Tour serves as an information session for local Ottawa coffee and tea shops, fair vs. direct trade

With finals season around the corner, ditch the drunken pub crawls and try Ottawa’s newest attraction—coffee shop crawls.

On Sunday, March 26, University of Ottawa students took to the streets of Sandy Hill and the ByWard Market to learn about Ottawa’s local coffee industry.

The event was organized by students volunteering with the university’s Laboratory for the Interdisciplinary Study of Food (Food Lab).

According to Olivia Leon, one of the event’s organizers and a second-year visual arts student, this market crawl “is about local businesses and promoting them in the city and informing people about sustainable food and fair-trade coffees.”

While the market crawl was primarily composed of U of O students, it was open to the public so that everyone could tag along and learn about Ottawa’s best coffee shops. 

“It’s really good to take a peek behind the curtain a little bit and see what’s going on, where they get their coffee from, and how they get it roasted,” said Mark Slodki, a third-year biopharmaceutical science student who attended the crawl.

Throughout the tour, students were given free coffee, tea, and baked good samples from five different coffee shops. After starting at Happy Goat Coffee on Wilbrod Street, students traveled to Origin Trade, Tea Party, Planet Coffee, and then arrived at their final destination at Bridgehead on Dalhousie Street.

Throughout the tour,  local business owners eagerly spoke to the U of O students about their beginnings in Ottawa, coffee brewing methods, and the different means of obtaining coffee beans.

“I think that they were really into it,” explained Meaghan Lucas, another event organizer and a fourth-year student studying international studies and modern languages. “They were interested and wanted to teach a little bit about (coffee and tea), which was nice.”

While the local shops all touted their desire for the best beans possible, one of the larger inconsistencies between different owners was their preference regarding fair trade or direct trade standards.

Fair trade coffee shops obtain their beans through farmers who have paid for a certification that proves that they meet certain industry standards. Direct trade is when coffee shops interact directly with coffee plantations to purchase their beans, which allows these farmers, who can not afford the fair trade certification, to earn a living.

Slodki, like other students on the tour, learned about the distinction between the two forms of acquiring beans from the different local shop owners and formed his opinion from their speeches.

“I think that direct trade is a great way to do it because you still ensure quality, proper pay (and) proper conditions,” explained Slodki. “It’s not held up to certain standards like Fair Trade certification system, but also there’s no certification fees and bureaucracies.”

All in all, despite a little trekking in the rain, Lucas felt the day was a success.

“(Students) are examining (the shops) a little bit more and seeing the choices that are available to us,” explained Lucas. “It’s a small thing, but it adds up when it’s a big part of your life.”

For more information on the local food industry, please visit the U of O Food Lab website.