A Deep Dive Into Ethical Coffee

This article is written for Engl 540.01 Course: Creating Digital Content at Marywood University.

On a snowy March day, I drove through the winding roads of northeastern Pennsylvania to get to the Moka Origins Factory. We went for the coffee but left with such a passion for single-origin, ethically made chocolate. After my trips to Guatemala in 2014 and 2015, my passion for coffee has grown into something wonderful. I adore spending my time trying new local/micro-roasted coffees and learning about the coffee industry. Moka Origins was like taking a trip to coffee heaven!

Moka Origins currently has a factory store and cafe in Honesdale, PA. You can visit for a tour of the facilities where they make the chocolate and roast the coffee. You can grab bags of coffee and chocolate there, and you can even order a coffee or chocolate beverage at the cafe! If you are near Honesdale and want to stop by the factory, check out this blog post on what I recommend getting while you are there.

Moka didnt begin as a factory store, though. It began in 2014 in Cameroon as a farming venture.

“Our mission in Cameroon is creating food security, market linkage, and employment opportunities by partnering farmers as well as directly cultivating local food crops and cash crops (such as cacao), and starting a Farmers Field School.”

https://mokaorigins.com/pages/faq

Driven by their mission, Jeff Abella and Ishan Tigunait, the husband and wife duo that created Moka Origins, grew it into the amazing company that it is today. Today not only have they created amazing programs in Cameroon for the farmers and their communities, but they also have their factory store and sell their chocolate in 40 retail locations across 9 states.

Why talk about Ethical Coffee?

When discussing coffee production and economics, is important to realize that so many coffee farmers and workers are not properly compensated for their work or coffee products. Large coffee companies undervalue the coffee and underpay those involved in the growing and processing process. Talking about the coffee industry and all the steps in coffee economics and production can empower people to make wiser coffee consumption decisions.

Understanding the economics of coffee is the first step in understanding the importance of the work a company like Moka is doing.

The graphic to the left does a great job breaking down all the parts of the coffee industry. You can learn more about this graphic here: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/the-economics-of-coffee-in-one-chart/

What this graphic doesn’t show is how many hands it takes to produce one simple cup of coffee.
Here is a simple break down of that process.

Coffee is planted by coffee farmers, taken care of by farmers, then harvested by those farmers.

Then the coffee needs to be processed. This means transforming it from cherry to bean that is ready to be roasted.

For many large coffee companies, the coffee is brought to them to be sold or to brew, or maybe even both.

Then the beans are roasted and packaged. You can see part of this process under stage 3 in the graphic as it relates to the economic process of coffee.

Then someone needs to grind the coffee. That might be to bag the coffee to sell it or the baristas who are brewing the coffee for a customer.

Lastly is the cup of coffee you experience at home or in a coffee shop.

There have been efforts to minimize the number of hands and the number of economic stages coffee passes through. This is the concept of third-wave coffee. Third-wave coffee is the wave of the coffee industry we are in currently. It began in the 2000s with a focus on coffee consumers caring about where their coffee comes from and how it is produced. You can learn more about third wave coffee here: https://essense.coffee/en/waves-of-coffee-explained/

The efforts to decrease the number of people and production through the coffee process is where the idea of direct trade coffee came from. Fair Trade and Director Trade coffee are a part of the third-wave coffee movement. They both call for a more ethical way to produce and consume coffee. If you would like to learn more about Fair Trade and Direct Trade coffee, check out my article here.

Coffee drinkers around the globe desire ethical and high-quality coffee. direct trade coffee has made its way into its own segment of the industry, giving companies an edge in the third-wave coffee industry.

So how does this relate to Moka Origins?

Moka is one of these companies that has chosen to not only produce high-quality coffee and chocolate but they are also producing ethical coffee and chocolate.

“165 million people depend on cacao or coffee for their livelihood. Many aren’t paid a living wage and are stuck in poverty. We’re out to change that.”

https://mokaorigins.com/pages/social-impact

Moka Origin’s mission is so much more than fairly compensating people for their work or product. They are working to build strong communities and show people their worth. This is crucial since the coffee industry has devalued coffee products and production for such a long time. Since third-wave coffee is super popular, there is definitely a customer base who really cares about this and wants to buy products that are ethical.

