Where to Get a Sustainable Cup o’ Joe

By April Guilbault

Slowly but surely, the temps are cooling, the sunlight is taking on a more amber glow later during the day, and is that an orange leaf I see hanging on that tree? Ah, it’s getting to be hot-beverage season (but then again, maybe it always is). Are you a mom who is back to inhabiting cafes with friends now that the kiddos are back in school? Or a traveler passing through Fairfield County? Either way, a great cup of joe is always on the destination list. But where to get one? And, more importantly, where to enjoy a sustainable cup of coffee? That’s the trickier part because not all joe is created equal.

Why go sustainable with your coffee, you ask? It’s merely beans and water. Oh, but it’s not. The cup is far deeper and more complex than you think. Coffee reigns with chocolate as a commodity that not only impacts our planet but human lives as well. Really? Really. When coffee is grown in a sustainable fashion, maintaining the ecology of the area and ensuring that it remain diverse and productive despite its usage are a top priority. The human component, communicated via the “fair trade” label, ensures that farmers and workers who pick and process the beans receive fair wages and fair treatment. Something to ponder as you sip your next coffee.

Several labels have become more prevalent on our favorite bags of beans these days. If a coffee is “organic”, then it is grown and produced without using synthetic pesticides or fertilizer. If a coffee is “fair-trade”, then you know that the beans have been cultivated with a certain level of sustainability in mind and that better labor trading conditions ultimately help the farmers and workers. These developing countries benefit greatly in the economic realm when this is established. And finally, if a coffee is deemed “direct trade”,  it has been sourced directly from the farmer, without a middle man. This also actively promotes positive economical change in developing areas.

Without further ado…some great spots to get a cup of coffee that not only tastes great, but does great things too.

Sugar and Olives, Norwalk www.sugarandolives.com

This restaurant serves Gorilla Coffee in a welcoming and hip atmosphere. Fair-trade and organic, it’s shipped within 24 hours of being roasted in Brooklyn. Bottomless cups of regular joe, plus the usual variations involving steamed milk and foam, are served with beautiful tableware including a porcelain milk carafe shaped like a half gallon milk container. Try the “Coffee and Chocolate” (Gorilla coffee with Mexican hot chocolate). All drinks, to stay or go, can be topped with organic vanilla sugar, organic agave, Arethusa Farms milk (local) or organic almond milk. Add a seasonal, housemade pop-tart and call yourself happy!

Green Leaf Organic Bakery & Cafe's entrance is from the parking lot and includes outdoor seating.

Green Leaf Organic Bakery and Cafe, Wilton (closed) www.greenleaforganicbakery.com

Organic and Fair-trade Italian roast espresso is served in a variety of tasty manifestations from Cafe Americano to Cafe Mocha. Proclaiming themselves about 85% organic, they serve all-natural sweeteners (stevia, truvia, sugar-in-the-raw), natural syrup flavorings, organic dairy and soy and also strive to include local products when they can from area farms. Be sure to try their blueberry almond tart or their gluten-free fallen chocolate souffle along with your cup of very sustainable java. There is ample, inviting seating inside and out. Read our feature story about Green Leaf Organic Bakery and Cafe.

Counter Culture Coffees are certified direct trade, shade grown and most are Certified Organic.

Terrain, Westport www.shopterrain.com

You won’t want to leave this cavern of a building overflowing with foliage and unique garden and home treasures. If you crossed a European market with a terrarium, you would come up with something resembling Terrain. Head to their brushed steel coffee bar and enjoy one of their many coffees that start with Counter Culture coffee, which is direct trade and (in many cases) organic. Hand-poured coffee (featuring single-origin coffees so as to showcase them individually) and their mocha lattes (utilizing single-origin cocoa from Ghana) are something special here. Their dairy is local, soy is organic and about 90% of their baked goods are made in-house, using local farm products when possible. Linger or take your coffee (or organic SerendipiTEA) away in a Vegware cup, feeling good about it inside and out. Read our feature story about Terrain.

Tusk & Cup, Ridgefield www.tuskandcup.com

Traditional Italian offerings are the specialty of this cafe, which prides itself on its devotion to using local and all-natural products whenever and where ever they can. Redding Roasters supplies their coffee, some of which is organic and fair-trade (whichever is available to the roaster). They utilize Farmer’s Cow dairy products in everything from their homemade gelato to the many espresso drinks that they serve. Honey from Sweet Pea Farm (Redding) is sold here and there are no artificial flavors gracing their syrups. Even the cups for their coffees (to go and to stay) are biodegradable. To accompany their many traditional coffee beverages, they serve a good assortment of gluten-free treats, from cookies to biscotti. Ethical, local and pure is the name of the game here. Salut!

Port Coffeehouse, Bridgeport www.portcoffeehouse.com (Closed December 2013)

Organic and Fair-trade coffees, which are supplied from only local roasters (90% come from Connecticut) are the hallmarks of this exceedingly eco-conscious cafe. The open and homey space encourages a sense of community and this community adores their Spicy Hot Chocolate (made with Equal Exchange chocolate) and their Traditional Macchiato. Topping these drinks is local (non-organic) dairy, in addition to soy and almond milks, both of which are organic. Sweetening the deal are organic agaves, local honey, stevia and sugar-in-the-raw. Gluten-free pastries are offered here, along with WIFI. Drink in or take it away from this very eco-conscious cafe.

