One Small Change: Fair Trade Coffee

I met Tanya Marlow in the blog-world. She writes at Thorns and Gold, where she does a beautiful job of tackling the complicated intricacies of one of the greatest barriers to faith: suffering. As a chronic M.E. sufferer, Tanya takes on her own pain as well as the pain of the world in a breathless, honest way. I love her for her kindness, her truth and her voice of hope. And I know you will too!

fair trade coffee - tanya marlow

There are several useful categories for dividing up the world into People Like Us.

For example: do you like Pepsi or Coke? (Coke, obviously. Preferably Diet.) Who was the best James Bond? (Daniel Craig.) Cats or dogs? (Dogs).

For me, the world is made up of two types of people: tea drinkers and coffee drinkers, and I am with the coffee people.


We were walking up the road together in North Oxford, talking student mission, and world concerns. I told her of my heart for Africa, and the beautiful children I had met on short-term mission who lived on so little. She talked about how her love for cross-cultural mission had caused her to leave the US and come with her family to Britain.

She was ten years older than me with a black belt in missions and Bible teaching, whereas I was a newbie, conscious of my age and inexperience, desperate to prove my Bible-teaching credentials. We were both hungry for friendship, and the volume of my voice increased as we strolled past the Oxfam thrift shop, the Chinese restaurant, the Bakehouse, because it was thrilling to discover someone who didn’t want to live the comfortable suburban life, who also burned with a passion to make a difference in the world. I had finally found a friend who understood me.

We had so much in common – even down to loving coffee.

“I can’t stand instant coffee – it isn’t real,” she said.

“Neither can I!” I was delighted.

“And freshly ground coffee beans make such a difference,” she said, and I agreed, even though I honestly didn’t have a clue if they did.

“And I love Lavazza coffee,” I said. “Don’t you?”

“Oh, I only drink Fair Trade,” she said lightly.

“Oh,” I said. We had almost reached our destination, and my pace slowed slightly.

Oh.  “But what about the taste?”

“Yeah, I thought – making someone work below the poverty line just so I can have a cup of coffee? Nah – I’m not going to do that.” She said it so casually, so warmly, without judgement.

I didn’t say anything. How could I?

I wanted to be the person who made a principled decision about my purchasing, the person who lived differently, who made a difference in the world.

But I also wanted to be the person who drank only the very best coffee. I was a student missions worker: I had few vices. Coffee was an indulgence, a treat. It wasn’t in the sphere of my missional living; it had come under a different category, somehow. It was for ‘me’. We arrived at the student’s house, and I changed the subject, and we went in together.


I didn’t change right away. I went on ordering my Lavazza, and I drank it rebelliously, and I told other coffee snobs I would love to drink Fair Trade coffee if only it didn’t taste so inferior.

Then someone said they’d heard the Fair Trade ones weren’t that much fairer than the regular ones, and I had no idea if they were right or not, because I didn’t read newspapers and I didn’t want to admit my ignorance, and so I chose to believe that they might be right.

I continued to enjoy coffee and chats with my friend, and that particular topic never came up again. I’m almost certain she wouldn’t have any recollection of that conversation.

But that phrase stayed in my mind – it nagged me. Making someone work below the poverty line- just so I can have a cup of coffee?


I don’t know why it took so long. It was just coffee.

I’d told God I was prepared to go to the ends of the earth for Him; to live by faith and fundraise my salary as a student worker; to be a missionary wherever He would call me. But still I didn’t change my coffee brand.

They say that the last thing to be converted is your wallet. I don’t know why it’s so hard to include God in purchasing decisions, but it is, and it was – it was really hard. To this day, I don’t fully know why it felt like such a sacrifice.

I don’t even remember when it was – maybe two, maybe five years after that conversation in North Oxford, and we bought a Fair Trade packet just to see how different it was, and it was not that much more expensive, and we tasted it, and it was actually really good, and we wondered why we hadn’t done it sooner.


This is the paradox of faith. We measure progress and holiness in strange ways.

