Category Archives: activism

Growing More Than Coffee

Written by Lori Thiessen

The coffee bean we value so highly and pay so much for generally comes from some of the most economically depressed and sometimes politically unstable regions of the world.

Now that consumer compassion is a considerable force in the marketplace, most of the major coffee companies are building in not only environmental sustainability projects into their bottom line but community development projects in these poverty stricken countries, too.

Look at what three of these major coffee companies are doing to support positive, local social change.

Tim Hortons takes a keen interest in their coffee suppliers with a view to improving the coffee farmers and their families lives. By teaching and nurturing the small coffee growers to become better business people, it strengthens the local community and also creates a better product.  Tim Hortons now has improvement projects established in Guatemala, Brazil and Colombia.

Seattle’s Best Coffee also supports Fair Trade certified coffee and claims to invest in social and education projects that help to nurture the communities from which they buy their coffee.

By 2015, Starbucks has declared on its website that 100% of its coffee will be “responsibly grown and ethically traded”.  Through its Shared Planet Program, Starbucks invests in improving the health of coffee growing communities where it buys coffee. Starbucks also participates in foundations that loan money to local farmers at a better rate than they would normally get. These loans help farmers to weather the bad times and make their start-up experience easier and more profitable.

Coffee growing and buying is far more than just the land it grows on.  Without the small scale coffee farmer and his community, we coffee consumers wouldn’t have as much of that black gold to sip.

Q: Do you buy your coffee based on the company’s involvement in ethical sourcing?

Until Next Time,

May your coffee always be freshly brewed!




Maxwell Maximizing The Good

Written by Lori Thiessen

Maxwell House Coffee’s latest advertising campaign appeals to our inner philanthropist.

The commercials are usually along the lines of placing a tin of Maxwell House Coffee against a plain backdrop with the subtitles saying something like, The average tv commercial costs $245,000. This one cost $19,000. Tell us what you would like us to do with the rest of the money at

Frankly, I do find this ad campaign likeable. Will it get me to drink Maxwell House Coffee? Probably not.

But I have gone on and what I found there was some heart-lifting stuff.

Part of Maxwell House’s corporate social responsibility, it is a partner with Habitat for Humanity which is good.

There is also a Random Act of Good suggestion box which provides you with some nice things to do for those around you. Some of the ideas are more labour intensive than others but they are all good.

The message area allows you to enter in a positive thought or event and when you do, a virtual coffee bush sprouts leaves and flowers. It’s a cute idea and a good one.

The ‘Top Stories from the World of Optimism’ seem to be linked to one website and there are remarkably few of them, but you can’t have everything.

And finally, you can also nominate a cause or event to which Maxwell House could donate the money not spent on the fancy commercial.  It’s a good gimmick which has the potential to do some real good.

I just wonder what was spent on developing this fancy website. Hmmmm.

Q: Would this kind of campaign get you to change your coffee brand to Maxwell House?

Until Next Time,

May Your Coffee Be Freshly Brewed!

Just a Cup of Coffee?

Written by Lori Thiessen

Coffee is ubiquitous these days. On every street corner there is a café. In the grocery stores, there are rows upon rows of roasted coffee beans to be taken home and enjoyed. But there is a price to pay for our favourite and most accessible addiction.

The environmental toll that coffee takes from cultivation, to production, to consumption and post consumption is staggering, considering the amounts of coffee being demanded on the markets these days.

Dean Cycon wrote an interesting piece “Will Coffee Be a Casualty of Climate Change?” in which he discusses how global warming will eventually make coffee farming impossible in countries whose economies depend heavily on revenue generated from this crop like Columbia.

It seems highly ironic to me that the millions of coffee cups we throw away each year and leave to rot in landfills contributes to global warming which will eventually destroy most coffee growing regions. Mother Nature does have a sense of humour.

Beyond the crisis of farming in a time of global warming is the post-consumer burden on the environment created by coffee cups. In Toronto, city planners want to drastically reduce the amount of garbage heading to the landfill by 2010. One of their targets is coffee cups. Moira Welsh reports in the October 6th edition of the Toronto Star (“Coffee cup revolution urged”) that coffee companies will be required to have a self-managed disposal program in place in the near future.

