From the city of Barry Bonds, steroid scandals and gaudy eco knick knack “shoppes”, our Good Food Award coverage continues today with an insider GFA email disqualifying a number of coffees due to the use of “pesticides, herbicides” and “GMOs” at origin. These actions confirm ongoing industry rumblings regarding a perceived “sustainability gap” at the GFAs, something we’ve been watching very carefully over the last few weeks.  We’ll report back to you as soon as finalized list of excluded coffees and roasters is made available, but until then, here’s the official e-mail currently being circulated to GFA judges, participants, executive and sponsors. For the sake of clarity and context, we’ve chosen to publish this e-mail in its entirety:

To the Good Coffee Community,

The Good Food Awards are proud to celebrate the 22 Finalist coffees that stood out amongst 161 peers in the first annual Good Food Awards tasting. We realize that while each is exceptional in terms of taste, some do not fully meet the criteria laid forth in the entry form for becoming an Award Winners 2011: free of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and GMOs.

The Good Food Awards utilizes a three-step process in selecting winners.

1. Self-Certification
2. Blind Tasting
3. Interviews to ensure those selected to advance as winners strictly fit the criteria of authenticity and responsibility as outlined in the entry form for each industry.

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It was impractical to attempt step three with all 780 entrants, and the Good Food Awards makes no claim that finalists were directly vetted for anything but taste. It is therefore possible for Good Food Awards Coffee Finalists to receive that status while roasting coffees grown with pesticides and herbicides. We stand behind these roasters as Finalists, recognizing excellence in taste quality. However, these coffees will not be eligible to advance to Award Winner 2011 status.

After speaking with the 130 finalists, in all categories, we have learned that nearly everyone is making strides towards authentic and responsible production, even in cases where those strides do not perfectly meet the entry form criteria. We believe that every finalist entered in good faith. We invested many hours into understanding why some finalists – in several of the awards categories – did not, upon joint exploration, meet the criteria for eligibility to be an Awards Winners 2011. We have learned a great deal about the transparency of information in coffee, and the challenges faced by roasters in finding out specific details
about agro-chemicals that may or may not be used on a particular farm, or lot, of coffee.

In each industry where finalists did not meet the criteria, we worked in tandem with the committee, as well as farmers and other experts, to understand if the criteria were unrealistically stringent or simply not well communicated. After hours of discussion and research with leaders in the coffee industry, it is with much hopefulness that we came to the conclusion that in this case it was the latter. We believe that many exceptional roasters are purchasing coffees grown without any pesticides, herbicides or GMOs, and look forward to honoring many, though not all, of the top scoring finalists as Award Winners 2011.

We take responsibility, and apologize for, our shortfall in not sending one clear, unified message about eligibility. As a fledgling, first year initiative, we look forward to applying the lessons learned this year into future plans.

The goal of the Good Food Awards is to empower the craft food industries to lead the way in creating a tastier, more authentic, more responsible food system. Roasters stand at the crossroads of farmer and consumer, uniquely positioned to influence change on both fronts. We intend for the Award Winners Seal to become a tool to encourage everyone to move forward, incentivizing investment in steps towards transparency and sustainable agricultural practices.

The path to a “Good Food” system is a journey, and we are lucky to have such good company along the way. Thank you for being part of this: entrants, finalists, winners, judges and coffee lovers everywhere.

Sarah Weiner, Director, Good Food Food Awards
Andrew Barnett, Coffee Committee
Brent Fortune, Coffee Committee
Eileen Hassi, Coffee Committee
Tony Konecny, Coffee Committee

We’re reporting today that the majority of coffees determined to “not meet the criteria” were Kenyan in origin, where the majority of coffee is grown with chemical inputs. This raises serious questions about how we in the West, with our focus on “sustainability” and organic production, are challenged by the compatibility of these buzzwords with the realities at origin.  This is particularly true for the  poor, small-holder farmers of Kenya, many of whom grow coffee while actively tending other crops to sustain their livelihoods and lack the capital and access to invest in organic alternatives.

It’s our sincere hope that ongoing events at GFAs will be an opening of doors for further discussions on “sustainability” as we grow and learn more about the truly international, challenging realities of sourcing amazing coffees responsibly. Individual roaster stories will be available here on the GFA website starting December 1st, and winners will be announced on January 14th.

You can learn more about the Good Food Awards, it’s mission statement, categories and corporate sponsors at

Read our earlier Good Food Awards coverage here, here and here.

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