans are not potpourri, and the real test is in how they smell after you brew them, not before. On these terms, the Monkey & Son Krakatoa succeeds perfectly.

This is a strong, dark roast, but not unpleasantly burnt or overroasted, despite the appearance. It is, in fact, one of the most perfectly balanced dark roasts I've had. It is medium-bodied. There's none of the unpleasant, medicinal aftertaste I found with Café Estima. The flavor is complex without being overbearing along any one dimension. If I was forced, at gunpoint, to come up with a criticism, it might be that it might work better with just a tiny touch more sourness. But, seriously, I'm not sitting there thinking "Gee, I wish this was more sour." I'm sitting there thinking "Where did all my coffee go?" because it tastes good enough that if I'm not careful I find that I don't drink it, I gulp it.

So, barring some unexpected news item revealing that this coffee was actually picked by heroin-addicted sex slave orphans in the mountains of Myanmar: I was wrong, and I'm glad to admit it. There is indeed yummy, reasonably priced fair-trade coffee out there. Thanks for sending me the sample to find out. I will cease badmouthing fair-trade coffee posthaste. I have seen the light.

But I stand by all the mean things I've said about vegans. A man has to draw the line somewhere.

Posted by peterb at January 25, 2006 09:11 PM | Bookmark This


A sure sign of the coming apocalypse.

... but will you actually order more?

Me, I'll stick with my Lion Kona.

Posted by Amos the Poker Cat at January 25, 2006 10:32 PM

I'm glad to hear you've changed your mind. I've had good and bad fair trade. And in Eugene, fair trade, organic coffee is everywhere. Besides Estima (and now, the Monkey), what else have you had?

Reading back on your rant about how fair trade coffee is doomed, I'd have to say I respectfully disagree. Not only because there is good fair trade coffee out there, but also because I live in a community where people do buy things based on the grounds of environmental stability and/or human rights.

On a slightly different note, just in case you get a bad organic beer some day (and subsequently send them all to doomdom), I'd like to recommend Fish Tale's organic amber.

Posted by pghgirlinexile at January 25, 2006 11:03 PM

Coffee beans with the sheen of obsidian... your choice of words makes me want to grind my own coffee for the first time in my life! :)

Posted by Chris at January 26, 2006 02:35 AM

Hold out! You could still badmouth the *concept* of 'fair' trade -- which is really what you were criticising all along -- even if the actual beverage happens to be agreeable. Do you really want to see that preachy little logo on your coffee every morning, reminding you that some bunch of sanctimonious bureaucrats has unilaterally taken it upon themselves to decree that your choice is 'fair'?

Truth be told, the cheap fairtrade chilean carmenere they sell here is pretty good too (in a clumsy sort of way), but by god, I hate the *idea* of it!

Posted by daw at January 26, 2006 05:10 AM

By the way, I mean the fair trade logo. Not the monkey logo, which is indeed pretty awesome.

Posted by daw at January 26, 2006 05:14 AM

On the topic of logos -- one thing I've wondered is -- Why's our fair trade logo so ugly? You'll notice that the UK (fairtrade.org.uk) for ex, has a much cuter, colorful logo... In contrast, the US one's quite drab...

Glad you enjoyed the coffee, peterb :)

Posted by green LA girl at January 26, 2006 10:28 AM

i think it's disgraceful that your badmouthing fairtrade, it's about time we stopped using slaves to do our work for us. who cares about the stupid logo get a life.

Posted by andy at March 6, 2006 02:40 PM

I heard an interview (yes on NPR) by some director who made a documentary on the slave plantations where chocolate is grown. He said he tried to get access to some of the "fair trade" chocolate plantations but was unable to do so. None of the fair trade chocolate places would let him in. Which makes you wonder whether they really are fair trade or just trying to get you to pay more for your bean byproduct of choice.

Posted by Doug at March 6, 2006 03:22 PM

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