So often, real change is not to be found in the Big Things, the ends of the earth, the courageous leaps of youth and loud, impassioned prayers. It comes through the small, shuffling steps towards wholeness and holiness in the ordinary and the everyday. It’s found in those seemingly insignificant conversations with friends, and on the shelves of the supermarket.

The deepest changes creep up on you gradually. The Holy Spirit works in shadows and quietude.


I never became the overseas missionary I always thought I would.

I wish I could say I’m no longer desperate to prove my Bible-teaching credentials – but I am still, (though growing less anxious). As the years go by, I am learning, little by little, to lean more fully into the grace of God.

I am still the person who wants to make a difference in the world. And I am definitely still the person who likes to drink good coffee. These days, it’s Fair Trade, strong, black and, (with some reluctance), decaffeinated.

So, if you too are a coffee person, then I am overjoyed to make your acquaintance. I am delighted you know that freshly-ground beans make all the difference, and instant coffee tastes like rehydrated cat litter. I invite you to try Fair Trade coffee if you haven’t already: it’s really good.

fair trade coffee - quote

Over to you:

  • Are you a coffee or a tea person?
  • What changes in your character have you seen coming in shuffling steps rather than big leaps?

For further reading:

  • Fair trade – is it really fair?
  • This study assessing the impact of Fairtrade on poverty reduction through rural development (via the Fairtrade Foundation)
  • You can check the ethical credentials of your current brand of coffee here (ethical consumer buyers guide): 

Fairtrade Coffee brands:

  • We love the taste of Cafedirect  
  • Happily, the popularity of FairTrade products has meant that even my beloved Lavazza now offer a FairTrade option: Lavazza Tierra…AND they even sell Fair Trade beans. You can also shop Lavazza Tierra on Amazon.
  • In the UK:  CafeDirect and other Fairtrade Coffee – buy from
  • (And if you must drink instant coffee, you can now get a FairTrade version from most supermarkets.)


tanya marlowTanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology. Now she reads Bible stories to her little boy as she learns what it means to housebound with a severe autoimmune illness. She likes answering the tricky questions of faith that most avoid, and writing honestly about suffering and searching for God. She blogs at Thorns and Gold Find her on Twitter @Tanya_Marlow or Facebook ( )

32 thoughts on “One Small Change: Fair Trade Coffee

  1. I’m a recent tea person but I have to sadly admit, I know absolutely nothing about tea, how it’s made, and who gets paid to pick it. I suppose my first small change would be to educate myself Thank you for making me think more about my purchases.

    1. I forgive you for being a tea drinker 😉

      I think your first small change is a really good one – it’s really healthy for us to be more thoughtful about what we buy, and how our purchases make a difference in the economy of the whole world. I think I tend to be fairly thoughtless about these things – I guess so much comes automatically, and it’s hard not to dissolve into a puddle of first-world guilt, and feel like what we do is so little.

      I love this series, because it affecting change in the world can feel so hopeless and huge; we can lose sight of the small changes we can make.

      My husband is a tea drinker, and he drinks Clipper tea, which is a fair trade company in the UK. He says it tastes good. Twinings also do a fair trade option now,which is encouraging. I’m afraid that’s the limit of my tea knowledge, but I am so encouraged by the way you’re approaching this. Thanks so much for commenting!

  2. I am a coffee drinker – strong, black, from freshly ground beans, and fair trade. And I struggle to feel like I make a difference in my role in overseas ministry. But, I plod along and hope the small changes effect transformation somehow, somewhere, by the grace of God!

    1. Ahhhh, music to my ears – a bona fide coffee snob! I salute you!

      Excited to hear you’re in overseas ministry. I follow the life and work of several verse as ministers closely, and what strikes me is that they are so often ploughing in hard earth. The changes are small, the encouragements all too few.

      I used too work in student ministry, and the pace of change was so rapid it was almost dizzying. I could stand up at the front of church and tell story after exciting story. But it wasn’t anything to do with me, it was just the environment I was working in.

      Sometimes I think our (my?) tendency in the West is to be focused on Results and Tangible things and Instant Success. (Like instant coffee).