Moka Origins has been a shining example of what direct trade should be. They are connected to a whole community in Cameroon, making sure its people are taken care of in all aspects.

Where can I learn more?

On Moka Origins’ website, there is a tab just for their social impact. Check in out here: https://mokaorigins.com/pages/social-impact

Their whole website is a wealth of information; however, the social impact section provides a map to understanding how Moka Origins is truly helping people with their coffee and chocolate. They give hard-hitting yet digestible facts to begin understanding the complex issues people in other parts of the world face in the coffee and chocolate industries. There are graphics that break down important information for consumers to easily understand. The website provides photos of the people who have been positively impacted by the work Moka Origins has done. The varying modalities they use to convey their story on their website paint a detailed picture of who they are as a company. I highly encourage you to check out their website to learn more.

Direct Trade vs Fair Trade Coffee

When discussing ethical coffee, it is crucial to talk about where coffee comes from and how it gets from the coffee tree to a brewed cup of coffee. Many people and hands are involved in the coffee growing, producing, and selling process. Two important concepts to understand in this process are Fair Trade Coffee and Direct Trade Coffee.

Fair Trade Coffee

Fair Trade is a third-party certification that organizations can get to ensure that coffee producers are paid fair wages for their coffee products. A few organizations can certify coffee, like Fairtrade America, Fairtrade International, and Fair Trade Certified. On the package of coffee that is Fair Trade, there will be a logo certifying that it is, in fact, Fair Trade.
You can learn more about Fair Trade coffee here: https://www.drinktrade.com/learn/fair-trade-coffee.

Direct Trade Coffee

Direct Trade coffee is when a coffee roaster works directly with the coffee producer to buy coffee. This is done to have the roasters build strong relationships with the coffee producers and provide fair wages. Direct Trade coffee can also be preferred since the coffee goes through fewer hands before getting to the final cup, which some believe equals a better final cup of coffee.
You can learn more about Direct Trade coffee here: https://www.ethicalcoffee.net/direct.html.

Which Do I Choose?

There are pros and cons to both Fair Trade and Direct Trade coffee. One argument against Direct Trade coffee is that there is no regulatory system or guidelines, so the caliber of the coffee and roaster/ producer relationship could change. However, the impact roasters could make on coffee producers and their communities through Direct Trade can outway the lack of a regulatory system.
Fair Trade provides a regulatory system; however, coffee producers need to jump through more hoops to get the certification. This might be difficult for coffee producers and might not be entirely equitable to great, small coffee producers.

Overall, I feel striving to do better when choosing coffee products matters. Whether it is Direct Trade of Fair Trade, just picking one makes a difference.

Mocha at Moka

There is just something about a great cup of coffee that gives you a feeling like nothing else in this world. When I experience a cup of coffee like that, I spend months, even years, eager to return to the coffee shop that produced such an unforgettable cup of coffee.

There is just something about a great cup of coffee that gives you a feeling like nothing else in this world. When I experience a cup of coffee like that, I spend months, even years, eager to return to the coffee shop that produced such an unforgettable cup of coffee.

In the winter of 2022, I visited Moka Origins for the first time and was fascinated by the fact that they produce single-origin coffee AND single-origin chocolate. The expertise of this pairing made my decision on what to order very easy, an iced mocha latte. 

The mocha latte I had that day was unlike any other mocha latte I have experienced. The chocolate was rich, creamy, and flavorful, but it wasn’t too sweet. It paired well with their espresso and some oat milk. It was hands down the best mocha latte of my life.

Even though Moka Origins is only about a 45-minute car ride from me, I hadn’t found the time to go back until last weekend. I was so excited to get a mocha latte again!! I was so moved by the iced mocha latte; I did not vary from my original order.

When I got my drink, just like earlier this year, I was stunned by the excellent coffee and chocolate pairing. It really confined that this was the best mocha latte I have ever had.

If you are around the Honesdale area, I HIGHLY recommend stopping by Moka Origins and ordering a mocha latte. Grab some coffee and chocolate while you are there too! I know I won’t wait months before returning for the best mocha latte again.

