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Amherst College > News & Events > Amherst Magazine > Archives > Spring 2004 > College Row
College Row

No more jive in the java

Bleary-eyed Amherst students who opt for a coffee fix to ready them for a long night of cramming—or to keep them awake in class after pulling an all-nighter the evening before—are now, whether they know it or not, making a socially responsible decision. Since the beginning of February, all the coffee outlets on campus have been serving fair-trade coffee. This product cuts out the middleman and sends profits back directly to farmers.

The switch originated with President Anthony W. Marx. “Coffee is the second-largest import into the U.S.,” he says, “and most of the actual producers of the crop don’t get paid a living wage. Fair trade ensures that they do. There is an educational value in saying to our students that we as an institution care about those related to us and that it is worth a minor cost (a few pennies a cup) to help make people’s lives better. It also happens to be great coffee; according to Charlie Thompson [Director of Dining Services], coffee consumption has shot through the roof since the switch.”

Dean’s Beans, the New Salem, Mass., company that provides Amherst’s new drink, is dedicated to efforts like the fair-trade project. “We have now committed to becoming the first all-organic, fair-trade coffee company in the country,” they announce on their Website. “Under internationally recognized fair-trade rules, farmers are guaranteed to receive meaningful prices and credit terms that assist rather than hobble them.” Dean’s buys beans only from individual farmers or small collectives, to avoid the exploitation that can come with large farms and agri­business operations.

For Amherst, making the campus-wide switch to fair-trade coffee was something of a no-brainer; the new farmer-friendly product was already popular at Schwemm’s, the coffeehouse in the Keefe Campus Center. “I could only see positives from all the way around,” Charlie Thompson told The Amherst Student. After a taste test, Thompson found that Dean’s Beans’ product, albeit slightly more expensive than some of its competitors, was the best-tasting coffee of the bunch.

Students couldn’t agree more. “The old stuff was swill,” said fair-trade fan Chris Yamaoka ’04. “I always wondered why Valentine served the worst coffee I’d ever had. But the new stuff is a huge improvement, I think. And if it’s socially responsible and can make all the MassPIRG types feel better about themselves, then all the better.”

Of course, like all seniors, Yamaoka can’t help but seize any opportunity to wax nostalgic, even about the coffee of yesteryear.
“Remember when the disposable coffee cups used to be purple, back in freshman year?” he reminisces. “Man, those were the days.”

You heard ’em, Charlie: they like the new coffee, in terms of both its taste and its mission. But they’d really like some Amherst-purple cups to put it in.

—Rebecca Louick ’04

Next: A Gate for Emily >>

 
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