We’ve been tasting a lot of coffee in the past week or two. We have a a couple new crops coming online. When the crop year changes, we need to adjust our roast profiles for the annual variation of characteristics. We roast and compare new crop to old crop on the same profile, and we tweak profiles until we arrive at a cup that we settle on for production.
Randy and I have been enjoying coffee tasting together for over 6 years. We have formalized the process, but we don’t call it “cupping” because, for really good reasons, we don’t follow the that process. Instead we developed our own tasting protocol that helps us explore our experience. Here are some of our interesting findings.
Tasting is Perception
… to be continued
Introducing our new smoothie made with certified organic fresh fruit.
We have developed the recipe and WOW is it fabulous!
Made with organic blueberries, strawberries and banana, we add only certified non-GMO coconut milk, water and ice. $6.95/20oz
Enjoy this great summer offering made with quality ingredients that exemplify our values:
100% organic fresh-frozen* fruit, sugar-free, vegan, non-GMO.
Oh! …and in case you haven’t heard, all of our cups, lids and straws are biodegradable.
* Fresh Certified Organic fruit portioned and frozen on-site
We are proud to announce today that we are an Endorsing Organization of the Protected Places Declaration. This Declaration urges the Ontario and Canadian Governments to to protect at least 17 percent of the Canada’s land and inland waters by 2020. Both Governments have already committed to this target, now it is up to us to help them keep their promises. Too often, we all agree to do the right thing, only to have it fail during the implementation – we must not let it fail this time. We must protect our wilderness while we still have a wilderness to protect.
Why does this matter?
In Canada, we have been blessed with an abundance of Natural Resources and we have built one of the world’s leading economies by harnessing those resources and, until now, we have done so with little regard to how much of those resources we have consumed in the process. It has been like a party that never ends. One day, the party will be over. Our land and water sustain us. They are part of a complex system that produce our food, water and the air we breathe. How much can we destroy before everything collapses?
Why is Birds & Beans taking a position?
We know what you are thinking – we roast coffee, so why do we care about protecting land and water? Well, a little over 15 years ago, we chose to create a company that could demonstrate that it is possible to have a company that helps to protect the environment and make a living doing so. Protecting habitat is one of our core values and we are always looking for ways to do this, whether big or small.
Our core product, Certified Bird Friendly coffee, preserves valuable habitat with every bag we sell. This habitat provides homes for many creatures – including essential winter habitat for our migratory songbirds – and hence its name. Preserving that habitat has an impact far beyond the forests of South & Central America as it helps to preserve the populations of songbirds and that are now returning to their North American breeding grounds. The more of our coffee that you buy, the more habitat we save. Together, we can make a real difference.
Other companies don’t do this – you will see larger companies make some token gestures but they hide behind the veil of “maximizing shareholder value” as a reason for not doing more. We take a broader view of shareholder value and some of our shareholder value resides in the forests, parks and gardens of North, Central and South America. We ask other companies to join us as we can’t do it alone.
Want to help?
Have your group or company join other forward looking organizations and become a Protected Places Partner
For those of you who live in Ontario – there is an election taking place – ask your candidates if they will support the Protected Places Declaration if they are elected. Let them know it matters – we will be expecting the next Government to make sure this target is met.
While enjoying your next cup of coffee, why not support the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre? We donate $1.50 from each bag sold to OVWBCC who care for ill, injured and orphaned wild birds found within the community and releases them back into the wild. Of course the coffee is certified Bird Friendly, because caring for the birds extends to conserving their habitat in Central and South America.
Enjoy this coffee at full or 3/4 strength. It has a lovely sweet aroma, with tropical fruit and chocolate in the cup. It is a lovely smooth coffee with a long sweet aftertaste that rings pleasantly in the pallet after the cup is gone.
Great For Nature
Great for Farmers
Great for You
Brew this 3/4 or full strength for best effect.
We are committed to a shared future with our co-workers. Employees who demonstrate commitment and leverage to the team, and who are devoted to our values, are eligible to participate in a generous employee ownership program. This program is designed to be available to all long-term employees and offers meaningful equity with no upfront money investment.
Employee owners are shareholders with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities. All employee owners participate in the ownership board that is responsible for strategic decision making. This includes how to invest and distribute profits, what risks to take, and, within the confines of our values, setting the direction of the business.
This structure provides real and significant rewards for hard work and innovation. In employee opportunity, Birds and Beans soars above the crowd!
Look, See The Bird!
by Bill Wilson (Author and Birds & Beans USA Founder), Katie Fallon (Author), Leigh Anne Carter (Illustrator).
Look, See the Bird! is a beautifully illustrated children’s book which seeks to not only promote curiosity in children about the natural world around them, but also to establish the universal quality of having a connection with nature.
Look, See the Bird! follows children in a variety of locations, all of whom are learning about local birds and their habits. One of them is nearby our café in Toronto.
Our coffee growers are on the front line preserving forest ecosystems. Bird Friendly coffee cultivation has lower yield than conventional coffee, but look at all the good it does! All of these pictures were taken on Bird Friendly coffee farms.
Every pound of coffee we sell preserves 147 square ft of forest habitat. A subscription of a pound a month maintains 1760 square feet of this forest! That is about the size of a city lot. One person can do that by choosing certified Birds Friendly coffee.
Amplify your coffee drinking experience. Our coffee is:
- Grown in natural forest.
- Expertly roasted to reveal hidden flavours.
Mellow without weakness.
As a family owed small business, our donation history punches well above our weight class. In addition to supporting the suppliers who provide us with products and services that embody our values, we also generously support initiatives that
- are aimed at preserving and restoring habitat for birds and other wildlife;
- add value to our community and are conducted within the immediate vicinity of the café.
We donate to Ontario Nature and Bird Studies Canada as a portion of sales of their special edition coffees. While our coffee sourcing supports biodiversity in coffee growing regions, they preserve support wildlife habitat here at home.
In our local community, we donate generously to our long term partners: Mimico-by-the-Lake BIA, Citizens Concerned about the Future of the Etobicoke Waterfront (CCFEW), and Lakeshore Arts Their community building efforts are much appreciated and we enjoy long term friendship.
If you have a donation request, please tell us how we can become long term friends and let us know how your initiative preserves habitat, or how it builds community here in Mimico.
Birds and Beans are proud founding sponsors of Lakeshorts International Short Film Festival
An article was brought to my attention today entitled “A Brief History of the Modern-Day Straw, the World’s Most Wasteful Commodity“. While others might look at the pictured straws and see pretty colours, I see, and feel, the pain and suffering caused by single use plastics.
The straws at Birds and Beans Café are biodegradable. We do not offer anything in single use plastic … including water. Our single use cups, lids, straws and cutlery are all biodegradable.
We pay several times more for our biodegradable straws than we would for plastic straws. For us plastic straws are not an option.
The real price of plastic straws is not in the sticker price. No-one in the supply chain, including the end user, pays the real price for single use plastics. Instead, the enormous price is paid in the suffering of the worlds creatures and in the ever increasing stresses borne by the web of life.
While writing this, I reread this throwback to 2012 when I banished the last plastic from our offerings.
At Birds and Beans, we incur the higher cost for a biodegradable straw, which is, in my assessment, much better value.
Birds and Beans was conceived as an expression of our personal values. In founding Birds and Beans, David and I decided that we would buck the most powerful trend in the current culture – the one that dictates that we must maximize monetary return at the cost of everything else.
By contrast, we steadfastly defend the values of product quality, ecological sustainability and quality of life, despite a lower financial return. Yes, that’s right. We dare to put our values before money: we value our values! And it is a real financial investment.
Cheese and Dill Scone
*Flour, *Butter, *Sugar, Honey, *Yogurt, *Eggs, *Cream, *Cheese, *Dill, Baking Powder, Salt
* Organic Ingredients
We continuously strive to expand our understanding of the impact of human activity, and we use our choices to withdraw our support from those conventional processes that have monstrous consequences1. Instead, we throw our support behind processes and supply chains that are aligned with our values. Conventional suppliers may not miss our business, but alternate suppliers do feel our support!
We know that many of you look for meaningful opportunities to express your values, and we hope you will engage with us in our endeavor.