      I often have to sit and think about the inefficiency of God, and the fact that Jesus spent 30 years living before he even started his 3 years of ministry. It grates, sometimes, when I want things to be so much quicker.

      I don’t know any overseas minister who has reported massive changes within months of being there. I think I would probably worry if they did. So much of minstry is about listening and learning

      1. Ha! I work in admin in the field of B Translation. (I have to be discreet, but you’ll figure it out.) Talk about removed…

        I did work on a translation project in a difficult area and got burned out. So, you see, I need the coffee to ponder the insanity of God to want to involve me in His Kingdom work!

        1. Aha, I did figure that out.

          I’m so glad you’re in that work! And I think you are amazingly awesome for continuing to work in that field, even if not in the same role. I think I would have been tempted to just run for the hills and call it quits. Sounds like God was decidedly sane to keep you involved 😉 But definitely still drink the coffee. Always coffee. 🙂

  3. Coffee man here. Black with 1/2 to 1 sugar.

    My old housemate (whose sister is a friend of Tanya’s) used to claim he could taste the difference between coffee that was fair trade and coffee that wasn’t. In spite of being a physicist, he’d never let this claim be tested.

    I really don’t mind a good instant. Many nowadays are fair trade. Though I would dispute the claim that it “tastes like rehydrated cat litter” – an interesting comment when you consider the most expensive coffee in the world, civet coffee, when you know where it comes from! Though, having had some when I was in Indonesia last year, it is good.

    It’s odd how the fair trade movement seems to have grown. The early items were coffee and chocolate; now it’s quite easy to get hold of them. Yet getting fair trade clothing into high street shops seems to be much slower. I know Debenhams stock a small range, though there’s very little choice. If you really want it, you have to go clothes shopping online.

    1. Nice to see you on here, and good to know your taste in coffee is as impeccable as your taste in universities. (Hope your sugar is fair trade…?)

      I am tickled by the thought of your friend tasting whether it was fair trade. Was it the inferiority or superiority of flavour…? Or was it simply that he could taste the shouts of injustice within the coffee beans that make non-FairTrade more bitter?

      And YES – totally with you at the bafflement at the non-existence of Fairtrade clothes. I really thought that after the factory collapse in Bangladesh there might be more of a movement calling for it. It would be really good if they did.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and hanging out here today.

  4. Two of my faves in one space – how blessed am I? I am not a coffee person, never have been. But this is so beautifully written, Tanya. Thank you for it.

  5. Tanya, what a message– something we think is so small but turns to something so huge. Isn’t that the lovely way that God works? 🙂
    Thank you for writing. <3

    1. Thanks so much Victoria! I think it’s a lesson I need to keep on learning and relearning – it’s so beautifully counterintuitive. Thanks for celebrating it with me!

  6. Love this! I recently made the switch to Fair Trade coffee, after reading Rachel Held Evans book and posts on the topic. I got lucky and found it at Aldi. It is certified, even though it is inexpensive. ($4 a bag) It’s still more than what I had been drinking, but it tastes so good! My next switch is going to be chocolate. That one is much harder to do, since I have a baking business, but I really need to take the plunge.

    1. Thank you, Shannon! And I’m glad you found some in the supermarket – it’s always hard to know who stocks it, particularly outside of the UK. I AM gratified that you think it tastes good, though! Mmm, chocolate. Do you know Green and Blacks? They are amazing – organic and Fairtrade (but expensive). But so good. Their 85% is fab. I hope you find a stockist that works for you.

  7. I love this post! I especially love that you gave links at the end for people who want more information. I get my coffee and tea (I’m a fence-sitter, with strong leanings toward the coffee side) and chocolate from Equal Exchange.

    1. Hello, dear fence-sitter! Come join us on the coffee side – it’s where all the cool people are!
      I’m kidding. (Kinda.)
      I’ve heard good things about Equal Exchange – that’s great that you get your coffee and tea and chocolate from there. (Mmm chocolate – I’m totally getting hungry as I write all these responses about chocolate.)

