Portland coffee brands make the industry fairer


While Portland has long been known as a coffee town, it’s not just a place for extravagant and Instagrammable coffee shops; the city also has a strong roster of companies and organizations that strive to improve the landscape of the coffee industry, tackling everything from low wages of coffee farmers to racial inequalities in coffee shops from Portland. Some roasters are using their passion to tackle other community causes, raising money for nonprofits fighting homelessness in Portland and providing work for disabled Portlanders who have moved beyond education programs. special.

It takes some radical optimism to tackle the ethics of coffee: the long and complex supply chain makes it difficult to trace, and people’s expectations of the price of coffee keep wages low. Many issues of racism and sexism within American coffee roasters and coffee shops require major systemic change. Seeing industry failures and implementing the global changes the industry really needs can take years and will likely require more than a few cafes and nonprofits; however, these companies and organizations are doing what they can to turn Portland’s coffee industry into a more equitable place, and they seem to be moving the community as a whole forward.

These are just a few of the coffee companies and nonprofits trying to make positive changes both to the coffee supply chain and to Portland as a whole, including the businesses of coffee giving back and the nonprofit pioneers changing the way the coffee business works here.


Cupping for the Alliance for Coffee Excellence is behind the Cup of Excellence auction.
Alliance for Coffee Excellence [Official]

Sustainable harvest

One of B Corp’s only coffee importers, Portland-based Sustainable Harvest, strives to create a fair market that positively impacts everyone working in the coffee supply chain. Sustainable Harvest worked with Bellwether Coffee to come up with a new framework for minimum coffee prices that takes into account the cost of living in each growing region, the size of the farm growing beans, expenses such as food and childcare, and savings for coffee growers. . Using this framework, Sustainable Harvest pays producers more than the industry standard for their products. It also invests in farmers and producers through partnerships like the Relationship Coffee Institute, which aims to provide greater economic opportunities for women in coffee farming. Sustainable Harvest cafes can be found locally at places like Deadstock, Stumptown, and Upper Left.

Alliance for Coffee Excellence / Cup of Excellence

Based in northwest Portland, the Alliance for Coffee Excellence is the non-profit organization behind the famous Cup of Excellence in the coffee market. This initiative revolutionized the specialty coffee industry by auctioning award-winning coffees and creating a platform for producers to sell their coffee well above the mid-market price. By opening up the competition and auction to growers all over the world, Cup of Excellence has helped to increase the demand for high scoring and carefully produced coffee, which has enabled some growers to earn more money. Cup of Excellence had over 4,100 winning farmers and reached an average price of $ 21.34 a pound in 2020. (The market rate for green coffee beans is typically closer to $ 1.) Even during the pandemic, Cup of Excellence has reached record prices. for auctions, generating millions of dollars in gross revenue for winning Cup of Excellence coffees. Roasters like Proud Mary, Groundwork, and Sisters Coffee regularly buy Cup of Excellence coffees.

Global coffee research

Big problems like coffee leaf rust and climate change threaten the world’s coffee economies. As a non-profit organization in the coffee science sector, the goal of World Coffee Research is to protect the diversity of coffee by promoting the conservation of coffee varieties and the exchange of seeds, by creating and testing hybrid coffee plants capable of adapting and thriving in a variety of climates, and providing free information to farmers to help them grow and control the quality of their crop. Much of the work of World Coffee Research is published in open access journals or free websites for accessibility. Portlanders can donate directly to the association, and roasters and importers can become members to support the farmers and researchers involved; Sustainable Harvest, for example, is a member.

Catalyst trade

Catalyst, a predominantly Ethiopian coffee importer, seeks to change the way coffee is imported and marketed. By having some of its stakeholders in Ethiopia, Catalyst is able to ensure not only that coffee is consistently of high quality, but that all members of the supply chain are paid fairly. Catalyst always negotiates fixed prices at the start of the harvest to ensure that the cost of production is covered and that producers receive a large portion of the profits; he imports coffee from planters who pay day laborers three times the usual daily wage. Catalyst Trade coffee can be found locally at stores such as Arbor Lodge, Loma Coffee Company, and Terrain Coffee Project.