Our values express themselves in everything we do, including:
- Our commitment to offer certified Bird Friendly® coffee exclusively (What is Bird Friendly Coffee)
- Our commitment to the experience of the simple pleasures of incredible coffee and fresh, hand made food (Enjoying a Great Cup of Coffee)
- Our commitment to organic certification (Certified Organic Coffee is a Big Deal)
- Our commitment to NOT use any GMO ingredients (GMO Free Eats)
- Our shift to using almost all organic ingredients in our baking ( Hint: sometimes even organic production is not sustainable: Why we avoid Almonds at Birds and Beans)
- Our commitment to NO palm oil and palm oil derivatives in food, cleaners and personal products (Reflecting on 5 Years being Palm Oil Free)
- Our commitment to NO single-use plastic containers since 2012… did you know our straws and cold cups are biodegradable? (Water is free at Birds and Beans Café)
- Our commitment to NO factory farmed animal products (Our Sustainability Record)
- Our deep and ongoing engagement with the community .
- Our commitment to our co-workers through a generous employee ownership program.
We choose to operate a business that is mission based and we accept the enormous increase in complexity that this requires.
We reach out directly to our heroic growers who are on the front lines in defense of the remaining forests in coffee growing regions. We support them with prices that sustain them and their families. We form and nurture long term relationships with them. They are secure in future sales from us, and we depend on them for our ongoing supply of their meticulously tended coffees.
We celebrate our support of several dozen small suppliers and not of Costco, Sysco, or Gordon even though it results in a tremendous increase in complexity.
Instead of ordering from 1 or 2 suppliers who provide whatever is needed that week, we manage inventory levels from over 30 suppliers, each with different order cycles, balancing minimum order requirements with spoilage, and delivery charges with the cost of product. Each supplier maintains their specific payment and delivery terms. Each supplier has their own shortages, which are much more common from our suppliers than conventional suppliers, because each of them face similar difficulties as do we. All this requires a constant resource stream to monitor and manage.
We do this happily in support of our like-minded suppliers who need our support to maintain and strengthen their part in alternate supply chains. We offer them our support by accepting the inconvenience and complexity and by paying them higher prices.
We do most of our baking in-house from scratch because it is not possible to offer fresh, quality products that embodies our values any other way.
We teach our staff about our values, and we ask them to support them with their best efforts. We offer noticeably higher compensation than most foodservice employers. We meet or exceed all the standards set in Ontario’s Employee Standards Act. We are a team and sustainability must apply to all of us or it isn’t really sustainable, is it?
So that’s it. Could we make more money? Yes. We could drop any one of our commitments and make more money tomorrow. Would we even consider it? No. We are not trying to maximize profit. We are trying to maximize value… and we measure value with more than just money.
- Monstrous consequences like the appalling suffering inflicted upon factory farmed animals, the starvation of baby albatrosses whose parents see shiny plastic as fish, the burning of entire forest ecosystems in Indonesia to grow Palm so “big food” can have “cheap” oil.
Warning! These images reflect the consequences of our blind consumerism.
Whether you join us or not, we are not buying anything with palm oil. Because we are not going to feed the monster.
Most of you will not be able to watch this. If you can even bear to scan this article about the film you may be forever changed.
” ‘She has lost everything’: Filmmaker’s heart-wrenching documentary shows tragic final hours of orangutan’s life as her rainforest home is ruthlessly destroyed”
On “Sustainable” Palm Oil, we say NO!
The palm oil industry has taken over the resistance to palm oil claiming that we need palm oil and that it is better to produce it sustainably. I will write a specific rebuttal in the coming weeks. But for now, it is our position that sustainable palm oil is a ruse by “big agriculture” and “big food” to silence opposition and continue business as usual. Their so called certification fails all three tests of a credible certification:
- a public standard set to achieve a purpose with monitoring against its effectiveness
- chain of custody traceability
- verification by an independent third party
It has been 5 years since Birds and Beans Café went completely palm oil free. David and I went palm oil free at home at the same time. So we thought it would be interesting to discuss how its going with us as well as look at what has changed in the industry.
The palm oil problem is the shocking destruction of forests perpetrated in its production. These forests are often taken from indigenous peoples without permission nor compensation and laid waste for all but the gluttonous palm oil industry. Of special notice, is the horrifying pain and suffering faced by displaced animals, most of whom are endangered species. I doubt most readers can tolerate looking at the images.
When David and I came to understand this in 2012, at a visceral level, our resolve kicked in: Under no circumstances will we support this monstrous behavior!
So this is not a crusade, nor do I imagine our stance or communication will make a meaningful impact on the industry. But my body and my soul ache for the pain we inflict, and I will not support it.
At first it was difficult to find products without palm. Palm oil ingredients are UBIQUITOUS! And big food sneaks it into the ingredient lists so we have to learn to recognize it.
Once we understood that “vegetable oil” is a cover for palm oil, we realized that palm is in most processed foods (and most consumer soaps and cleaners). For health reasons we were also motivated to reduce salt and we noticed that most processed foods are loaded with salt (and sugar) too. It was overwhelming! Where to begin!
We took a step at a time approach. We looked at
- what we purchased the most
- what we didn’t need
We found processed foods that use sunflower, safflower or other explicitly stated oil1. You won’t find these at the 7-11, but most responsible grocery stores have something. We continued item by item.
Over time, perhaps a year, we found we were preparing our own food again. This would have seemed impossible at the beginning of this process, but by changing one thing at a time, it happened on its own. We shifted our shopping from the big grocery retailers to smaller organic grocers. Interestingly, by bringing our food preparation back in-house, we found it was less expensive too!
We noticed that the huge loads of sugar, salt and fats in processed foods dull our flavour pallets, so it took some time for our pallets to recover back to full taste sensitivity. Now, I just cannot eat a conventional tomato… they are bland and pithy.
The food processing industry has convinced us that we need them, but we don’t. The cost of outsourcing our food preparation is extremely high and it does not save as much time as we imagine. We have now established new shopping habits and we support local grocers and organic production. Preparing food has shifted to a shared pleasure followed by the shared delight of real flavours! My fear of living on chickpeas and rice was utterly unfounded…Quite the opposite! That fear was planted by big food to keep me addicted to their low quality, bland, unhealthy food that is engineered to their lowest cost.
And by their lowest cost, I mean the unfathomable cost of the utter destruction of entire ecosystems and the human and animal inhabitants. The cost of life on earth. And the cost of all of us becoming monstrous. Cheap oil? Really?
If you got to here, now you know. You can never go back. What you do now is who you are.
- Since banning palm oil from our diet and the café, we have since banned GMO foods. Over 90% of canola oil is GMO, so now it is banned from our diet and the café too.
We are proud to offer this unique scone made with all organic ingredients. What a delicious and beautifully textured scone it is! Great for breakfast or lunch.
We believe that honouring our core values results in better taste and better health.
Cheese & Dill
GMO free, Palm Oil Free, Cruelty Free, mostly Organic
*Flour, Baking Powder, Salt, *Butter, *Eggs, *Organic Sugar, *Cream, *Cheese, *Dill
All our coffees bear the Canada Organic logo.
Above shows how our packages display the Canada Organic logo with reference to our certifier, Ecocert Canada. It is not legal to display the Canada Organic logo on a package without referencing the accredited certification body.
You can be confident about the legitimacy of products sold in Canada if the product label
- shows the Canada Organic logo along with the certifying body; OR
- it shows the organic logo of one of the CFIA accredited bodies (such as Procert or Ecocert)
From the CFIA FAQ: “[Understanding] these regulations enable consumer protection against deceptive and misleading labelling practices and claims regarding organic products.” The CFIA vigorously defends the use of its logo and the certifying bodies are always willing to provide credentials for any product bearing their name as a certifier.
By the way, if you ever see a product with a Canada Organic logo without the certifier, you should report it to the CFIA. Such violations are rare, and sometimes inadvertent, but the integrity of the system relies on all of us participating and being vigilant.
All our coffees are certified organic: we offer no conventional coffee. Many coffee marketers include some organic coffees in their line, while deliberately making no comment about the conventional ones, in hopes that the organic ones will “greenwash” their line. Others claim that their coffee is organic while not submitting to the costly and rigorous verification process of certification. Sadly, in Ontario, due to a lack of commitment to the Canadian Organic standard from our provincial legislators, this is not prohibited and leads to much confusion and abuse.
All of our offerings bear the organic Canada Organic Logo. And bearing the Canada Organic logo is a big deal!
Organic certification is a rigorous process. Obviously starting with certified organic beens is a prerequisite. Beyond that, we are required to keep accurate, retrievable records of all purchases, all roasts, all packaging, all spoilage and all sales of organic coffee. Our practices must comply with the Organic Products Regulations, 2009 as governed by the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA). We are required to comply with Canada’s Organic Labeling Laws, our trade documents are subject to strict regulation, and we are subject to inspection and regulation by an accredited Organic Certifier who is responsible to ensure our compliance.
