What are coffee certifications?

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More and more people are concerned about consuming responsibly and it is through coffee certification that consumers trust one brand or another and make their purchasing decisions.

The new generations want organic products produced in fair conditions. The problem is that today there are many certifications for coffee. In this article, we explore what the different certifications are, what they mean and what their differences are. And most importantly, as a producer, is it worth investing in certifying a coffee? 

Difference between seal and coffee certification.

The first thing you should be clear about is the difference between the terms “seal” and “certification”. Although they are terms that are linked, they mean different things.

Seals

They are those little logos of different shapes and colours that you see printed on coffee packaging. There are many stamps for coffee and each one of them tells you that that coffee meets specific standards. And that these standards are recognized both in the country of origin and in the country where the coffee is marketed. 

There are stamps for environmental, social, economic and geographic origin standards. There are also the seals for international standards (ISO) and regional ones that obey specific standards of each country. And there are seals that correspond to the standards of private companies such as Starbucks and Nestlé. Behind each seal, there is an internationally recognized certifying company, which is the guarantor of compliance with the corresponding standard.

Environmental sustainability seals for coffee certification

The coffee that bears these stamps is aimed at a public concerned about the environment. That is, to people who are willing to pay more for coffee that has been produced in an environmentally friendly way. Europe is the main consumer of coffee with environmental sustainability seals and the countries of Latin America are its largest suppliers.

The main environmental sustainability seals for coffee are:

  • UTZ Certified
  • 4C the global coffee platform
  • Rain Forest Alliance
  • Coffee Bird-friendly
  • USDA organic
  • JAS
  • ECOCERT
  • Starbucks CAFE Practices
  • Nespresso AAA

Fairtrade: A seal of social justice for coffee producers

The label Fair Trade guarantees you as a consumer, that the coffee producer received a fair price for their product. And that this price has allowed the producer to obtain an acceptable return to be able to live in decent conditions. However, in the current coffee crisis, the price premium of between $ 3.8 and $ 4 per 60-kilo sack of coffee obtained by coffee growers with this stamp is not enough to cover even production costs.

Geographically based coffee origin stamps for coffee certification.

A  Protected Denomination of Origin PDO or a Protected Geographical Indication PGI is a legal mechanism that guarantees the consumer that a product comes from a specific geographical region. And that in addition, the product has its own distinctive quality characteristics, when compared with other similar products on the market.

These quality characteristics are given by the agro-ecological conditions, production, varieties and production processes that only exist and are combined in that geographic region where the product comes from. Each country has its own coffee certification mechanisms and seals for its brands and products with PDO or PGI

Colombia is one of the coffee producing countries that has made the most progress in obtaining Protected Designation of Origin seals for coffee. To date, it has the collective brand Café de Colombia and the PDO certificate for the collective brand, both recognized worldwide. 

Other coffees that you will find in the market with certificates of origin are:

  • Jamaica Blue Mountain
  • Guatemala’s Golden Volcano and
  • Tarrazú from Costa Rica.

Three of the finest, most delicate and expensive in the world.

Certification 

Certification is the process that a producer must carry out to demonstrate that their coffee is different from others on the market. In this process, what is verified is the traceability of the coffee from when the plants are planted until the coffee reaches your hands ready to be consumed. How that traceability is measured depends on the specific standards of each label. If the producer manages to demonstrate that it complies with all the standards, it obtains the right to use the corresponding seal on the packaging of its product.

Coffee Certification: Better Selling Prices for the Producer?

The speculative market has led coffee producers to seek through certification and seals, a mechanism to add value to their coffee. This allows them to market it at a better price off the stock exchange, through direct negotiations with buyers. But the coffee certification process, as you may have already realized, is time-consuming, and costly for the farmer. This is the reason why once a seal is obtained, the value of the product in the market increases. This higher price seeks to cover the costs that the farmer must incur to achieve the certification of his coffee and obtain acceptable profitability.