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment – I really appreciate it!

  8. Tanya, I KNEW we were in the same group. Coke, Daniel Craig, Dogs and Coffee.

    This post was great and I’m sitting here wondering what aspect of my life it applies most to. Isn’t it sad how hard it can be to recognize these things in ourselves? (I happen to be quite good at seeing it in others.)

    Also, thank you so much for the links at the bottom. I love the ethical consumer buyers guide!

    1. JANICE!!! Yay! I KNEW we were kindred spirits. 🙂 hurrah!

      I know exactly what you mean about being good at seeing it in others. We need people to come along and point it out in ourselves. Sometimes I think the realisation only comes when we look at a photo of ourselves or read an old journal entry or something, and think, ‘gosh – I’m in a different place now.’ God is sneaky, we don’t notice the change as it happens. (Maybe that’s a good thing!)

      I wonder what our friends/husband would say if we asked them about how they think we’ve changed?

  9. Gah, there is so much to love about this post, Tanya! I could talk for hours about each section. Good, good stuff.

    Also, I’m both a tea and coffee person. (We exist!) But I don’t handle the caffeine in coffee very well, or at all, so most days I drink tea.

    1. Oh yay! Yay! I am SO glad you like it, friend.

      I have a problem with caffeine nowadays too, which sucks. Decaf coffee is good, but not quite the same.

      When I was a kid, I drank tea till it was coming out of my ears. Then, around the age of 7, one day I just didn’t like it anymore, so stopped drinking it. True story.

  10. I am most definitely a tea person (sorry), Earl Grey, with milk. I’ve recently been thinking I need to switch to organic tea, thank you for reminding me it should be fair trade too!

    When I think about the changes in character I’ve gone through, it seems most of them were slow. At least the ones that lasted.

    1. Earl grey with milk sounds very sophisticated! I’m so glad that you’re thinking of changing to organic and Fairtrade tea – that sounds fab.

      ‘At least the ones that lasted’ – that’s so true. It’s so much easy to do a quick change for six weeks and then lapse back into how we were before (Lent, anyone??) but real change takes time. I find this a comforting thought. Thank you.

      1. Exactly, that’s what I was trying to say but I couldn’t really find the words. I find it comforting, too. God is not in a hurry. 😉

  11. Tanya,
    It does not make a difference to me if you drink coffee or not for I know well that you make a difference in this world and a significant one. I drink coffee as well. I tried to develop a taste for green tea by drinking it everyday for 2 months but really never did. I go for Diet Dr Pepper!

    1. Thank you, Mark. 🙂
      Yes… Green tea has never appealed to me – I think you were brave for drinking it for two months! Diet Dr Pepper is quite an acquired taste – I’m not sure I have acquired it!

  12. Tanya, this is beautiful and winsome and so very challenging. I’m not really a coffee drinker (if I don’t have PG Tips in the morning, something is wrong) but I can’t stop thinking about these words: “I’d told God I was prepared to go to the ends of the earth for Him; to live by faith and fundraise my salary as a student worker; to be a missionary wherever He would call me. But still I didn’t change my coffee brand.”
    Something to ponder. Thank you for sharing, friend!

  13. I love this post. I’ve bought fairtrade coffee and tea for a long time, and the day they introduced it to my supermarket here in Luxembourg I might have done a little dance of joy in the aisles 🙂
    (I also loved being able to see this scene as I read it – I grew up just outside Oxford)

  14. I loved reading this. Fair trade coffee (and tea! and chocolate!) have been passions of mine for some time. We have started serving and selling Equal Exchange fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolate at our church. And since Equal Exchange has paired with so many faith-based relief agencies, for every pound of coffee our church orders, they donate $0.15 to the United Methodist Committee of Relief (which totaled close to $20,000.00 last year). Our head pastor joked (half-joked): “What could be better than eating chocolate for Jesus?” I have enjoyed educating people and seeing how they have responded to this social justice issue. I am so proud that we are truly making a difference in the lives of farmers and their families across the world just by drinking excellent coffee!

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