Our certifier, Ecocert Canada is one of about 20 organizations in Canada accredited by the CFIA to bestow the Canada Organic seal on compliant organic products. At our cost, Ecocert Canada conducts an annual audit in which they review our internal documentation, trade documents, practices and procedures, labels, and inventory and more, all to ensure our compliance with the Canada Organic Standard. In our annual audits, we must prove compliance with record keeping rules and standards. We must demonstrate compliance with record keeping requirements. Auditors conduct spot exercises to demonstrate completeness and accuracy of all of our records. They reconcile inputs, outputs and check that all inputs arrived with compliant packaging and with rigorous documentary credentials.
All of our sales must be likewise documented and packaged. All of our labels must be approved by Ecocert who ensure they meet labeling rules, that the package claims are correct, and that internal and trade documents are all in alignment.
The system works because all participants in the chain are subject to this scrutiny. I trust that the inputs into my process comply with the organic standard because they too were rigorously verified by independent, 3rd party accredited bodies.
We at Birds and Beans are proud to support the chain of organic certification. We strongly believe in third party certification. Certifications are a way for us to participate in a voluntary chain of trust while harnessing third party verification.
It takes more than a pretty picture of a bird to be Certified Bird Friendly! At Birds and Beans we strongly believe in third party
Today we start shipping with the new Bird Friendly logo! We are thrilled that the new logo now appears on both the front and back of all of our coffees.
Bird Friendly is the only certification that takes organic coffee to the next level: It guarantees that our “shade grown” coffee is not just a claim on a label, but is certified to provide quality wildlife habitat.
When you purchase coffee that is certified organic and shade grown by the SMBC you have the assurance of the Smithsonian Institution that you are conserving wildlife and biodiversity. ALL of our coffees have the seal… every cup of Birds and Beans coffee you drink is a gift of habitat to the world.
“[Almonds] are also contributing to drought problems in California. Eighty per cent of the world’s almond supply comes from the state experiencing its worst drought on record. A report published by The Watershed Agricultural Council found that a single almond takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce. […] California almond farmers are drilling thousands of feet down into aquifers to pump out water, threatening critical infrastructure like bridges, roads and irrigation canals, and even potentially triggering earthquakes.” ~ National Post
We consider a lot of factors when choosing our products. Being committed to health, community and sustainability requires balancing of many factors.
For example, is it better to purchase organic produce that has travelled a thousand miles and is packaged in clamshell plastic than it is to purchase uncertified product from a farmers market?
Off hand, I don’t know. I would have to balance the factors and make a decision. In my view, it is more meaningful to go through the process of weighing the factors than it is to “get the right answer”. Strengthening our ability to make fuzzy assessments with contrary impacts is itself meaningful.
So for me, there is no right and wrong. There is trying and not trying.
In our trying, we have chosen to remove our organic almonds from our baking. We have replaced them with conventional hazelnuts.
“Their analysis showed that a number of other droughts in California’s history had less precipitation than the one the state is currently experiencing. However, the most recent drought stood out because of how exceptionally hot it was compared to other droughts over the past 1,200 years.” ~ Scientific American
Why? Because we believe that the drought in California, where 80% of the worlds almonds are grown, is a factor that should be weighted very heavily.
As for conventional hazelnuts, there is much to their credit. We prefer their flavour! They are amazing in our breakfast cookie.
Hazelnuts are native to Canada and grow here in Southern Ontario. We have one in our garden at home (hey! Maybe we should add one to our café garden!). They offer Ontario growers a specialty crop that can reduce dependence on the forces of “Big Food“. While most hazelnuts are grown in Turkey, market pressures are increasing demand for Ontario hazelnuts. We are now part of that pressure.
And the health and nutritional benefits of hazelnuts rivals those of almonds.
So that’s it! We are off almonds and on hazelnuts. Check our ingredient lists for them at the café.
An Aeropress + 1 lb of Roasted Coffee = Free Shipping
A 5 lb bag of green coffee + 1 lb of Roasted Coffee = Free Shipping
* Offer applies to ground shipping to destinations within Canada only. Canada Post Air Stations excluded.
At Birds and Beans, it is our pleasure and our aspiration to harness all of our resources and efforts to do better. And for us, better means in alignment with our core values: quality of life, sustainability, richness of experience, and community.
We express this in our handmade food: all of our ingredients are 100% GMO free.
Our reasons are simple: Genetically Modified Organisms are developed by “Big Ag” (big agriculture) for “Big Food“. Their only interest is profit. I do not have a problem with profit, I just have a problem when the pursuit of profit is at the expense of all other factors, has negative impacts or risks.
In the case of GMOs, the scientists working for “Big Ag” developed strains of agricultural products like corn and soy, with the sole purpose of withstanding higher applications of agrochemical inputs. It works nicely for them as they both sell the seeds and sell the chemicals.
Nor are GMO crops necessary. Leading expert Pablo Tittonell advocates intensification of agriculture by making optimal use of natural processes and the landscape to meet the worlds growing demand for food. See his TED talk here.
On the GMOs themselves, in matters of unknown and unknowable risk, I am an advocate of the “precautionary principle“. Those who profit the most from GMOs claim that their genetically modified organisms represent incremental change on selective breeding is disingenuous and is intended to deflect scrutiny. The reality is that the risks of this revolutionary technology not understood by policy makers and are generally unaddressed by GMO patent holders. See this insightful article.
Further, the GMOs that “Big Ag” have chosen to produce are motivated by their quest to maximize profits and not by the public good. For those of us who may think that this is a small problem and that most of the food in the food system is not GMO, almost all big food contains GMO ingredients. It has taken considerable effort and focus to ensure no GMO ingredients creep into Birds and Beans.
And Finally, GMO crops have failed to meet their promise. An extensive examination by The New York Times [reveals] genetic modification […] has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.
GMO’s are designed to benefit “Big Ag” profit takers. They have no obvious benefit to the public. They are just not worth the risk.
At Birds and Beans we use 100% of our choices to support our values, and in this case, be assured that no food item prepared in Birds and Beans contains GMO ingredients. We may be a tiny family owned and operated company, and we have no illusions about changing the trajectory of “Big Ag” and “Big Food”, but we do steadfastly oppose the trend through mindful disengagement from “Big Food”.
As Coffee Roasters, we know green coffee beans. Green coffee beans are our raw material. Great roasted coffee can only come from great green coffee.
Our beans have been carefully selected so that we can offer a full range of coffees to sell online, serve in our cafe, and deliver to our wholesale partners. We’ve spent the past 15 years refining our choices of beans so that we have the highest quality specialty grade Certified Organic, Bird Friendly and Fair Trade Arabica beans available anywhere. These are the ones that we sell for for you to roast at home. No old crop specials, no cheap or tainted beans. People often comment how clean and defect free our beans are when they first see them. You can see the quality as much as you can taste it.
Have a look at the new Bird Friendly logo… the seal that represents the gold standard of forest habitat.
There are several things worth pointing out in this logo. We love that it illustrates several aspects of good habitat, like a variety of species, varied heights, and dense coverage.
The change in phrase on the seal from “Bird Friendly” to “Bird Friendly Habitat” points to the “friendliness” of Bird Friendly coffee: that it is grown in forest and preserves that habitat (see our post “What is Bird Friendly Coffee”).
We strongly support the refocusing on habitat: Forest habitat is not just for the birds! Forests are the lungs of the world. Bird Friendly habitat is a functioning, biodiverse ecosystem that supports and is made up of a web of inter-connected creatures, like monkeys and butterflies and beetles and native trees and plants and… oh… our wintering migratory songbirds.
It is also great to see the seal of the Smithsonian Institution within the logo. The Smithsonian Institution is one of the worlds most respected knowledge organizations. It is world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 19 museums and the National Zoo. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) is a department within that most prestigious organization. It is the scientists at the SMBC who developed and who administer the Bird Friendly® certification.
When you purchase coffee that is certified by the SMBC you have the assurance of the Smithsonian Institution that you are conserving wildlife and biodiversity. And ALL of our coffees have the seal… every cup of Birds and Beans coffee you drink is a gift of habitat to the world.
After proudly displaying the old logo for 15 years on our coffees we hope you will join us in congratulating the SMBC on the introduction of their new seal. We use it throughout this website and we will be transitioning our packaging within the coming weeks.
Show us your Mimico Joe! Use the hashtag #MimicoJoe to be entered in our monthly draw for Birds & Beans Gift cards and Mimico Joe T-shirts.
Mimico is our home and we love it, which is why it deserves to have its very own coffee blend. Let’s celebrate it.
Share your pics of Mimico, Birds and Beans coffee cups, Birds and Beans coffee bags. Be sure to tag them #MimicoJoe on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to enter. All winners must be able to pick up their prize in person at our Café … in Mimico.
