A Hill of Beans

I have no idea how I came across Dean’s Beans. I’m sure I Googled “Fair Trade Coffee”, or somesuch term, not looking to shop but just for more information on the topic. A few clicks here and there found me at the Orange, MA roaster’s website.

This was no ordinary online shop. Yes, you could buy coffee to your heart’s content, but there was depth behind each of the fanciful blend descriptions. There were articles and essays, pictures and ideas. Real reasons why Dean does what he does. There was even a self-disclosed Coffee Audit of his business practices. This guy really knew about where his coffee came from. And once I knew all about Dean, I liked him. I bought four one-pound bags of coffee as a first-time customer. Dean and his beans.

Dean is really all about the beans, you see. Oh, I’m sure he and his beans make tasty coffee. But, really, with the whirly-gig grinder and four-cup drip pot I own, all of the better whole-bean coffees essentially taste the same in my house. As long as it’s smaller-batch and whole-bean, doesn’t come ground or in a can, it passes my amateur palate’s taste-test.

I shop for coffee largely on principle. Namely, I like my coffee to be organic (I’m selfish), Fairly Traded (I’m not totally selfish), and shade grown (I want the planet to be considered in the coffee equation, too). It’s hard to find roasters who have beans that meet all three criteria, let alone include all my standards in every bag of beans they sell. Green Mountain, for example, sells many Fair Trade coffees, but they also sell many that are not. Some of their coffees are Fairly Traded, but not organic. Not all the organic coffees are shade-grown, either. So I have to scrutinize every description carefully, to determine whether all of my Principles are being met. Pain in the ass. I like Dean’s Beans, for the simple ease of shopping.

Not entirely true. While the shopping simplicity was a plus, I liked procuring my beans from Dean because he really believes in Fair Trade coffees. He lives it. He walks the walk and talks the talk, if you know what I mean. All, and I mean all, of his coffees are Fair Trade, shade-grown, organic beans. 100%. And to top that, the guy actually goes to Timor and Sumatra and Papua New Guinea and meets the farmers that grow his beans. At home, he talks to politicians and influential sorts about ways to get money and resources to these farmers so they can keep their farms and find profitable ways to grow sustainable coffee crops. He even points fingers at the Right Reverend Newman, the pontiff for feel-good foodies, and suggests that he, too, could Do Better when it comes to sourcing beans. I like Paul Newman, but what I like even more is when a Holier Than Thou gets a bit of tomato on his smugness. Go, Dean!

Some argue that every little bit of Fair Trade helps. When a giant like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts decides to do even a fraction of their product line as Fair Trade, it’s still a lot of Fair Trade. You can even get some Fair Trade McCoffee in some places, I hear. Volume is volume, regardless of the intent behind it. So, while these companies may just be using the Fair Trade logo as a marketing hook, it’s still good for the farmers (and planet). It also brings Fair Trade into the mainstream.

But me? I like what Dean has to say, and I’m going to give him a try. I always root for the little guy, anyway. Even if he’s just about a hill of beans.

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