How do you choose the best coffee?

For many people, a morning coffee is the only way to start the day. Before the pandemic, at the KIT offices, around 3,000 kilos of coffee beans were ground every year to meet the coffee needs of all 1,500 people working here: KIT employees, our SDG House residents and visitors. We must satisfy the wishes of all 1,500 co-workers, to become an enjoyable workplace, in which everyone can be happy during their coffee breaks.

But how to design the best coffee experience for the KIT office? We think that the coffee beans should not only meet taste expectations, but also contribute to a better planet and to better farmers livelihoods. To find out which coffee beans, espresso machines, and supplying partner would best meet our needs, a team of Sustainable Economic Development experts undertook an investigation.

But first tasting, not talking

To cater to 1,500 individual taste preferences, the coffee served at KIT will be upgraded, and in truly democratic fashion, a tasting will be held in the week of July 26th, 2022. Two brands who ranked highest in KIT’s sustainability assessment, have been invited to propose a new combination of coffee beans and machines. The 11 current fully-automatic machines will be phased out and updated, and for the real coffee geeks, KIT will provide a semi-automatic machine like the one in your favourite café, with a stand-alone grinder and lighter roasted beans changed every couple of months.

All KIT staff and SDG House residents are invited to try both coffee brands all week at the roundabout on the 3rd floor and to vote for your favourite. Please know that your votes and feedback are critical, especially in understanding how many people will use semi-automatic machine. For now the beans proposed will stay anonymous, but once the votes are in, we will reveal the exact origins, quality and key farmer and sustainability data behind the winning coffee.

What is sustainable coffee?

Determining which coffee is the most ‘sustainable’ involves a lot of research, as each brand has a different definition or focuses on different aspects of ‘sustainability’. Coffee brands use many different terms such as 100% organic, climate neutral, free from slave labour or Fairtrade. Each of these has a slightly different sustainability focus but can be divided into two main topics: environmental impact and socio-economic impact.

The environmental impact is influenced, among other things, by:

  • Agricultural practices used in the country of origin.
  • Where and how the beans are roasted.
  • Packaging materials .
  • How they are transported from farm to coffee machine.

The socio-economic sustainability of coffee is influenced, for example, by:

  • Whether the beans are produced by large plantations, or by small farmers.
  • Whether the supply chain actors have a direct, transparent and systemic approach to work with producers and meet their needs, for example through prices and support to achieve living incomes, gender equity, regenerate ecosystems or adapt to climate changes.
  • Whether the roasting company meets criteria (& standards) of a ‘social enterprise’ or is a traditional for-profit company.
  • Whether coffee beans are roasted in producing -countries, creating value there rather than here in the Netherlands.

KIT’s Coffee Assessment Framework

Next to these two criteria, KIT experts also considered the quality of the coffee, and the customer service and price of the coffees. Four topics make up the KIT Coffee Assessment Framework:

From a long list of potential suppliers, the KIT researchers selected five to assess in more detail. On each sub-criteria, if a company did nothing they received a score of 0, if they were actively engaged in a component they received a 1 and if they were in the lead they received a score of 2.

In the end, two coffee brands came out on top: Moyee, the current supplier of KIT’s coffee, and ThisSideUp. If you want to know exactly how they scored, you can read the study here. 

Moyee has been around since 2013 and sources its coffee in East Africa. Moyee stood out most for their unique ‘FairChain Initiative’, whose goal is to keep 50% of coffee revenue in the country of origin, by roasting the beans locally.

This Side Up has also been around since 2013 as a green coffee importer, and established partnerships with producers around the world. As part of their business strategy, This Side Up has several sustainability initiatives, such as the ‘Circular Coffee Collective’. What stood out about This Side Up is that they have a comprehensive profile of their partner producers, and clearly show how a breakdown of the price and revenues behind each kilogram of coffee sourced