Espresso NEAT, Darien www.espressoneat.com

The science of coffee reigns at Espresso NEAT. Their coffees are direct trade and, in many cases, organic. Local dairy, along with organic honey and agave are used to top off your NEAT beverages. One specialty is the Not-So-Neat, which is a cold-brewed coffee concentrate blended with milk to achieve what they call “coffee ice cream in a glass”. Sweet and creamy…how can you pass that up? In addition to heavily training their baristas, they also offer classes in coffee connoisseur-ship, with such classes as home brewing, brewing methods and “cupping”, which is the coffee equivalent to a wine-tasting. Stay or go, check out this cafe in one of Darien’s cutest nooks.

Le Pain Quotidien, New Canaan and Greenwich www.lepainquotidien.com

It may be a big chain, but this cafe focuses attention down to the smallest eco-detail. The coffee that they use is from a single Peruvian estate and is 100% organic. Add organic sweeteners and dairy products to it and you have a very sustainable cup of enjoyment. Even their utensils and bags are biodegradable. Want something besides coffee? Try their lemonade made with 100% organic lemon juice or any of their organic teas and then pair it with some delightful breads or pastries, all of which are made from 100% organic flour, eggs and milk. From the refurbished wood tables and the floors that are stained with linseed oil (instead of poly), Le Pain is becoming more pro-green with each passing detail.

Coffee Barn, Wilton, www.coffeebarnwilton.com

A cozy barn, minus the hay, is the vibe here and Coffee Lab Roasters coffee of Tarrytown, NY is what is served. Coffee Lab coffees are highly sustainable and the ones that trickle to the Coffee Barn can be organic and fair-trade in variety, but not always. Local Connecticut Farmer’s Cow dairy tops off any of the drinks along with a full assortment of sweeteners (natural and un-natural), so there is something for anyone. There is plenty of seating inside the barn (there’s even an upstairs) and outside on a welcoming patio, complete with umbrellas and tables. One of the big draws, besides the great coffee, is their gelato (non-organic). Seven rotating flavors tempt appetites on a daily basis.

Michele’s Pies, Norwalk and Westport, www.michelespies.com

Most folks go for the wide array of pies available at the specialty shop, but coffee is on the menu, too. Bean and Leaf Organic coffee is served, along with the traditional espresso-based drinks such as cappuccinos and cafe au lait. The dairy that they use is not organic, but the local honey comes from Red Bee Honey (Weston), which manages their hives organically. While not overly sustainable, they do offer something to go with their coffees that most cafes do not….pies, pies and more pies. Seating is available, although limited.

Addendum 12/30/13:

Freshly roasted beans are brewed into coffee and taste-tested in the cupping room at Shearwater.

Right here in Fairfield County (Trumbull), we finally have our first certified organic coffee roastery! From the organic green coffee beans to the organic cleaning agents (for the machinery) to the no-pesticide rule in-and-around their facility, Shearwater Coffee Roasters is improving coffee sip-by-tasty-sip. Even the actual roaster that they use is better for the environment, as it is a small-batch roaster and uses less fuel than traditional roasters.

Shearwater Coffee is currently appearing by the cup in various restaurants and cafes and the list continues to grow. Head to Tusk and Cup (Ridgefield) for their Peruvian, Ethiopian and Columbian coffees, Billy’s Bakery (Fairfield) for their Decaf and Columbian and Steam Coffee Bar (Greens Farm train station). Restaurants serving their brews are The Dressing Room, Parallel Post in the Trumbull Marriott and Focaccia’s Cafe and Catery in Shelton.

For more information or to visit their facility for the freshest coffee, go to http://www.shearwatercoffeeroasters.com

April Guilbault is a graphic artist and illustrator turned freelance writer and blogger. After studying Communication Design at Syracuse University, she went on to work at NBC in Chicago and New York as a graphic designer on such shows as NBC Nightly News and The Rosie O’Donnell Show, which earned her several Emmy awards. These days she focuses on a new-to-her variety of creativity…words and writing. Her blog www.DailyFrosting.com is a daily pursuit covering all aspects of enhancing one’s life, namely focusing on the little things that make it worthwhile. Humor, recipes and observances rule the day. She is currently also a contributing writer to the FC Beat magazine.

11 thoughts on “Where to Get a Sustainable Cup o’ Joe”

  1. You forgot one of the best and most sustainable coffee shops in FC: Ross’ Bakery in Ridgefield. They have the best coffee and the best pastries!!

  2. Don’t forget about us at Fat Cat Pie, serving Dean’s Beans for years, fresh with organic dairy always, open 8am during the week, 10am on Sundays. Love reading about some of our faves here.

  3. Greetings,

    I completely appreciate and enjoyed the article – and yes, these are all great businesses who are making a real effort at greening up their supply chains … but … the truth is that no coffee is sustainable.

    In fact, one cup of coffee has a water footprint of around 70 gallons per cup. Given that one of the 9 planetary boundaries is the water cycle, that type of footprint by its nature is not sustainable.

    That’s not to say that these types of coffee – and the businesses who make an effort to serve them – don’t deserve kudos, cuz they do!

    • Thanks Heather. I’m thinking that it would be hard to rid people of their coffee habits. I guess the best we can do now is to influence people to choose organic and Fair Trade. You do raise a very important and serious issue that’s causing some to return to dry farming, and of course protest fracking by energy companies.

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