And the t-shirt! It’s a good one: made in CANADA out of an Organic Cotton/Bamboo Blend and is available in Men’s and Ladies’ styles for only 24.95 each!
We saw a diverse neighbourhood full of hard working, long term residents who shared a connection with the lake, a pride in what had come before, and vision of the future. So we set down our roots and began working towards that future. And then around us, slowly at first, then more and more, Mimico began to thrive! The neighbourhood feels energized by life in the new condominums, and the residents are enjoying the ever improving Mimico waterfront, new storefronts, and Mimico’s evolving character.
We are expressing our love of Mimico by introducing a coffee blended and named for our ‘hood! Perhaps the first coffee to celebrate its home neighbourhood, Mimico Joe is approachable, unpretentious, authentic, solid, and full of interest… just like Mimico.
We also offer Mimico Joe t-shirts for those of us who are proud Mimico Joes.
Come in to Birds and Beans Coffee and treat yourself to something special! Our coffees are all certified organic, bird friendly, and fairly traded, boutique coffees. We use Organic Meadow Milk in our latté and cappuccino. Treat yourself with 100% shade grown shaved chocolate on your specialty drink. Even our milk table offers organic milk and sugar. We’re the real deal!
Choose one of Four Freshly Roasted Brewed Coffees
Every day we offer four brewed coffees. Our menu board identifies the coffees on brew and their roasted dates — always within the last few weeks.
Our house coffee, the Daily, is a certified Organic-Bird Friendly® coffee with enough interest for every coffee lover.
100% Bird Friendly, Organic Specialty Coffees with Organic Milk
We offer the best espresso, latté, cappucino and americano in the city made from the only Bird Friendly espresso in Canada! We blend our espresso to compliment the flavours the organic milk in a latté or cappucino. Our baristas are trained to pour espresso perfectly every time so it has the great great crema and aroma with flavours of chocolate and malt from the approach to the finish.
Cruelty Free GMO Free Treats
We bake all of our treats from scratch daily using organic eggs from happy hens (see Chicken Out!), organic dairy from happy cows, and 100% GMO Free ingredients. Our breakfast cookie is a daily favourite in the neighbourhood with rolled oats, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, honey and cranberries.
Our chocolate chunk cookies are absolutely without rival! We use our shade grown Plantations Chocolate. We offer a the cookie with either milk or dark chocolate. What a treat!
Cruelty Free Light Lunch
For lunch we offer simple wraps and sandwiches with hand crafted Sunflower Kitchen GMO free vegan soups.
All are certified organic and, so cruelty free! No factory farmed product allowed. We use Raincoast tuna in our tuna salad, the highest ranking sustainability grade from Greenpeace. Our egg salad is homemade from fresh certified organic cage free eggs so it is always fresh and tasty. Even our cheddar cheese is certified organic from Quebec, and so produced from well treated animals.
We offer spinach empanadas from the Empanada Company in Long Branch. We love to keep it in the “hood”.
Many of you know that Birds and Beans café has offered gift cards for 12 years, but this year they are even better! Our new gift cards have grown up from being administered manually, to an electronic debit card with great new features.
The gift card has the look and feel of gift cards from major retailers. This ensures your recipient will feel confident using the card, and you will be proud to give it.
Once activated, the card can be used at the cafe like a prepaid credit card.
The cards are reloadable, and a 10% discount applies to reloads. So your gift will extend throughout the year!
The card is secure, and transparent. The cardholder can view their current balance and historical transactions online. The cardholder simply enters their card number and their current balance is presented and a link is presented to access to the historical transactions. The link for cardholders is here.
So isn’t it a good time to introduce your friends and family to your favourite café?
We are frequently asked: “What exactly is Bird Friendly® coffee and why does it matter?”
Bird Friendly coffee preserves habitat for forest creatures in Latin America including our migratory songbirds. Coffee that is certified Bird Friendly grows in an agro-forest. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) certifies that these forests provide good habitat for wildlife.
All Bird Friendly coffee is first certified organic, and then goes much further adding standards for shade cover, plant species diversity, canopy structure, required buffer zones, leaf litter cover and much more. These are all necessary for wildlife to flourish.
Read more on Bird Friendly criteria here.
In Latin America, where most of our migratory songbirds spend their winters, deforestation for agriculture is happening at an alarmingly fast rate. Forests are mowed down for monoculture and the impact on wildlife is devastating. Huge declines in our migratory songbirds are noticeable to those of us old enough to remember the plentiful songbirds here in Southern Ontario only 20 years ago. You can help slow the rate of deforestation by purchasing Certified Bird Friendly coffee. This supports those growers who valiantly maintain the front-lines of the resistance to this overwhelming destruction.
By choosing Bird Friendly certified coffee, we support the growers who steward forest ecosystems. Beyond preservation of ecosystems and diversity of species, Bird Friendly stewardship also results in soil conservation, pest control, pollination, water storage, carbon storage and climate change mitigation. Preserving expansive and diverse forests in central and south America are necessary to world climate and the well being of global systems. They have been called the lungs of the world and they mitigate climate change. Read more on ecological benefits here.
Sometimes the phrase “Shade Grown” is used on coffee labels as if it were equivalent to Bird Friendly. Unfortunately, this is like accepting “natural” as equivalent to “organic”. While Bird Friendly coffee is indeed “shade grown”, we need to go a bit deeper if we want to ensure our good will hits the target. It isn’t the shade that provides the habitat but the fact that Bird Friendly farms are functioning, biodiverse, forest ecosystems. The SMBC developed the Bird Friendly coffee certification so we can confidently choose to support produces who grow their coffee in harmony with forest dwellers… Forest dwellers like this troupe of howler monkeys David saw on a Bird Friendly coffee farm in Nicaragua.
Sales of Certified Bird Friendly coffee also help to fund the research performed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. This research advances the understanding of migratory birds that we need in order to preserve them for future generations. Look for the seal on the bags when you buy your coffee. You will find this seal on all of our bags.
Birds and Beans is proud to be free from plastic bottles since May 2012. The life cycle of a plastic bottle has harmful effects to the environment throughout every step of the chain: from formation to disposal. For more information on the life cycle of a plastic water bottle, check out this Ted-Ed video.
We are an official Quench Water Re-fill Location. Bring your reusable water bottle and we are happy to fill it up with filtered tap water. We offer a pitcher of iced water with glasses for customers to enjoy in the cafe. We also offer a bowl of water for the four-legged bunch.
Despite all of these options, people still want to buy water to go. We want to make you happy, so we investigated options to provide a take-out water option without contributing to the Garbage Patch, harming animals who mistake micro plastics for food or degrading the quality of the soil that supports us.
The Boxed Water folks in Michigan came up with the great idea of offering water in boxes. Boxes are made from trees, which is a renewable resource. Conservation is important to them, so the trees being used come from well-managed forests. The cartons are 100% recyclable. Less resources are used when shipping the boxed packaging to the locations where water is filled compared to plastic bottles because boxes can be shipped flat. The water inside is purified with UV, carbon and reverse osmosis filtration. As a bonus, know that 1% of Boxed Water revenue is being donated to reforestation and world water relief.
Please enjoy our free filtered water. If you need to, enjoy Boxed Water knowing that it is a more sustainable option than anything packaged in a plastic bottle.
Last week, news surfaced that a Toronto Restaurant was misleading its customers by claiming that dishes and certain ingredients were special in terms of being premium, organic or local when they weren’t.
Factory farmed eggs were sold as “Free Range Eggs”, Farmed Atlantic Salmon was claimed to be “BC Organic Salmon” and Quaker Harvest Crunch was sold as “organic granola”. For more details, see the article from the Toronto Star
Many people are willing to pay a premium for special products such as these and so for the unscrupulous vendor, there’s an opportunity to increase price without increasing their costs by engaging in a little creative menu writing. We find this to be very disappointing and it raises the question of how can you be sure that the claims on a menu or a package are true?
There are two major ways to protect yourself from being a victim of false labels:
1) Look and ask for Certifications
While it is possible to claim that a product is certified when it is not, there are checks and balances in legitimate certification systems that help you determine that product claims have been verified.
In our case, we are a certified Organic Coffee Roaster and we publish our Organic certificate annually. Our certifier, Ecocert Canada, verifies each organic claim we make. We are required to maintain meticulous records. We are inspected and our records are checked every year to ensure we are compliant with Canadian Organic regulations. In the case of many certifications such Fair Trade and Bird Friendly, you can look up if the supplier is registered with the Certifier.