How to get your Christmas shopping done by December 1st

I love spending December decorating, wrapping gifts, making ornaments, and enjoying the Christmas spirit around me. When most of my shopping is done before December 1st, I feel like I can fully embrace the holiday spirit throughout the month of December. I want to give you some tips and tricks for getting most of your shopping done in November, which will allow you to really enjoy December!

Happy October! With November coming up, I wanted to share some ideas on getting ready for the Christmas season! November 1st means the Christmas season has officially begun! November, for me, is a hybrid between Christmas and Thanksgiving. I don’t like to exclude Thanksgiving, but my Christmas decorations begin to go up, and my Christmas spirit is in full force. I like to start my Christmas shopping early every year and hate to shop the last weeks before Christmas. Not only do I find myself spending less money when I begin early, but I also find gifts that are truly tailored to the people I am buying for. Even though I start Christmas shopping months and months before Christmas, I do the bulk of my shopping between November 1st and December 1st. I love spending December decorating, wrapping gifts, making ornaments, and enjoying the Christmas spirit around me. When most of my shopping is done before December 1st, I feel like I can fully embrace the holiday spirit throughout the month of December. I want to give you some tips and tricks for getting most of your shopping done in November, which will allow you to really enjoy December!

1. Create a list and budget for each person you will be buying for.
Getting organized is key to the success of getting shopping done early. Many times, gift-giving is not about the amount of money you spend but the intention behind the gift. You can make any budget work for you in a very intentional way. I once had someone give me a customized insulated mug that was not expensive, but it meant the world to me. This is why a budget and a list are key. Once you have decided on a dollar amount you really can afford for each person you are buying for, create a list of each person’s favorite things or things you think would mean a lot to them to receive as a gift. This will help to guide you when you are shopping while hopefully decreasing your stress on getting the perfect gift. A little time and effort in planning can help you save money and give more intentionally.

2. Plan to buy local/ from small businesses.
With the supply chains the way they are right now, it is even more crucial to shop small. I have a handful of small businesses I follow online and love to support. I look at their websites to see if they have anything that could fit in the budget and interests of the people I am buying gifts for. I also have a bunch of local businesses I love supporting so I plan to check them out online or in-person during the month of November to see if they have anything that fits within the budget and interests of the people I am buying for. Hopefully, planning to buy things online in November will allow for delayed shipping and supply chain issues to not greatly influence the gifts you are buying.

3. Look for gifts in unconventional places.
You do not need to buy gifts at traditional stores physically or online. I have found Christmas gifts at the grocery store plenty of times! Placed like Wegmans, ShopRite, Whole Foods, etc have plants and other items that could be given as gifts. If you have a car lover in your life, get them a gift card to a local auto shop. If you have a friend who is a coffee lover, grab them a mug from their favorite local coffee shop instead of at a chain shopping store.

4. Create a Black Friday plan.
I love shopping on Black Friday but only online. The idea of being in a crowded store has never interested me but the deals some stores have for black Friday definitely grab my attention. I use Krazy Coupon Lady (insert link) to plan my black Friday shopping. Many bigger stores like Target or Amazon start their deals way before black Friday. It’s important to plan early to make sure you are buying gifts at the peak of their deal times. I use places like Target and Amazon for black Friday shopping online to get items like electronics, grab bag gifts, blankets, mugs, etc. Anything that I cannot find at a local store, I look for deals and buy them when they go on sale. I have gotten some heavily discounted Ipads over the years this way.

5. Look into local holiday markets/ craft shows.
This is something I look into in November and plan to do in December. I use local holiday markets and craft shows as my last items shopping time. These markets and craft shows are great ways to support your local community while getting unique, international items for people. Since many happen at the beginning of December, this is a nice way to get out and do something Christmasy!

6. Grab some $5 – 10 items throughout the month.
While I am in Target, grocery stores, and other local stores, I buy $5 items like the $5 Christmas mugs at target. I also find Black Friday deals for $5 – $10 blankets, fuzzy socks, etc. I collect a handful of these items to use as extra gifts, grab bags, holiday party gifts, etc. I also keep whatever is left over for the next year. $5 Christmas mugs don’t go out of style and can be used any year for any event, like the work grab bag that you forgot about!

Some additional tips for next year….

