Organic coffee is increasingly the choice of big box retailers and it’s showing up increasingly on the shelves of grocers large and small.
Is the higher price tag worth making the switch to organic coffee beans?
Organic farmers use farming processes that bypass dependency on harmful substances added to the soil and to crops such as pesticides and fertilizers. In the world of organic coffee farming, many farmers who grow organic beans also take environmentally friendly measures such as avoiding soil depletion or clear-cutting forested areas. This leads to a slower harvest and to lower yields than mass farming methods linked to economies of scale.
So what are the advantages of spending more per cup?
Physically, organic coffee beans may seem identical to the lower-priced nonorganic bean, but there’s a world of difference that doesn’t meet the eye.
When you look at how organic coffee is grown, you’ll notice shade plants often on steep hillsides with fragile soil that can easily be eroded. Crops are regularly rotated to avoid depleting the soil and are typically fertilized with compost and disease-resistant mulch. Rotation benefits farmers by having a secondary crop and it also maintains fertility in a delicate ecosystem which can easily become depleted.
In independent studies of organic coffee farming, organic farms were observed to contain a higher number of tree species, and shared more tree, bird, and ant species with forests than uncertified farms.
Organic coffee farmers and the fair trade associations that support them are often affiliated with social initiatives in developing countries. This leads to a higher standard of life.
Organic coffee delivers up a variety of antioxidants that can protect your cells from damage to prevent disease and premature aging. Coffee that matures more slowly offers more natural sugars and results in a superior tasting bean. Organic coffee beans are richer in flavor because they are grown in the purest possible conditions.
Non-organic coffee, on the other hand, is one of the most chemically-treated crops in the world. Pesticides and insecticides used to control fungus and insects can contaminate the bean itself. Toxins that are added to the crops leads to compromised biological system including the air and water supply. Not only are the crops exposed to dangers but the farm workers handling chemically-treated crops are at risk.
To make room for expansive coffee plantations, large tracts of lands in South America, Central America, Mexico and Africa have been cleared. The clearing of tropical land has led to expansive deforestation. Over the past forty years, approximately two-thirds of rainforests in Central America were lost due to synthetic coffee farming.
In the beginning of coffee cultivation, all coffee was organic and shade grown. By its nature, coffee is an “understory” shrub that can’t tolerate direct sunlight that was planted under shade trees which helped to maintain a fertile soil rich with nutrients.
Today, organic coffee is grown in over 40 countries with total sales exceeding $1.4 billion dollars.
Sustainability, health and sometimes even livelihood and empowerment: it all starts with a cup of organic coffee.
Photo Credit: Jasleen Kaur