2) Ask about the Origins of the items
If a restaurant claims a product to be Organic or local or heirloom or special in any way, they should be prepared to explain the basis of the claim. So ask your server, if it is local, what farm did it come from? When? if it is organic, is it certified or how do they know it is really organic? The more people ask for details, the more difficult it will be for restaurants to mislead their customers.
Choosing sustainable, local, or artisanal foods can be rewarding in terms of tastes and the food experience and are often well worth the premium price, as long as we are getting the products that are being advertised.
“It is my deep conviction that we have come up with an ambitious and balanced agreement. Today it is a moment of truth.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke these words as he declared that the Paris Climate Change conference known as COP21 had reached an historic multilateral agreement. It is our sincere hope that he is right and that people of all countries see this as a call to action — It is the beginning of a process, and not the end.
The agreement is significant – nearly 200 countries have committed to a goal of limiting temperature increases to no more than 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, rather than the 2 degrees that appeared to be the target just two weeks ago. The agreement is the product of a lot of hard work by many people. From where I sit it seems that much credit is due to French President Hollande and UN Climate Chief Christiana Figures. As Canadians, we are delighted to see a change in the position of the Canadian delegation from obstructionist to constructive.
As important as this agreement is, it is just the beginning. The work lies ahead and we will face many obstacles and difficult choices in pursuing it. To achieve the goals set in Paris, we will need to use the agreement as a framework to help us maintain our collective resolve as we face the challenges of necessary change together. As consumers, we have a big impact on carbon emissions – we make choices with far reaching consequences when we spend our dollars. Consumers reward the behaviors of everyone in the supply chain with every purchase we make: Participants in the supply chain do what the monetary rewards incent them to do. To curb extreme climate change, we will have to change deeply embedded common practices by changing the influence of monetary rewards. Taxing carbon will help with this and it can work more quickly and more effectively if we understand it and if we consciously support behaviors we want to encourage in supply chains.
At Birds and Beans our founding mission to preserve biodiversity directly supports climate objectives: preserving habitat is preserving forests. And preserving forests has been identified in Paris as a critical component to achieving climate objectives.
Sadly, during the decade and a half that we have offered this climate and habitat friendly coffee, we have seen an explosion in demand for unrecyclable plastic single serve pods containing unsustainable sun grown coffee. Single use coffee pods are the source of a great deal of profit (coffee offered in pods nets out to about $50 per pound!) while convenience brands ignore adverse environmental impact of their coffee and other unsustainable food offerings.
We maintain that using a grinder, a kettle and a drip filter holder is just as convenient a method of brewing a single cup of coffee, but has the merit of supporting an entirely sustainable supply chain. And the superior flavour in the cup is incomparable! This is one example of the kind of change that we as citizens can make as climate objectives are pursued.
Our government reached an agreement because they believed it to be an expression of our collective will. As policy changes result in choosing sustainability over convenience, waste and unchecked growth, we will have to demonstrate our support. Let us make sure that our commitment runs deep and that no future government will be tempted to break the agreement for their own short term political gain.
We’re delighted to introduce our second Special Edition coffee: The Messenger Blend, produced in association with The Messenger Documentary – a film by Su Rynard. While the full length documentary explores the impact of our activities on birds around the world, it also offers solutions and inspires its audience to become more “Bird Friendly”. The Messenger Blend is an important part of that program.
Coffee drinkers can make one simple and easy change that will help both birds and coffee farmers – choose to drink Certified Bird Friendly organic coffee. This will guarantee that vital winter habitat is preserved for our migratory songbirds and the other creatures inhabiting those forests. It does so by paying a premium to the farmers who steward the forests for the coffee grown within them. You can support them just by changing the brand of coffee that you drink, and, if you already purchase specialty coffee, it won’t cost more.
The Messenger Blend is sourced exclusively from Certified Bird Friendly Shade Grown Organic farms. Every bag you buy helps to preserve vital forest habitat for future generations. Since we here in Canada share these migratory birds with the people of Latin America, we’ve increased the impact of the Messenger Blend by donating 10% of all sales to Bird Studies Canada – Canada’s leading science-based bird conservation organization. Every bag you purchase will also be helping to promote conservation here at home.
The Messenger documentary is being released more widely and we encourage you to see it.
For more information, visit songbirdsos.com
One of the best parts of my job is speaking to passionate people – people who are passionate about coffee and also people who are passionate about the environment. Some people are passionate about both.
A few months ago, I had one of those conversations with Elaine Munro of Progressive Nutritional Therapies. They had been purchasing Birds & Beans Certified Bird Friendly coffee for their office and were using it to raise funds for a tree planting near the source of the Rouge River in North East Toronto.
In the office, they charge by the cup and were also selling jars of beans for brewing at home – and called it “Grow a tree in your Cup”. They are pretty big coffee drinkers over there because when it came time to plant – they had raised enough money to plant 513 trees!
In early May, 24 members of their staff along with family members turned out to plant a selection of native trees and shrubs that were selected to be appropriate for the river side site by Ontario Streams.
This is amazing – through this simple, yet creative program, they were able to both protect habitat in South and Central America by supporting Bird Friendly coffee growers, and improve habitat here at home in the Rouge River valley. Congratulations to all involved!
For the complete story see the Progressive Nutritonal Therapies Blog and for more information.
Our friend and supporter Vincent Falardeau would like to remind us of the beauty of the birds. He has a permanent show of his photographs in our café.
And we would like to remind you of the beauty of the coffee.
Lets do one simple act that sustains these beautiful birds and enriches our lives with a simple pleasure.
Help us help the birds. Buy our certified Bird Friendly® coffee.
(Warning…This poem is not for the faint of heart.)
the horror runs through my arms and legs
the ache fills my heart
the reality fills my mind
the finality pulls my gut
as the mass extinction ticks onward
largely unacknowledged and unnoticed
the tremendous specialty of form and of life
gasping in the loneliness of last pairings
doomed and hopeless
habitat consumed by unsustainable food and junk
hopeless and final in a way we do not conceive
not just death, but death of species, of kind
termination of lines of being
the final end of the rise from the muck
the endless creation that brought animation to matter
the interplay of mutually sustaining diversity
the dance of procreation
while we decorate the packaging of our wasteful crap with their images
tasting not, feeling not, seeing not, living barely
and watch a horror movie to feel something
while failing to notice the life that yet is
in its intricate and living beauty
dying at our hand, utterly squandered
open heart experiencing
the “Sixth Mass Biological Extinction Event”
© Dragon Heart 2014
By choosing to drink certified Bird Friendly coffee, our customers have always supported conservation of the neotropical forest ecosystems in which our coffee grows. Now, through Ontario Nature, you can support conservation of habitat in Ontario too – by simply changing the coffee you drink.
And what a wonderful coffee it is! It has a lovely honeyed aroma, with balanced tones of chocolate and nuts. It is a lovely, smooth coffee with a long, sweet aftertaste that rings pleasantly in the pallet after the cup is gone.
We are so excited to launch our first Special Edition coffee that, for a limited time, we are offering FREE shipping of the Ontario Nature Blend any where in Ontario for orders over $25.
By making this one purchase, we collectively support ecosystem and biodiversity conservation in coffee growing countries and here in Canada. Do it now
On a related note – we add our voice to support the proposed changes to Ontario’s Weed Control Act that would remove Milkweed from the list and make it legal to grow. About time!
Although it doesn’t have anything to do with coffee or birds, we are happy to see the David Suzuki Foundation’s current #GotMilkweed program aimed at planting more Milkweed to act as host plants for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. We like it because it points out that helping to save a species (and in this case the phenomenon of the Monarch Migration) is all about habitat.
Milkweed plants are an essential part of the Monarch’s lifecycle but it has been eradicated from much of the butterfly’s range – in cities and in the country thus destroying the butterfly’s natural habitat. The #GotMilkweed campaign’s goal is to replant a milkweed corridor in Toronto to help these insects increase their numbers. If the project succeeds, we would see patches of milkweed plant around us in the place of dull, boring grass. A new generation of children will learn the pleasure of playing with Milkweed pods and releasing the seeds and we will see more of these beautiful butterflies in the summer and fall.
It is a small thing that can make a big difference – we see a future where we look for places to plant milkweeds and other plants to provide habitat and food for insects and birds. Imagine, for example, how nice it would be to drive down a highway and see milkweeds and other wildflowers making the scenery much more beautiful than the boring grass monoculture that has become the standard road side treatment. In the same way, we see a future where people ask for their Fair trade coffee to be Bird Friendly too, so every cup provides habitat for Migratory Songbirds in addition to providing a fair deal for farmers.