Plan your budget early and set up automatic savings.
I have a neat high-yield saving account with Ally that allows you to set up automatic savings and create buckets for savings goals. I have a Christmas bucket that twice a month I have some money go into. I planned my budget early in the year and allowed the bucket to accumulate. Now, I have a nice chunk of my Christmas budget already set aside, so the financial burden of Christmas doesn’t hit all at once. These automatic savings could be $5-10 a month if need be! I recommend taking your budget amount and dividing it by the number of months you have until November 1st. If you buy gifts throughout the year, take the money out of this bucket and use it to pay your credit card or add it back to your checking account! Having money set aside helps to decrease the financial stress people often feel around the holidays.

Slowly buy gifts throughout the year and have a place in your house to store the presents.
This would be my biggest piece of advice! When you see something you know a person in your life would love but the next closest holiday is Christmas, just grab it for them then and there! You won’t forget about the idea, and you won’t be dropping tons of money at one time. I have an area in my house where I store all the Christmas presents I collect throughout the year, so I don’t forget where I put them. It feels so good in early November when you do an inventory of the presents you have collected, and you don’t have to begin your Christmas shopping from page one.

Happy Holidays and Enjoy Your Christmas Shopping!

Maria Does Things Podcast

I’ve started a podcast!

I have been interested in starting a podcast for a while and finally took the plunge and did the thing!

Every Tuesday, there will be a new episode diving into the things I’m doing that week and a deep dive into a travel or adventure-related topic!

You can listen on Spotify or by clicking the link below!

https://anchor.fm/mariadoesthings/episodes/Welcome-to-the-Maria-Does-Things-Podcast-e1fqegr

Southwest Florida Getaway

The group flew into Fort Meyers airport and rented a car to explore the area for a week. We were able to find an Airbnb in Cape Coral last minute with a screened-in pool and hot tub, a dock, a full kitchen, and plenty of sleeping and hang-out space.

My heart has always been drawn to the west coast of Florida. Since my first visit when I was 10, I knew there was something special about the west coast. When our plans fell through to travel to Aruba in January, I knew exactly where we needed to go! We were able to plan a stellar vacation to Southwest Florida in about 5 days!

The group flew into Fort Meyers airport and rented a car to explore the area for a week. We were able to find an Airbnb in Cape Coral last minute with a screened-in pool and hot tub, a dock, a full kitchen, and plenty of sleeping and hang-out space. Cape Coral ended up being an unexpectedly delightful location to spend the week. It was full of conveniences like grocery stores, local coffee places (my fav haha), and restaurants. What is neat about Cape Coral is all the canals! Many houses are located on the canals, so we had a stunning view from the screened-in patio/pool/ hot tub area.

The only downfall to the location was the distance from the beach. We were about a 40 – 60 minute drive to the beach due to traffic. Since the drive was not too bad to the beaches, we spent 4 days relaxing on beaches. We went to the Sanibel Lighthouse Beach, Bowman’s beach on Sanibel, and Fort Myers beach.

The Sanibel Lighthouse beach had convenient and clean bathrooms, was not too crowded, and the water was excellent for swimming. There was a fee to park, but you could pay with a credit card. This is a place where many people park their boats on the shoreline and spend time on the beach; it’s really cool to see!

Bowman’s Beach is further down on Sanibel, and it felt very uninhibited. The more rural vibe to this beach quickly made it one of my favorites. The walk to the beach is a little further than other beaches, but it is a stunning walk. You walk through nature and pass nice bathrooms and changing facilities. There was a fee to park, but you could pay with a credit card. We went to Southwest Florida in the high season, so there were a good amount of people on the beach, but it was not terribly crowded. The water was wonderful for swimming, and the beach had beautiful seashells!

Fort Myers Beach and the surrounding area felt more like a beach town. There was a good amount of traffic coming into Fort Myers, the parking was harder to find, and many places were cash only. The sand on the beach felt like powdered sugar, and the seashells were terrific! Some in our group were able to parasail right from the beach! This beach was pretty crowded; however, the two days we went, we could still find a place to set up our chairs!

We had two other days that we decided not to go to the beach!
One of the days, some of us in the group got pedicures in the morning, and then we went to Naples for the evening! We choose to go to Ocean Prime for their Early Bird dinner special. It was an incredible restaurant with incredible food! They even had excellent gluten-free food options and gluten-free bread!! We spent the evening walking around Naples and popping in and out of the cute local shops.

