Is Your Morning Cup of Coffee Sustainable?

When you pour yourself a steaming mug of coffee or pick up your favorite latte at your local coffee shop, do you know what impact it has on the world? It could make a bigger difference than you think if the beans are grown and processed sustainable.


What is Sustainable Coffee?

Sustainable is defined as “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.” When applied to coffee, this means farmers are:


  • Making use of as many renewable resources as possible
  • Avoiding chemicals to minimize pollution
  • Using processing methods designed to reduce waste


Coffee sustainability also involves how buyers do business with growers. Buying practices deal favorably with those who rely on coffee for their livelihoods and support the continued operation of their farms.


Sustainable vs. Commodity: Buying and Harvesting Practices

Commodity coffee lines the shelves of grocery stores and is sold at many restaurants, fast food outlets and gas stations. The practices behind these low-priced brews are anything but friendly to the environment or to coffee farmers and produce coffee lacking in unique characteristics.


Coffee produced for mass market brands is grown in the sun instead of using the traditional method of growing coffee plants in the shade of other vegetation. This requires cutting down patches of native trees. Farmers may continue to clear trees if they wish to expand their growing areas, and the practice may lead to soil erosion. Sun-grown coffee often requires chemicals to keep pests at bay, and these pesticides contribute to further reduction in soil quality. Processing commodity coffee also creates waste water, which can end up in local rivers and streams.


Before being sold, commodity beans are often mixed together from several different sources, reducing the distinctive taste of the final brew. If coffee is strip picked instead of picked selectively, the flavor may also be impacted by the presence of inferior beans.


Farmers using sustainable practices cultivate shade-grown coffee, growing their plants underneath trees and other tall vegetation. This provides natural protection from damage and predators and creates a system in which natural waste fertilizes and builds soil. Promoting a sustainable growing structure keeps the soil in place and encourages native plants, insects and animals to thrive.


Harvesting only ripe berries and drying or processing them using traditional methods results in a higher-quality bean with superior flavor. Buyers desiring sustainable coffee follow fair trade or direct trade practices to ensure farmers are paid well and the coffee can be traced directly back to its source.


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