More information: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/media/news/2014/04/got-milkweed/
More than 10 years ago, we set out to create a different kind of company – one that would give consumers a way to use their purchasing power to make the world better rather than worse. We wanted to provide a product that was green at its core – not something that just looked green or came out of a “green” facility with a super duper recycling program. We wanted to create a true “triple bottom line” company that produced tangible environmental and social benefits.
Coffee was the perfect product for our experiment – for one thing, we love really good coffee and had a hard time finding a consistent source. And, most importantly, traditionally cultivated coffee is grown in a way that preserves habitat for wildlife – including Migratory Songbirds. Coffee is increasingly being grown in partial shade or full sun, transforming what was once a thriving forest ecosystem into “Eco Deserts” capable of supporting little life: Where there was once a thriving forest ecosystem, the only living thing is the crop being cultivated.
A few years before we started Birds and Beans, The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center had developed the Bird Friendly Coffee Certification. Its aim is to identify and certify farms that provided good habitat for migratory songbirds – or more accurately are functioning ecosystems.
So, having identified the problem and the solution, Birds and Beans was born. We bought a small Commercial Roaster, some green Bird Friendly coffee and started developing our roast profiles. After about a year of development, we were ready to launch.
We sold our first coffee at the Guelph Organic Show in January 2003. Now we are a Certified Organic Roaster and have 2 much larger roasters and a full line of Certified Organic, Certified Bird Friendly, Fair Trade and Direct Trade coffees. We offer the World’s first and only Triple Certified Espresso – Commit, an espresso blend.
A decade later, we can declare our experiment a success. Birds and Beans is a going concern where every pound of coffee sold is helping to protect valuable habitat as well as contributing to a decent life for the farmers and their families. About 5 years ago, we were joined by Bill Wilson and his colleagues from New England, who wanted to use the Birds & Beans name in the USA – and out of that has grown a valuable partnership that is spreading the word to an even wider audience. Our coffee receives rave reviews from all who try it. Together, we are building a different kind of coffee brand.
This month we are undertaking a ‘bird survey’ in Nicaragua on the 450 farm co-op, UCA San Juan del Rio Coco, co-sponsored by York University and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. We buy a good deal of coffee directly from the co-op. The conservation biologists conducting the survey reported 21 species of migrant birds present in the first few days of field work.
Supporting this kind of work is unheard of for companies of our size as it doesn’t have a commercial payoff. So why do we do it? Simple. Its because we have aligned our business with our true values and our business expresses them just as we do. It isn’t a ploy or a marketing gimmick. It is what we care about. We founded this company as a vehicle to promote conservation and this is an opportunity to do just that.
The study represents new work in this region and so the findings will add to the body of knowledge of how that ecosystem functions. This will help our growers to make better decisions on how to manage their farms in the future.
Thanks to all of you who have supported us and have enjoyed a different cup of coffee….
As an added bonus this year, when you purchase a coffee of the month subscription of 4 shipments or more, we will send your recipient our beautiful 2014 Coffee Songbirds Calendar with the first installment (December or January) and one to you too!
Our December coffee of the month offering is our 2013 Christmas Blend… A rich, smooth, delicious coffee with a festive label.
Now isn’t Christmas easy this year?
We are the cafe part of Canada’s leading roaster of Certified Bird Friendly coffee. Our location is unique – unlike any other we’ve seen. Out back we have a lovely patio with a view of Lake Ontario and a Native wildflower garden. The purpose of the garden is to provide habitat for birds and pollinators and to provide a beautiful backdrop for our patio.
Behind our wildflower garden is a huge composter – where we compost our coffee roaster chaffe, grinds and kitchen scraps. Since we don’t fertilize or water the wildflowers, we really don’t have a great need for the end product but we’re pretty sure someone out there really needs some great organic compost.
You are reasonably local to us and are in need of some beautiful rich organic compost. You are willing to do some of the work required such as turning the piles and able to give direction to us on the adjusting the mix of inputs if required.
We’d prefer that you are a Community organization or perhaps involved in community garden but we will consider any one willing to help, You will have to agree to bag and remove the compost at your expense.
So, if this sounds like a match made in heaven to you, drop us a line and we’ll get dirty together….
To contact us, leave a comment here or call 647-439-3294.
There have been a number of disturbing reports about mass bee die offs in the news recently – such as this report of 37 million bees dying in Ontario.
The cause of these die offs has not yet been establish but it is likely that they are being caused by a relatively new class of pesticides call neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are sprayed like other pesticides but are also increasingly being used to coat seeds of corn (and possibly other crops) so the seed may be sowed earlier — before the temperature and moisture conditions are right for germination and not be eaten by ground dwelling insects. The problem is that the insecticide makes its way into the leaves and the pollen of the plant and the bees take the pollen back to the hives and the pesticide kills the bees. It also appears that pesticide is introduced to the environment during the planting process, exposing bees and other animals at that point too.
It is estimated that the majority of corn now planted in North America is now coated with Neonicotinoids – a rise that coincides with the increase in Bee Colony Collapse disorder. The link has not been proven yet, a fact the chemical companies are quick to point out but the European Union has introduced at 2 year ban on 3 neonicotinoids as a precautionary measure. The evidence is mounting and we suggest that US and Canadian governments should follow the same path – better safe than sorry. We lived very well before these pesticides were introduced and a temporary ban seems like the right thing to do while the studies are done.
There’s another disturbing fact that doesn’t get mentioned in the stories – the bees that are dying are our domestic honey bees – the ones kept to pollinate crops and make honey. We’ve moved more and more to a model of agriculture that requires honey bee hives to be brought in to pollinate crops as we’ve reduced the biodiversity in farm fields to the point where they are eco-deserts – nothing much lives there except the crop we are growing. We have replaced the natural pollinators with domesticated bees — essentially hives of agricultural workers. And now, in our never ending quest to maximize yield and minimize immediate cost, we appear to be killing the domestic honey bees – our agricultural partners on whom we are utterly dependent.
If we are unable to keep bees, we won’t be able to grow crops that depend on them for pollination but our governments do not act. If something was killing our cattle, hogs or chickens, we would see action – so why not for the bees? How will our crops be pollinated with out them?
The simple answer is that they won’t be unless we take steps to protect the biodiversity of pollinators whether they be domesticated or wild. The native wild pollinators are being killed by the same agents as the Honey Bees and they are losing their natural habitat. The loses are hard to quantify because we don’t count them.
Protecting the pollinator diversity requires 2 simple steps.
1. Provide habitat for the bees and
2. Stop poisoning the bees.
So, what can we do? I encourage everyone to contact their elected representatives and urge them to support a temporary moratorium on the sale and use of Neonicotinoids. The justification for doing so may be found in something called “The Precautionary Principle” – which says we have a duty to prevent harm to the environment if it is in our power to do so, even though all the evidence is not in – or, in other words, Common Sense.
You can also do your part to help reduce the market for the products of this kind of chemical intensive industrial agriculture. Start by supporting Organic and small scale local farmers. Summer is a great time to purchase local food at a Farmer’s Market – ask the farmers about the the food and how it is grown. Does it cost more to support the small scale farmers? It can do but you get benefits for that extra cost. You are strengthening your community, it is better for the environment and the food tastes better! If we all take some action on this, collectively we will have an impact.
Finally, if you have a garden, plant some native plants that will provide a food source for our native pollinators. Our native bees are in trouble too but nobody is counting them so we don’t have the numbers. We must protect the species that we have, we are going to need them in the future. We have done this behind our cafe and we enjoy seeing a wide variety of bees visiting our native plants.
A guest post for Earth Day from Scott Weidensaul, one of our “Voices for the Birds” (http://www.scottweidensaul.com)
In January, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Nicaragua, visiting a number of the farms that supply Bird Friendly® coffee to Birds & Beans – an experience that drove home the critical importance of such Smithsonian-certified shade coffee farms to the survival of migratory birds.
Much of our time was spent in the country’s northern highlands, a region of exceptional avian diversity, where Birds & Beans is partnering with UCA San Juan del Rio Coco, a cooperative of more than 400 small family farmers, all growing USDA organic coffee, 60 percent of which is also certified Bird Friendly®.
My guide was Jefferson Shriver, who with his wife Gabriela Narvaez runs Gaia Estate, also a Birds & Beans supplier. We met with the leadership of UCA San Juan, including their general manager Griselda Jarquín Lopez, and learned that the cooperative has decided to become 100 percent Bird Friendly® within three years – a significant step for this large, successful operation, which ships more than 2.5 million pounds of coffee each year.
