The Anatomy of a Bag

You’ve seen the “e,” you’ve identified your favourite ‘colour’ of coffee, and you’ve taken notice of the glamourous sleek silver bag on the shelf – and we’re so glad. Nothing on our bag is accidental. With two in-house graphic designers (one of whom is a visionary co-founder) we’ve taken great care to use our bag to communicate the things important to us, and maybe important to you, too.

Do you know the anatomy of an Ethical Bean coffee bag? You just might find some surprises. It can sometimes be overwhelming with all these labels, labels, labels, but if you’re keen to learn, grab your bag from the kitchen counter (or follow along with the diagram above) for a quick lesson in Ethical Bean bag-ology.

1. Fairtrade Certified

The international Fairtrade certified logo tells you that the product in the bag has been produced following Fairtrade’s financial, environmental, and labour standards. In short, this means the producers have been paid above market prices, receive a social premium to invest in community development projects, maintain a keen eye to sound environmental practices, and participate in democratically run co-operative businesses. If you’re interested to learn more about these standards visit Fairtrade International, or read about how one particular coffee co-operative – PANGOA – decided to use their Fairtrade premium in a blog I wrote earlier this year. 100% the coffee in our bags is Fairtrade certified, and has been since we started in 2003.

2. Organic Certified

Similar to the Fairtrade International symbol, products with the Canada Organic symbol have been third-party verified to comply with organic standards of production and export. Organic agriculture is based on the principles of health, ecology, fairness, and care, and indicates a commitment to growing products with attention to the health of planet and those working on it. Harmful pesticides and herbicides are replaced with organic alternatives, and farms entering into organic production must undergo a three-year conversion process to ensure any residual banned chemicals have made their way out of the soil. You can learn more about organic production and certification through Canada Organic, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, or Quality Assurance International. Our beans follow these strict internationally recognized standards.

3. Certified by BC Kosher 

Kosher certification ensures that a given product is suitable for consumption by practicing Jews, in addition to delivering a guarantee of quality and purity. The production of all Kosher certified products has been inspected and supervised by a rabbi, who we welcome into our roaster and production facility with glee when it’s time for our audits. In Canada, Kosher sales have been steadily growing. For you this means attention quality, detail, cleanliness, and purity. 100% delicious, spectacular, lovingly roasted coffee – always.

4. Organizations we support

You may have noticed underneath our Organic, Kosher, and B-Corp certification labels our bag reads, “We’re proud to support and” If you’ve been following our blog (ahem, you’re here now, aren’t you?) these might be names you recognize. Compassion Fruit runs Project Somos, an organization currently building a children’s village in a small Guatemalan community.  Ethical Bean’s relationship with Child-Aid goes back to the birth of Ethical Bean itself. Since 2003 we have been donating partial proceeds of our coffee sales to this Guatemalan organization providing scholarships to young people. We put this on the bag because it’s important to us and with every purchase you know that you’re supporting community development in Central America.

5. Certified B-Corporation

We joined the B-Corp club in 2009 and haven’t looked back. In addition to opening our doors and books to a regular financial, social, and environmental audits from B-Corp inspectors, this has also acted as a public commitment to use our business as a force for good. As an individual company we work everyday to be both just and better, be it in our local or global community. As a member of B-Corp community this also means working with and supporting like-minded organizations to help strengthen our social economy. The B-Corp community is growing in Canada as well as internationally, and we are thrilled to be a part of it. You can view our impact report and B-Corp score here.

6. Quick Response (QR) Code

The final touch of every bag in our production facility allows us to communicate more information than we ever thought possible with each unique bag. If you haven’t seen one before, the cluster of squares you see on every bag is a unique “quick response code.” When scanned on your smart phone (or when you enter the Lot # onto our website) you’re transported into the world of that coffee. Where was it grown? By whom? How did we roast it? Who roasted it? What are the cupping notes? When was their Fairtrade certificate last verified? Check it out for yourself , it’s everything you ever wanted to know about your coffee.

7. Roast scale

There are a lot of differences between our eight different coffees but the most recognizable difference is certainly the roast scale. Are you looking for a darker than dark French Roast? Or a smoother, lighter medium? You can find the depth of roast identified on the front of the bag under the blend title, as well as on the back of the bag on our roast scale (denoted by coffee cups). Switch up from your favourite medium-dark and go darker, or try a lighter roast in our medium, and use the roast scale to guide you on your journey. Interested to learn more about how we roast? Learn more here.

8. Brewing instructions

Aaron (Director of Coffee), Jason (Lead Roaster), and everyone at Ethical Bean works hard to make sure every bag of Ethical Bean coffee that goes out the door is the absolute best it can be. Sure a fantastic bean, perfect profile, and fresh-fresh-fresh roasting can take you closer than ever to a great cup of coffee, but paying extra attention to brewing makes sure you’ll have a slam-dunk (for your doughnut!). If you’re looking to push your excellent cup a little further, try paying attention to our recommendations on the bag or trying a new method of brewing. Just remember – no fridges, no freezers, no funny business.


I hope this exercise has taught you something new about the coffee inside the bag, and perhaps inspired you to look further into some of our partner organizations, producer groups, coffee profiles, or roasting techniques. Labels can sometimes be overwhelming, but they can also help us communicate well beyond the minimum. Another one of the ways we’re striving towards being just and better.

7 Responses:
  • Marianne Pemberton

    Hello CP and fred – thanks so much for your questions.

    At this time, our bags are unfortunately not biodegradable or recyclable. We use this type of bag because it keeps the coffee fresher and safer that other recyclable or compostable bags. We respect the hard work done on the part of the farmers who provide us with high quality coffee, and we do not want to compromise that quality by putting the coffee in bags that do not protect it.

    We are collecting and storing all used coffee bags in our warehouses in Vancouver until we can find an environmentally responsible solution or a large-scale way to up-cycle these bags for a new use.

    This is certainly not the ideal situation, and we did not arrive at this current storage option without considerable in-house debate, rigorous quality testing of recyclable and biodegradable bag options in our coffee lab, and consideration of a number of other options. I encourage you to review the links below to learn more about how we came to this position, as well as a colourful online debate that led to a 180 turn-around on our initial plan to incinerate our bags through the Waste To Energy program.

    You can return Ethical Bean coffee bags to our office and cafe in East Vancouver at 1315 Kootenay St., Ethical Bean Xpress locations at the Commercial Drive and Granville Street Skytrain stations, or collect your bags and mail them directly to our office for storage.

    Alternatively, you can purchase our coffee in bulk and store it in an your own airtight container. Ethical Bean bulk coffee is available at the East End Food Coop on Commercial Drive, Nesters at SFU in Burnaby, and at Nature’s Fare in Langley.

    If you would like to talk about this further, have ideas for up-cycling, or would like to hear more about the process that got us here please feel free to contact me at email hidden; JavaScript is required

    For more information:

    • Marianne Pemberton

      Hello Catherine,

      Good question. When a company applies to become a B-Corporation they are subject to the B Impact Assessment and Impact Report, for which some supporting documentation is required. Based on the results of this initial survey the company is given a score, which acts as a baseline for future audits. Every year, a certified B-Corp has a 1 in 5 chance of being audited, having their books checked, and their B-Corp score adjusted accordingly.

      If you’re looking for more information I would recommended the link to B-Corp’s Assessment FAQ below. I would also encourage you to be in contact with the people at B-Corp directly if you have more in-depth questions – they’re very friendly folks!

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