The other day we chose not to spend at the beach, we decided to go on a wild adventure! There is a ferry that goes from Fort Meyers to Key West, so we decided to plan a day trip down to Key West! The boat ride took about 4 hours one way, and we had about 4-5 hours in Key West to explore. The boat was nice and not too rocky. They had decent bathrooms, food, and even played a movie. We rented bikes to explore Duvall Street and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. There are even golf carts you could rent for a few hours too. If you want to see a lot in a short period of time, I highly recommend renting a bike or golf cart! We had lunch at the famous Sloppy Joe’s, saw the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, and got Key Lime Pie at The Original Key Lime Pie Bakery. The time in Key West was short but sweet. I think taking the boat was a great idea but in the future, I would love to stay for a night or two to make the long boat ride more worth it!

Overall, our trip was a relaxing yet adventurous getaway! I loved escaping the cooler weather in the Northeast for a week! If you’re looking for a beach getaway, especially in the cooler months in the north, check out Southwest Florida!

Coffee in Southwest Florida

I kicked off my 2022 by spending a week in Cape Coral, Florida, and adventuring around Southwest Florida! I had some delicious coffee while I was there and wanted to share some of my favorites!

Penny’s Coffee Bar in Cape Coral

Penny’s ended up being a new favorite coffee spot! I wish it weren’t so far away from home. Not only did they have a wide variety of coffee options, but they also had neat tea and tea refresher options! I got their cold brew twice, and woah was I impressed. It quickly became one of my favorite cold brews of all time. They had baked goods there, too, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies! I highly recommend Penny’s if you’re looking for a cold brew, a refresher, an iced latte, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies!

Urban Buzz Coffee Company in Cape Coral

Urban Buzz was funky in the best way possible! The coffee shop was a walk-up window/drive-through. They had lots of coffee options and tea refresher options! I tried something brand new there, white coffee. I had never even heard of white coffee, but it’s coffee roasted at a lower temperature, and the beans turn white. The drink I got with the white coffee was soo delicious. Even if it did blow my mind that it was all white, haha!

Funky Rooster Coffee House & Wine Bar in Key West

This coffee shop had such a neat Kerry West vibe! The coffee was great, and they had delicious pastries! It looked like they also sold wine, so if you’re looking for a place to hang out I. In the evening this cafe could be an excellent choice! I wish I had more time to hang out in this coffee shop; the vibes were so cool!

The French Press in Cape Coral

This coffee shop also has gelato, and that’s what sold me! I got gelato twice at The French Press, and it was amazing! Each day they had different flavors! I tried key lime the one day, and it was stellar!! Their coffee was good, and they had a variety of pastry and food options there too. If you’re looking for coffee and gelato, this is the place to go!

I hope this helps on your next trip to southwest Florida! Let me know if you’ve been to southwest Florida and some of your favorite coffee shops there!

I’m Feeling ’22.

Happy New Year!

The past few days, I have been relaxing and reflecting on the past year. I reviewed my new year’s blog posts for 2020 and 2021. I was eager and driven, running into 2020 and then cautious moving into 2021. I am excited yet grounded, stepping into this new year. 2020 and 2021 were full of lessons and learning more about myself than I intended. I hope that 2022 provides peace, calm, and happiness. I am very excited for ’22. It is the year that I will be getting married, finally traveling more, and hopefully creating some strong healthly habits in my daily life.

I was reluctant to create goals for ’22. I think back to my eager, innocent self moving into 2020 with a long list of goals and a fire in my heart. Only to be vastly disappointed at the end of 2020 by a long list of goals that were never completed. In 2021, I focused more on a vision board, knowing that even if something didnt happen, it would be something I hope for one day. Even though I was reluctant, I ended up creating a list of 22 things I wanted to do for ’22. This idea is based on 22 for ’22 that the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin talks about in episode 357. For my 22 for ’22, I wanted to create small yet effective goals. I chose goals that I knew I could realistically accomplish no matter what was happening in life/ the world.

I choose goals like getting married (already planned), walking 20 minutes a day, painting/ deep cleaning my house, and traveling to some places (which are already planned). These are all things I know will happen, things I already planned on doing. I hope filling a list of realistic goals and checking them off will give me a ton of motivation and excitement for this year ahead. I turned many of my goals into a vision board. Putting pictures to written plans is a neat way to visualize what you want to accomplish. It helps me to see what I want and go after it!