I also had a chance to see first-hand how important the traditional shade coffee farms of this region are to migratory birds. Whether one is driving north from Managua, or looking at the region from space via Google Earth, you’re struck by the realization that the highlands around San Juan del Rio Coco are an immense island of quality bird habitat, surrounded by denuded cattle pastures, grain fields and sun coffee monocultures. In the highlands, though, traditional shade coffee farming has preserved an oasis for birds.
I was expecting farms that looked like, well, farms. Instead, the Bird Friendly® certified farms of producers like Marvin Venega look like almost untouched forest – high, complex canopies of native trees, draped with vines and spangled with orchids. In the shade of these forests, Venega and his neighbors grow not just coffee, but also cacao, vanilla, starfruit, cinnamon and a host of other crops – a system that is centuries old.
The habitat they protect simply drips with birds. We found great, rolling flocks moving through the woods. There were migrants like Philadelphia, yellow-throated and warbling vireos; yellow, chestnut-sided and Wilson’s warblers; summer tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Mixed with them were flamboyant resident species like emerald toucanets, blue-crowned motmots and masked tityras. Baltimore orioles from the north fed beside yellow-backed orioles, and Tennessee warblers were everywhere. It was paradise for a birder like me, and I hardly knew which way to look.
The coffee you drink makes a real, demonstrable difference for the birds that migrate to Central America. Because of the premium price they receive for Bird Friendly® coffee, farmers like Marvin Venega are actually restoring degraded habitat. Marvin proudly showed us an old corn field where, with the cooperative’s support, he has planted thousands of saplings of native trees and shrubs. Within a few years, this too would become vital habitat for migrants like blue-headed vireos and western wood-pewees.
The habitat preservation that every bag of Birds & Beans coffee makes possible isn’t happening just in the northern highlands. We wrapped up our trip at Gaia Estates, not far from the Pacific coast, which Jefferson and Gabriela have turned into a model of organic, Bird Friendly® habitat.
At daybreak, we sat on the deck of their cabin listening to flocks of parrots and parakeets screeching overhead. Dozens of western tanagers mobbed fruiting trees, while ruby-throated hummingbirds – perhaps the same ones that nest at our home in Pennsylvania – flitted from flower to flower. The woods were filled with hundreds of yellow warblers, and the more open areas were alive with scissor-tailed flycatchers and western kingbirds.
Jefferson and Gabriela are now Birds & Beans’ official representatives in Latin America, helping us forge partnerships not only with farmers in Nicaragua, but in countries as far afield as Peru and Colombia – and in the process, to safeguard the kind of habitat that birds we all love must have to survive.
We are often asked how much coffee to use to brew the perfect cup. Well, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) provides expert advice on all things coffee and the brewing ratio they suggest is 55g of coffee for 1 litre of brew. Since we don’t usually get out the scale to brew coffee, I weighed out 55g of beans and roughly translated to volume:
- 10 tablespoons of beans to 1 litre of brew, or
- 2.5 tablespoons beans per cup (8 fluid oz)
For event brewing in a 100 cup perc urn, we find 14 oz ground coarse is great.
When we roast a new coffee, we start with the SCAA brewing ratio. In our experience, this brews a strong delicious cup of coffee – in most cases. Interestingly, some coffees taste much better by reducing the ratio of coffee to water. The Nicaragua Gaia Estate coffee is much better brewed at about 3/4 strength (a little less than two tablespoons per cup).
The SCAA recommends grinding the coffee at the time of brewing, so the measurements above are for beans. I measure out the beans and put them through the grinder. It makes less mess than trying to measure ground coffee too. If you are measuring ground coffee the amount needed may be a bit more or less depending on how compacted it is.
A few more tips for making great coffee:
- use coffee roasted within the last 4-6 weeks
- use filtered (no chlorine) good quality water
- use clean equipment (grinders, brewers and carafes)
- make sure the brewing temperature is between 90-96 C (195-205 F)
- use the right grind for the method of brewing (coarse for french press, regular for filter, fine for aeropress)
- do not leave brewed coffee on active heat
The planet is becoming an increasingly inhospitable place for agriculture. This is especially the case with full sun, rain fed monocrops grown in the tropics where pounding rain, high winds, and long dry periods are an annual experience.
Fortunately, coffee is a forest crop by nature, and forests can create natural buffers for such inhospitable conditions. As organic, agro-forestry farmers, we just help that process along a bit.
At Gaia Estate in Nicaragua, coffee was first grown here over 100 years ago by simply clearing a bit of the underbrush from a natural forest. The place looks much the same today, with over seventy species of trees on 90 acres. A thick blanket of leaf litter covers the ground all year, maintaining soil humidity, preventing erosion, and building up organic matter that our coffee loves. Our three story shade canopy of fruit and forest trees shields the coffee from strong rains and volatile temperatures, and slows the maturation of the coffee beans, giving the coffee more complexity and sweetness. The limes, bananas and avocado intercropped with coffee as that first shade layer give us plenty of fruit year round for our family, workers, and a bit of extra to sell. Most people say they feel they are walking through a park when they come to Gaia. We feel much the same way – like gardeners in a forest – and can’t imagine farming any other way.
We know that Gaia is a refuge for migratory and resident birds, and a host of animals and insects. This is also very important to us. Since assuming ownership of the farm six years ago, we are seeing greater populations of migratory and resident birds, butterflies, lizards, iguana, and rabbits. We’ve even spotted a few deer and monkeys recently, the first to come back to this area in a long time. We don’t have to worry about the risk of worker exposure to poison because we don’t use pesticides or herbicides. The soil is alive with micro-organisms, worms and ants that all co-exist here given we use only organic fertilizer and repellents.
I am hesitant to over-romanticize, however. Annually we apply a half bucket of organic fertilizer to every plant. Compare that to the bottle cap of urea we see our neighbors apply to their conventionally grown coffee plants, and you can see that our production costs can get expensive. All of the coffee cherry residues, horse and cow manure, and fallen branches we convert to charcoal are used to make a rich blend of organic fertilizer. Then we hand weed instead of applying herbicides like Round Up or paraquat. While this is also time consuming and more expensive, it allows us to let tree seedlings – spread by birds and bats throughout the farm – grow back and replenish the agro-forestry system over time. These kinds of practices also generate more employment, meeting a critical need in the local community. Finally, there is nothing easy about regulating the shade of trees 20 meters high. The pruning of branches is necessary to allow some sunlight in for the coffee, and requires careful handling for both the tree and the coffee below.
Not everyone farms this way. As I write, in addition to the songs of at least a half dozen birds, I also hear the whirring of chainsaws in the distance. The value of trees in Nicaragua are calculated when they are horizontal, in board feet, not vertical and alive. Deforestation in Nicaragua, like much of Latin America, continues at a relentless pace. Tragically, most coffee markets do not reward farmers for growing coffee in the shade. There is no market value assigned to shade. Bird Friendly is a small but significant exception to the industry standard. If more people buy SMBC Bird Friendly coffee and demand grows, we would love to share the Birds & Beans and Bird Friendly certified market with our neighbors. After all, we are not an island – what our neighbors are doing ultimately affect our growing conditions and the health of the ecosystem we take care of at Gaia. The orioles and warblers and thrushes, if they could speak to us during their short visits here annually, would probably agree.
Jefferson Shriver and Gabriela Narvaez are Owners of Gaia Estate. Consider a visit to the farm – www.gaiaestate.com
You will notice a new Fair Trade logo on our website and packaging this month. There have been some changes in the fair trade system this year, and, we are now licensed with a different certifier: Fair Trade USA. Their fair trade logo looks like this.
So what is going on? And what does it mean?
Well in short, the fair trade system now has multiple third party certifiers, each with slightly different criteria. This is similar to the organic system in which there are well defined criteria on what is required for a product to be organic and there are several certifiers (Ecocert, Procert, and many more) who audit processes and records to ensure compliance with that standard.
It differs from the organic system in that the criteria for fair trade used by Fair Trade USA are now slightly different than those used by Fair Trade Canada. The differences between them are subtle and are motivated by a differing views on how best to meet the goals of Fair Trade. The goals remain common.
As licensees, we are disappointed by the confusion this disruption that has been caused by this shift. While there seems to be rather vicious debate between advocates of these 2 systems (and the Rainforest Alliance actually), we remain focused on uncertified product as the problem: where workers have no rights, poor pay and no security and where small producers have poor access to credit and to markets. We believe effort should be spent on increasing the market for socially certified coffee rather than debating the merits of the various social responsibility certifications all of which have made significant improvements in the lives of real people.