In other words, a large volume of certified coffee is traded on the New York Stock Exchange that does not receive any price differential. For this reason, it is so important that cooperatives and associations of coffee producers are able to secure direct contracts with customers. And that those customers are willing to pay more for certified coffee from their associates.

Do you want to get a coffee certification?

We are going to leave you some recommendations that you should take into account before starting the process. This way you can assess what your situation is and if you are prepared.

  • Define why you want to obtain a coffee certification and a quality seal: The first thing you should investigate is if you really have an assured market in which you are going to be paid a fair price for your already certified coffee.
  • Make an evaluation of the physical quality of your coffee: When you decide to get certified it is because you are sure that your coffee has an exceptional quality.
  • Make an evaluation of the quality of your coffee cup: If you pass the physical quality test of your coffee, you will be ready to do the cup quality analysis. Find out which are the certified coffee quality laboratories in your region. Talk to them and bring them a representative sample of your coffee to analyze. According to the results, you will know what the cup quality of your coffee is, how many points it has and how it is classified. You will also know what its attributes and defects are.
  • If the results show you defects in the cup, you will have to retrace your steps: Analyze where the defects come from, correct the errors in the handling of the crop and the benefit of the grain and make new analyzes until obtaining a good quality coffee in the cup.

GAP Good Agricultural Practices for coffee

Compliance with Good Agricultural GAP practices is the first step that must be met if you want to obtain any coffee certification. In other words, all quality certifications are based on the fact that you comply with GAP for coffee. To then enter to evaluate the specific standards of each seal.

You don’t need to be certified in GAP, but you do need to be sure you’re meeting the standards. Define what type of seal you want to obtain and consult the specific standards of the seal

Each quality seal has particular standards, so you should consult the regulations and verify if you comply with all of them. If not, you must follow the following steps:

  • Identify which of the parameters you are not meeting
  • Identify what actions you must implement in your crop to comply with the standard
  • Calculate how much time and money it will cost you to implement the improvements and if you are able to do so.

The stamps that require your coffee to be of organic production

As we already told you, all the standards are based on the fact that you comply with GAP for the cultivation of coffee. But if what you are looking for is a Rain Forest or Bird Friendly seal, you must make sure that you do not use any agrochemicals and that you comply with the regulations for the protection of soil, water, flora and fauna. In other words, these stamps require that your coffee is of organic or agro-ecological production.

If you want to certify your coffee as organic, you must implement the corresponding standard for your country and the corresponding standard for the country where you are going to export it:

  • Organic Europe for the European Union
  • JAS for the Japanese market
  • NOP Organic USDA for the US market.

Investigate who can be your allies in the certification process of your coffee

If you do not belong to any group of coffee producers, the first thing you should do is investigate what associations or cooperatives of coffee producers exist in your region. Visit them and find out what services they offer to their associates and if they are carrying out collective coffee certification processes and for which labels. If you find one that catches your attention, do not hesitate to link to it.

They will guide you throughout the process and it will be much cheaper for you to obtain the certification and seal for your coffee. You will also have other benefits such as technical assistance, access to profit centres, plans and programs to support the coffee grower and insured purchase for your coffee, among others.

Work constantly to obtain and maintain your seal

If you decide to embark on the adventure of obtaining a coffee certification, remember that in any case, it is a process of management and continuous improvement. And that every year you will be evaluated by the audit in order to re-certify and maintain the validity of your seal.

Conclusion

  • Certified coffee has a higher value in the market because it is a differentiated product. 
  • The farmer must incur higher infrastructure and labour costs compared to a coffee producer who does not meet any quality standard.
  • Production costs increase and productivity per unit area in some cases decreases. Thus, the profitability for the farmer is supported not by the volume of production but by the quality guarantee of the coffee produced.
  • When you buy a certified coffee you have the assurance that this coffee has been produced under strict environmental, social and/or quality sustainability standards depending on each particular seal.