Also, based on the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, I chose a word of the year for the year ahead. Last year, I chose the word balance. Choosing this word was a “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it” situation. I intended to find a calming balance between priorities in my life. 2021, my year of balance, gave me eye-opening challenges in finding balance. I was the busiest I have been in my entire life this fall. I learned to balance spending time with my fiance, spending time with my family, my new home, traveling for work, taking 2 Ph.D. classes, and a social life. It was not easy or perfect. It was challenging but taught me the balance I was seeking.

This year, I was a ton more intentional with my word. Knowing that if you focus on one thing, you will see the good, the bad, and the ugly of that thing. I wanted to focus on HOME this year. Since buying our house in May, I haven’t been able to put the TLC into our home that I would have liked. We have dreams of painting our home with more historical colors on the inside to align with its history and origins. We want to make our house cozy and feel like a home. It is incredibly exciting to think of all our projects for our neat early 1900s home!

With my word of the year, I created a goal for each month of 2022. I want to focus on a different area of our home. I want to paint, deep clean, organize each area of our home by December, so by Christmas next year, we are in a home that is fully painted like we want it, deep cleaned, decorated, and all small projects are completed!

I plan on making intentional moves in 2022. All the goals I accomplish, every project in our home, I want to be done with gratitude and thought. I have a good feeling about 2022. I am excited to get married, travel more, and accomplish some goals we have for our home! I hope that the hardships we have all faced the past 2 years will lessen and everyone can focus on happiness this year.

Cheers to a new year!

Going Gluten Free

Here are 5 tips on how to make your transition to a gluten-free diet easier!

I spent most of 2019 and all of 2020 fighting the fact that I needed to eat gluten-free. Even though I do not have celiac disease, I am very gluten sensitive. When I eat gluten, I get incredibly bloated, my stomach does not work right for days, and I have slight chest pains for days after.

My diet is 98% gluten-free right now, and both my parents eat gluten-free. This means I know a lot of the best gluten-free food in grocery stores, restaurants, and even some yummy recipes. I want to share some tips and tricks of going gluten-free because it honestly isn’t that bad. There are so many products and foods nowadays that make it pretty easy to follow a gluten-free diet.

I want to offer community and guidance about beginning your process of starting your gluten-free journey. It can be an overwhelming and daunting process. Even though it has become easier to be gluten-free in recent years, it can feel kind of isolating and time-consuming. Here are 5 tips on how to make your transition to a gluten-free diet easier!

  1. Understand different terminology used for gluten. An example, gluten is different from yeast, but many products that contain yeast also have gluten. Learning to read labels is crucial for your success. There are resources that can help you begin to understand how to find gluten in any product. Check this website out to begin to understand reading labels: https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-to-identify-gluten-on-food-labels-562666
  2. Think about and write down the food you regularly eat and identify where gluten could be present. Write down all your favorite foods and figure out which foods are not gluten-free. This will help you search for gluten-free alternatives for them! For example, if you love Italian food, you can search online “gluten-free Italian food near me.” This works for just about anything you can think of! There are always gluten-free alternatives, whether you have to make something yourself or find a restaurant that makes good gluten-free food.
  3. Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 flour is the best! Don’t understate the power of good gluten-free flour. With 1 to 1 flour, you can make just about anything, and the food feels the most like regular gluten food. You can use this flour in baked goods, breakfast foods, use it as a thickener, or even coat something to bake or fry.
  4. Find a grocery store that carries gluten-free foods. Hopefully, you’ll have one near where you live, but if you don’t, many online grocery options carry gluten-free options like thrive market. Identifying a grocery store that carries many options allows you the opportunity to not worry about those times where you don’t want to think too much about being able to buy something without thinking about too much.
  5. Give yourself grace and time. It can be very emotional cutting out some of your favorite foods. You might not find an excellent alternative right away, and that can be very sad. Just know, you will work through this, and with time, the gluten-free diet gets easier.

I wish you the best of luck in your gluten-free journey! I hope to write more about good gluten-free foods, restaurants, recipes, etc., so keep an eye out if you like this article!