From our perspective, the most important aspect of any certification including one for social responsibility, is that
- it has published criteria that are developed openly and can be seen to be achieving their stated goals
- the criteria are verified at every step by an independent third party
- that chain of custody is unbroken so every party from producer to consumer willingly commits to third party verification
This brings us to why Birds and Beans, a Canadian family owned company, has landed with Fair Trade USA. As the Canadian leader in certified Bird Friendly® coffee we are not able to purchase our raw coffee from the list of FTO coffees offered by local importers (as almost all other Canadian roasters do). We have had to build our own global supply chain.
Our supply chain is complex and specialized and we have partnered with several like minded buyers in the USA to meet our goals. Our buying partners have always been licensees of Fair Trade USA. In order for us to preserve the new chain of custody requirements, we have joined them and now report through Fair Trade USA.
We are offering the same coffees grown, purchased and certified under the same conditions as we always have. The only thing that has changed is the logo. In the future, we hope to be able to add coffees sourced from our estate farmers (who were who had been ineligible for fair trade certification as independent family farms) as Fair Trade Certified.
The explanation is simple. People do what they are incented to do. Since Nature provides the services that sustain us for free — that is, we don’t pay for them — we consume them at unsustainable levels.
Dr. Pavan Sukhdev heads up the United Nations Environment Program’s Green Economy Initiative where they try to understand this question and more importantly how to incent us to behave differently. He says that the cost imposed on society for the degradation of ecosystems through the legal actions of corporations is between $2 – 4 trillion per year. That’s an amount roughly equivalent to the financial losses of the 2008 banking crisis. For a quick introduction to the topic check out this video.
For a bit more detail, watch this TED Talk by Dr. Sukhdev see What is the Price of Nature
Dr. Sukhdev proposes that the solution is for consumers pay for the value of the services provided by nature that are consumed in producing the products they buy. Moving to a solution that takes what has previously been considered “external costs” into account is achievable but will not be simple. The relative costs of what we consume will change to reflect the true costs. For example, we will discover that manufacturing a plastic bottle will be too expensive to use for a one time sale of water. Recall our post on plastic water bottles:
Given that we do what we are incented to do, putting a price on natural capital is our best choice. None of us wants to be responsible for causing the last forests to be cut down or catching the last fish, do we? Yet our current economic models are driving us there.
Rather than waiting for the economic apparatus to be implemented, we are valuing the natural capital in coffee growing regions by choosing certified Bird Friendly coffee. Bird Friendly coffee farms provide many services including habitat for wildlife, water retention and purification, pollination, pest control, carbon storage, soil erosion protection to name a few.
Meanwhile, in pursuit of higher yields, coffee farmers are encouraged to cut down forests so they to make more money. Sometimes they do make more, but even when they do, the forest, and all the services that it provides, are gone. The land becomes an Eco-desert. Those services that ultimately sustain us are no longer provided (at any price) and our ecosystem is one step closer to collapse.
So by choosing certified Bird Friendly coffee we are rewarding farmers for protecting habitat and natural services.
Our eco-system has so far proven to be remarkably robust in the face of our unchecked consumption, but there are signs everyhwere that we may be reaching its limits. Is it not be better for us all to pay the farmers to keep the forest and have it continue to provide “eco services”? We think so. What do you think?
We are no longer selling bottled water at the cafe. [update: we now sell boxed water if you want it to go] I saw a Pop! Tech talk with Chris Jordan about a month ago. He wanted to engage us in the impact of Pacific Garbage Patch. Well it worked on me.
He photographed dead albatross chicks who had died from eating the plastic they were fed by their parents who thought it was food.
Here is what Chris Jordan says on his website about this project:
“On Midway Atoll, a remote cluster of islands more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent, the detritus of our mass consumption surfaces in an astonishing place: inside the stomachs of thousands of dead baby albatrosses. The nesting chicks are fed lethal quantities of plastic by their parents, who mistake the floating trash for food as they forage over the vast polluted Pacific Ocean.
For me, kneeling over their carcasses is like looking into a macabre mirror. These birds reflect back an appallingly emblematic result of the collective trance of our consumerism and runaway industrial growth. Like the albatross, we first-world humans find ourselves lacking the ability to discern anymore what is nourishing from what is toxic to our lives and our spirits. Choked to death on our waste, the mythical albatross calls upon us to recognize that our greatest challenge lies not out there, but in here.”
And that does not even account for the fact that 5 times the amount of water is polluted in the production of the bottle than the bottle actually contains.
Previously I had thought that it is good to offer a healthier beverage option to our dehydrated customers. Why should we only be able to choose sugary (though organic) drinks? Well the answer has come back pretty clearly: “Because water is packaged in unacceptable containers”.
So no more plastic bottles in the cafe as of today. And the only thing we offered in plastic bottles was water.
So we are no longer selling water. We are however an official Quench refill location. QUENCH is a free Mobile App that connects you to the nearest water fountain or official water bottle Refill Location in the Greater Toronto Area.
We now provide filtered tap water free. Just bring your own container. Or, with your order, we’ll serve it on the side in a good old fashioned glass. And of course we still have our dog water out front! We just keep raising the bar.
Last week, on Earth Day I happened to see a broadcast of American Experience’s “Earth Days” documentary on PBS. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Did you know that the first Earth Day was organized 42 years ago and marked the consolidation of the environmental movement as a political force?
As someone who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s it struck me is what a huge impact the movement had on my personal view of the world. Its collective voice and momentum gave me the sense that we can save the natural world from human imposed ruin.
The Environmental Movement had some really big wins in those days. Banning DDT, expansion of National Parks, and the creation of the EPA to name a few. They are the reason we have Eagles today and we have relatively clean air to breath and water to drink.
In striking contrast, it dawned on me that not much has happened in the 30 years since. The tremendous policy advances have pretty much stopped. Sure we have a small number of Hybrid Cars and a few more solar panels and LED lights – but what progress has there been towards creating a truly sustainable economy? Very little. In fact, I would argue it has been a time of backslide and greenwashing.
Meanwhile, the international scientific community warns us of the effects of human induced climate change, and in response, we elect governments who ignore the science and marginalize environmental leaders.
It is now a week after Earth Day. The commercial rush is over. There are no more “green” inducements from the big brands because the commercial machine has moved on the the next big promotional opportunity… Mother’s Day.
What about Mother Earth? Is Earth Day really over?
At Birds and Beans we don’t do anything different on Earth Day. Don’t get me wrong, its not that we don’t appreciate the other guys giving some notice to the environment one day a year. Every little bit helps.
If we were to take the opportunity to crow (pun intended) about our sustainability record, you’d get bored because it is so comprehensive. So instead, click here if you want to see what we do everyday to make our Earth more livable.
Earth Day is a good moment to look at what we’ve done in just the past year to raise the bar from where we were the year before. For businesses, the most significant measure of sustainability must be in the production of its core product. I see way too many companies getting “warm fuzzies” from the public for changing their light bulbs while their shelves are stocked with products made in toxic sweatshops in other countries. Its not that I begrudge their choice to use less energy to illuminate their walls of shame… enough said?
By contrast we’re on track to our goal of offering 100% certified Bird Friendly coffee by 2013. [Update: We did that!] We’re delighted that after years of discussions, our 3 growers in Nicaragua have become the first certified Bird Friendly growers in Nicaragua. This is more than just adding a certification to a previously available crop. It turns out that even within these growers, some of their coffee is certifiable and some is not. That means when we purchased coffee from these growers in the past, it might not have been grown in the bio-diverse rustic shade that we are trying to support.
Do you see why certification is important? Now our Nicaraguan growers are separating the coffee grown in certifiable shade from the rest. So in purchasing the Bird Friendly coffee we feed back to the growers that we are willing pay a bit more to preserve a bit of lush habitat with our delicious coffee.
In 2012, together with our USA counterpart, we purchased the first ever full container of certified Bird Friendly coffee to leave Nicaragua!
We do believe the little things do matter too. So we’ve upgraded to St. John’s organic bread in the cafe. We’ve shifted from an assortment of cleaners with unverified green claims to Green Cricket’s EcoLogo certified cleaners. We’ve banished all products containing Palm Oil from our cafe. We planted our CHIRP! native garden behind the café and incorporated onsite composting.
If the most significant measure of sustainability for business is in the production of its core product, what is the parallel for us as individuals? Arguably, it is for us to change our daily consumption, specifically, our food choices. If you drink coffee every day, this is a great place to start. Imagine changing from drinking coffee that is eradicating habitat every day, to coffee that preserves and enhances it? Its so easy! And the payoff is also better tasting coffee.
Celebrate Earth Day with certified Bird Friendly coffee from Birds and Beans and then make Earth Day last forever by enjoying it every day.