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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Coffee Law

Air Date: Week of

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Berkeley California residents will decide this election day whether to outlaw all coffee that isn't organic, shade-grown, or free-trade. Host Steve Curwood talks with cafe owner Daryl Ross about the move.


CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. Residents of Berkeley, California have something to ponder over their morning coffee or after dinner espresso, for that matter. A question on November's ballot will ask whether the city should ban the sale of any coffee that isn't organically grown, or shade-grown, or doesn't carry the Fair Trade Label.


CURWOOD: Daryl Ross owns and runs four cafés on and near the University of California, Berkeley campus, and joins us now from Café Strata. Daryl, what percentage of your business would you say is in Fair Trade coffee?

ROSS: Well, at the Café Strata here, off campus, we don't have regular coffee. We just have espresso drinks. And people can get Fair Trade as an option. I think that is a real minimal percentage. It's probably less than 10%. At the cafés on campus, all of our regular coffee, all of our house coffee, is Fair Trade coffee. And that makes up a sizable percent of our sales, probably 50%.

CURWOOD: You can be honest with me here, Daryl. How much do customers really pay attention to whether it's Fair Trade, or organic, or not?

ROSS: Other than maybe a vocal minority of people, we haven't had a lot of people pushing us to carry it.

CURWOOD: Now, why do you support the Fair Trade Label with your business?

ROSS: I just think it's very good to bring awareness to people of where their food comes from. Fair Trade, the organization, makes people aware of the plight of farmers, and the wages they are receiving. Coffee is ubiquitous. And, I think we all take it for granted.

CURWOOD: As I understand it, you don't support this proposed law that would mandate that you must only serve Fair Trade, or organic, or a shade-grown coffee. Why?

ROSS: Well, actually, I mean, I really feel this campaign has already been successful because it's already hit all the major newspapers. And, here, we are talking on NPR. If its goal was to bring awareness to people of this whole issue, then it's been successful on that level. But I think it's about the freedom to choose. Even if we discover that a certain brand is better for us, should we really be forced to buy that brand of coffee.

We all know that NPR is better for us to listen to, but should it be the only station that we're allowed to receive?

CURWOOD: Okay, Berkeley restricts coffee sales only to Fair Trade, or organic, or shade-grown coffee. And I'm picturing Berkeley residents slipping across the border into Oakland, or across the bridge into San Francisco, to score their favorite, now illicit, blends. How realistic?

ROSS: Well, indeed, I mean, I think people have sophisticated taste here, or at least they believe they have sophisticated taste. People like their particular cup of coffee. If they can't get it here in Berkeley, they may be slipping outside the border.

CURWOOD: Daryl Ross runs Café Strata and is a coffee purveyor in Berkeley, California. Thank you for filling us in, Daryl.

ROSS: Thanks very much.



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