Foods & Culinary

Get to know the coffee brands that are making the industry fairer

While Portland has long been known as a coffee town, it’s not just a place for extravagant pour-overs and Instagram-ready coffee shops; The city also has a strong list of companies and organizations working to improve the coffee industry landscape and address everything from low wages for coffee farmers to racial inequalities in Portland cafes. Some coffee roasters use their passion to do other charitable causes, raise funds for nonprofits that address the homelessness in Portland, and provide work for Portlanders with disabilities who have left their special education programs.

It takes some radical optimism to address the ethics of coffee: the long and complicated supply chain makes it difficult to trace, and people’s expectations of how much coffee should cost keep wages low. Many problems with racism and sexism in US coffee roasters and cafes require extensive systemic change. Recognizing the failure of the industry and implementing the overarching 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 make Portland’s coffee industry fairer, and they appear to be helping the community as a whole.

These are just a few of the coffee companies and nonprofits trying to make positive change for both the coffee supply chain and Portland as a whole, including giving back coffee companies and charitable innovators changing the way the coffee business works here.


A person pours hot water over various cups of ground coffee beans.

The Cup of Excellence auction is based on cupping for the Alliance for Coffee Excellence.

Alliance for Coffee Excellence [Official]

Sustainable harvest

One of the only ones B Corp Coffee importers, Sustainable Harvest, based in Portland, is committed to creating a fair marketplace that has a positive impact on everyone in the coffee supply chain. Sustainable Harvest worked with Bellwether Coffee to create a new framework for coffee prices At a minimum, that takes into account the cost of living in each growing region, the size of the farm that grows beans, expenses such as groceries and childcare, and savings for coffee farmers. Under 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 growing. Sustainable harvest coffees can be found on-site in places like Deadstock, Stumptown, and Upper Left.

Alliance for Coffee Excellence / Cup of Excellence

The Alliance for Coffee Excellence, based in northwest Portland, is the non-profit organization behind the world-famous coffee market Cup of Excellence. This initiative revolutionized the specialty coffee industry by auctioning competitive coffees and creating a platform for producers to sell their coffee well above the average market price. By opening the competition and auction to producers around the world, Cup of Excellence has helped increase the demand for premium and carefully produced coffee, thereby putting more money in the pockets of some growers. Cup of Excellence had over 4,100 winners and averaged $ 21.34 per pound in 2020. (The market price for green coffee beans is generally closer to $ 1.) Even during the pandemic, Cup of Excellence has hit record prices for the auctions that amass millions of dollars in gross revenue for the winning Cup of Excellence coffees. Roasters like Proud Mary, Groundwork, and Sisters Coffee regularly buy Cup of Excellence coffees.

World coffee research

Big problems like coffee leaf rust and climate change threaten the coffee industry around the world. As a not-for-profit in the field of coffee science, World Coffee Research’s goal is to protect coffee diversity by promoting the conservation of coffee varieties and the exchange of seeds, creating and testing hybrid coffee plants that can grow and thrive in a variety of climates , and information is provided free of charge to farmers to support the growth and quality control of their crops. Much of World Coffee Research’s work is published in open access journals or free websites for accessibility. Portlanders can Donate directly to the non-profit organization, 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 majority Ethiopian coffee importer, wants to change the way coffee is imported and traded. By engaging some of its stakeholders in Ethiopia, Catalyst can not only ensure that the coffee is consistently high quality, but that everyone in the supply chain is paid fairly. Catalyst always negotiates fixed prices at the beginning of the harvest to ensure that production costs are covered and producers get a high profit; it imports coffee from producers who pay day laborers three times the normal daily wage. Catalyst Trade coffee is available on-site at stores such as Arbor Lodge, Loma Coffee Company, and the Terrain Coffee Project.

Sacks of beans from Reforma Roasters on the shelves.

Reforma Roasters coffees

Reforma roaster [Official]

Hpy cup of coffee

Hpy Cup is a Portland roaster that provides jobs for adults with disabilities. By employing adults who have graduated from the special education program, Hpy Cup is able to pay them competitive wages and provide professional training in bagging, weighing and labeling the roasted coffee. The company recently opened a new coffee bar on NE 6th and Couch, so customers can also enjoy a latte or house coffee.

Roaster reform / La Perlita

Located in the Pearl District’s Ecotrust building, La Perlita has worked hard to create a communal space for the Latinx Portlanders. When he started roasting coffee, owner Angel Medina gave his beans away in exchange for donations to the nonprofit United We Dream immigration rights organization; Since then, he has been using his cafe’s media platforms to talk about racism in coffeehouses and Portland in general. La Perlita gives back to the community by providing a free and safe space for People of Color looking to launch and expand their pop-ups, while driving traffic to them through the coffee shop’s customers. Reforma Roasters, La Perlita’s coffee roaster, ensures that all members of the supply chain – the producers as well as the farmers who work for the producers – receive a fair wage.

Marigold coffee

The small roastery Marigold in southeast Portland has partnered with the local nonprofit Street Roots to create Street roast, a line of high quality coffees, the proceeds of which support the non-profit organization. Street Roots helps people affected by homelessness by providing them with economic opportunities and amplifying their voice through the newspaper it publishes. The $ 1 each includes texts and content from both professional journalists and non-housed vendors; these providers retain 75 percent of the customer’s turnover. Marigold sells street roast through his online shop and on grocery shelves in Portland and will donate all proceeds directly to Street Roots. This money funds the nonprofit’s reporting and supports their wellbeing and other services like their computer lab. These medium or dark roasted coffees can be bought from local grocery stores or from the Marigold online shop Here.

Greenbridge coffee

Greenbridge, a small coffee shop and roastery in the Lloyd District, donates 10 percent of its coffee sales to nonprofits based in Oregon. One of them is Stone Soup PDX, which helps people at risk of homelessness learn culinary techniques and skills to help them find jobs in the food industry. While the cafe remains closed due to the pandemic, the company continues to sell coffee bags online and provides brewed coffee to some of Multnomah County’s temporary homeless shelters. Greenbridge donates to various organizations throughout the year; At the moment customers have a choice between Stone soup PDX and Smart Reading Oregon.

Portland coffee roaster

Portland Coffee Roasters has been around for more than 25 years, making it one of the oldest coffee companies in Portland. Every year the company works to fund a different global coffee project and support coffee communities in need. These projects range from financing a daycare center in Costa Rica for children from farming families to construction clean water infrastructure and septic tanks, sinks and bathrooms in Florencia, Colombia. Portland Coffee Roasters is certified with Portlands Sustainable at Work Gold, which means that it has achieved the highest standard of sustainability recognized by the City of Portland.

Good coffee

Good Coffee has become famous in Portland for its sleek cafes and impeccable branding. While serving delicious coffee is in the foreground, Good Coffee strives with its Common good project. The company donates 20 percent of sales of its coffee blend of the same name to various organizations and nonprofits in Portland, and tells the story of each organization 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 need more hands-on learning. Open School helps students succeed through smaller class sizes, individual tutoring, pre-hire training, and personalized curricula and activities. The tailor-made blend from Open School is a washed process coffee with beans, 75 percent of which come from Colombia and 25 percent from Guatemalans.


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


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