SEATTLE (AP) -- It's a regular church activity: sipping coffee with fellow worshippers after the hymns and sermons.
Now the coffee itself is serving a higher purpose. More churches and synagogues are buying organic, ''fair-trade'' and ''shade-grown'' gourmet coffee intended to benefit environmental and social causes.
Coffee companies that specialize in such goods find houses of worship interested in their product.
''There's a really strong link in communities of faith around social-justice issues,'' said Erbin Crowell, coordinator of the Interfaith Coffee Program of Equal Exchange, a Canton, Mass., coffee company that buys directly from Third World farmers.
''Just by coincidence, right there in front of them is this product that they share on a weekly basis that is perhaps one of the most direct links to communities in the developing world,'' he said.
The company's four-year-old program has grown to include 3,800 congregations of different denominations.
Poverty Bay Coffee in Auburn, south of Seattle, started selling shade-grown coffee last year to St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Bellevue and has since landed three more churches as customers.
''Coffees with a conscience'' address different kinds of social issues. With fair-trade coffee, a third party certifies that beans are bought from indigenous farmers for a fair, set price. It was around $1.26 per pound minimum in the late fall.
Organic coffee is grown by farmers who avoid use of pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals. With shade-grown farming, taller trees protect the coffee plants, enrich the soil and provide a habitat for migratory birds.
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