Clarissa Morawski, a waste expert, suggests that coffee cups could have a deposit put on them like pop bottles. It would certainly encourage people to bring them back if it meant getting some money back. Or another scheme would be for coffee companies to offer a discount for people who bring in their own mugs.

So what’s the answer? Give up your daily cup or cups of coffee? My dad always advised moderation in everything, and I think it’s good advice. So I would suggest cutting down on the amount of coffee you drink, bring your own mug to the coffee shop, buy fair trade and perhaps buy your friends a travel mug for them to take with them to their cafes.

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Q: Do you bring your own mug with you to the coffee shop? If not, why not?

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll save your seat until next time.

Coffeehouses, Democracy and Furniture

Written by Lori Thiessen

When coffeehouses first started in 17th London they were a very different social place than anywhere else. The pub and the church were the main social spaces. These spaces were regulated very strictly, the upper class and lower classes had specific places. Now the squire or lord of the area share a bevvie with his tenants in the lower area of the pub, but chances are he’d rather meet with the other higher ups of the area in the upper rooms.

When the coffeehouse appeared, it was so new that nobody could work out how the social hierarchy should occupy the space. So everybody just mucked in. Lords and underlings rubbed elbows for the first time. The coffeehouse was the first place where equality and democracy was avidly talked about and practiced.

In fact, the coffeehouse was such a well-known place for discussing republican ideals that Charles the II tried shutting them down on suspicion of sedition. He didn’t succeed.

The furniture that was developed for the coffeehouse actually contributed greatly to bringing democracy to life in England. The pub had small tables and chairs, but some of the larger coffeehouses had long tables where you could sit wherever you liked. There was no such thing as reservations. It was first come, first serve. Shocking notions for 17th century England.

There was a debating club called The Rota, and it met at Turk’s Head Coffeehouse. A piece of furniture was designed for the members of this club. It was a U-shaped table so that the coffee boys could refill the cups of the membership with having to lean over them. Rather like a latter day version of King Arthur’s round table. The word-meisters among you will recognize that the word Rota is Latin for wheel which implies roundness, no one is higher than another, everyone taking his turn. Democratic ideas, indeed.

Mind you, the coffeehouse began as the place for the avant garde of 17th English aristocracy to show off their hip-ness to new trends. If you were a social climbing wanna-be, then you marched yourself over to the nearest coffeehouse to rub shoulders with these gatekeepers of style and influence. If you were happy to be a drunken yokel, then the local tavern was your hang-out.

When Starbucks began in the 1980’s, there was a certain cache value to patronizing this new, hip re-invention of the coffeehouse. Certain coffee shops attract a certain customer, for example a Tim Horton’s customer can be different to the kind of person who prefers a really funky independent coffee shop.

But discussions on all varieties of topics still take place at coffee shops, even political ones.

Q: Do you make judgments about a person’s station in life, attitudes, etc. based on the coffee shop they go to most often? Does it matter to you which coffee shop you frequent?

Until Next Time,

May your coffee always be freshly brewed!

Your Local Coffeehouse, Your Local Command Post

Written by Lori Thiessen

The coffeehouse has served many purposes over its history. It’s been a place to socialize, a place to glean information, to see art, buy books and listen to artists.

But did you ever think of your local coffee shop as your local command post? Well, a group of anti-war soldiers have done just that. Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW) have established a coffeehouse called The Different Drummer just outside of Fort Drum, NY. They campaign for soldiers’ rights and specifically for the withdrawal of all US military presence from Iraq.

I read about a coffee shop, I think it was a Starbucks, in South America, that has become the safe haven for the super rich against those who would kidnap them or kill them. This coffee shop has a metal detector at the front door and an armed security guard to protect these coffee drinkers from any criminal capers.

The cultural revolutions and political protests of the 1960’s and 1970’s found “command” centres in their local coffeehouses. In fact, the coffee house has been suspected of being a place of political plotting ever since the early 17th century when King Charles II tried to have coffeehouses shut down on charges of sedition.

A mercurial social venue, the coffeehouse lends itself quite easily to the needs of its patrons perhaps more easily than any other kind of place.

Until next time,

May your coffee always be freshly brewed!