Dining Halls to Test 'Fair Trade' Coffee

At the urging of an undergraduate student group, Annenberg and the House dining halls will today—for the first time—serve organic coffee that is bought directly from farmers.

Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) and the Harvard Fair Trade Initiative (HFTI) have agreed to brew the new coffee today and next Thursday—and to determine whether it will continue to be served after surveying student opinion on how it stacks up to the normal variety.

In addition to surveys today and next Thursday, HUDS polled students yesterday and will do so again next Wednesday in order to gauge student satisfaction with the regular coffee as well.

After several meetings, HUDS and HFTI agreed to the trial program, as HUDS wanted to give the coffee a test run before committing to it on a more frequent basis.

“From a functional dining services standpoint, we want a read on whether it’s preferred,” said HUDS spokesperson Alexandra McNitt.

Students in HFTI said HUDS’ initial concern was the cost of what they call “fair trade” coffee. The new coffee will cost more, according to students because of the improvement in quality.

“The price increase has nothing to do with the switch to ‘fair trade’ and everything to do with switching to a higher grade of coffee,” Samuel B. Houshower ’03, a member of HFTI. “‘Fair trade’ saves money by dealing directly with the growers and cutting out middlemen.”

HFTI members said they are optimistic HUDS will continue the program if the organic coffee is a hit with students.

“It seems like HUDS has a real commitment to being socially responsible with their foods, but they’re first and foremost concerned with what students want,” said HFTI member Aaron K. Tanaka ’04.

Results from yesterday’s survey have not yet been collected, but HFTI members who spent yesterday morning distributing surveys said they think students are not satisfied with the current blend.

“People seem to be pretty opinionated about their coffee here—ranking the regular at about 2.5 out of 5,” Tanaka said. “Students were very responsive and happy to complain about their coffee.”

After the survey results have been tabulated, HUDS and HFTI plan to meet again to discuss potentially expanding the program.

“It doesn’t make sense to serve ‘fair trade’ once a week,” Houshower said. “Our vision is that all coffee served on campus will be all ‘fair trade,’ all organic, all the time.”

To accomplish this goal, the group says it will expand its scope beyond HUDS.

Adams House Master Judith S. Palfrey has already begun serving fair trade coffee at Masters’ teas.

The new organic coffee comes from Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative that trades coffee grown in Latin America, Africa and Asia, according to HFTI member Jordan A. A. Bar Am ’04. The New England Coffee Company provides the regular dining hall coffee, Bar Am said.

HUDS would not comment on the cost of either type of coffee, but HFTI members say the fair trade coffee sells for about $5 per pound retail, while the regular beans cost less.