Bags of Reforma Roasters beans on shelves.

Reforma roaster coffees
Reforma coffee roasters [Official]

Good cup of coffee

Happy Cup is a Portland-based coffee roaster that strives to provide jobs for adults with disabilities. By employing adults who have no longer completed special education programs, Happy Cup is able to pay them competitive salaries and provide them with vocational training in bagging, weighing and labeling roasted coffee. The company recently opened a new cafe on NE 6th and Couch, which means customers can stop by and have a latte or homemade coffee as well.

Reforma / La Perlita coffee roasters

Located in the Pearl District Ecotrust building, La Perlita has worked hard to create a community space for the Latinx Portlanders. When he started roasting coffee, owner Angel Medina donated his beans in exchange for donations to the nonprofit United We Dream; since then he has used his cafe’s media platforms to talk about racism in cafes and in Portland in general. La Perlita gives back to the community by providing a free and safe space for people of color who want to launch and grow their pop-ups, while driving traffic to them through the cafe’s customers. Reforma Roasters, the coffee roasting part of La Perlita, ensures that all members of the supply chain – the growers as well as the farmers who work for the growers – receive a fair wage.

Marigold coffee

The small Southeast Portland roaster Marigold has partnered with local Street Roots to create Street Roast, a line of high-quality coffees whose profits will support the association. Street Roots helps homeless people by providing them with economic opportunities and amplifying their voices through the newspaper it publishes. The $ 1 newspaper features writing and content from professional journalists and non-hosted vendors; these salespeople keep 75 percent of the newspaper’s sales. Marigold sells Street Roast through its online store and on grocery store shelves around Portland and donates all profits directly to Street Roots. This money finances the association’s reports and supports its well-being and other services, such as its computer lab. These medium or dark roast coffees can be purchased at local grocery stores or from Marigold’s online store here.

Greenbridge Cafe

Greenbridge, a small Lloyd District coffee shop and roaster, donates 10% of its coffee sales to Oregon-based nonprofits. One of them is Stone Soup PDX, which helps people at risk of homelessness learn cooking techniques and skills to help them find jobs in the food industry. While the cafe remains closed due to the pandemic, the company is still selling coffee bags online and providing brewed coffee to some of Multnomah County’s temporary homeless shelters. Greenbridge donates to a number of different organizations throughout the year; at this time, customers can choose between Stone Soup PDX and Smart Reading Oregon.

Portland Coffee Roasters

Portland Coffee Roasters have been around for over 25 years, making them one of Portland’s oldest coffee companies. Each year, the company strives to fund a different global coffee project and support coffee communities in need. These projects range from funding a daycare center in Costa Rica for children of farming families to building drinking water infrastructure and septic tanks, sinks and bathrooms in Florencia, Colombia. Portland Coffee Roasters is certified Gold with Sustainable at Work of Portland, which means it has achieved the highest level of sustainability recognized by the City of Portland.

Good coffee

With its stylish coffees and pristine brand, Good Coffee has become well known in Portland. While serving great-tasting coffee is the primary focus, Good Coffee is also working to create a better Portland with its Common Good project. The company donates 20 percent of its sales of namesake coffee blends to various organizations and nonprofits in Portland, telling each organization’s story on the packaging. The current organization is Open School, a program that provides alternative education for students whose needs are not met in a traditional school and who require more hands-on learning. Open School helps students succeed through smaller class sizes, one-on-one tutoring, pre-employment training, and personalized programs and activities. Open School’s Custom Blend is a washed coffee made with 75 percent Colombian and 25 percent Guatemalan beans.


Seiji Nanbu is a Portland-based barista, coffee writer, and photographer.



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