There is no hiding the size of Peace Coffee, and no hiding its influence. From its eco-friendly headquarters in south Minneapolis, the Peace Coffee team dispatches bike-riding messengers to bring fair trade certified coffee to numerous accounts in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Peace Coffee has raised consciousness among consumers about the ethics contained in the cup of coffee that wakes them up each morning. Built on a platform of fair trade and organic beans, Peace Coffee has been given a stage by environmentally and ethically conscious companies such as the Wedge Co-op and Common Roots Cafe.
So what is "fair trade," and where does this coffee come from?
Peace Coffee started in 1996 with the goal of working with farmers to pay them a living wage. In 1999, fair trade certification became available, in response to what was known as the "coffee crisis" -- a time when the price of coffee was dropping rapidly, leaving coffee growers without sustainable income. Fair trade certification has become a cornerstone for companies like Peace Coffee.
At the Peace Coffee headquarters, Derek De La Paz, one of the three Peace Coffee roasters, tastes the coffee. "When I taste I look for taints and defects, not just in the green, but in the roast," he says.
The coffees are selected by Mane Alves of Coffee Lab International and purchased by Cooperative Coffees, a coffee-buying co-op. "Peace Coffee was a founding member of [Cooperative] Coffees and there are now over 22 members," says Melanee Meegan, one of Peace Coffee's veteran employees.
Working with Cooperative Coffees has advantages and disadvantages for Peace Coffee. The advantage is that they are able to positively affect a large number of farmers by purchasing coffee from co-ops. The disadvantage of working with such a large-scale importer is that they are not able to work directly with specific farms to create growing, harvesting and processing improvements that directly influence the quality of the cup.
Peace Coffee employees say they are doing the best that they can with the size that they are. Peace Coffee is a "macro roaster," roasting 500,000 pounds of coffee a year, compared with a "micro roaster" such as Paradise Roasters, which roasts fewer than 100,000 pounds a year. "We focus our relationships on smaller organizations within larger co-ops so that we're talking to both the people growing the coffee and the cooperative managers who have the means to deliver the beans," says Meegan.
Like any business that balances customer satisfaction, profit, ecology and ethics, Peace Coffee faces a complicated future. But in many ways, the company is already ahead of some of its more conventional competitors. By making environmental and social impact integral to its mission, it anticipates a number of trends that are shaping the future of coffee.
The Minnesota History Center and Gastro Non Grata are teaming up to present a workshop on all things meat. "D.I.Y. Meat" features a sausage-making demo from Mike Phillips of the Craftsman, a talk with Greg Breining (author of "A Hard Water World: Ice Fishing and Why We Do It,") and a demo on how to prep a whole fish to eat. (3-5 p.m. Sat., Fabulous Catering, 2900 13th Av. S., Mpls. $20. www.mnhs.org/diy.)
The Heavy Table team writes about food and drink in the Upper Midwest five days a week at www.heavytable.com.