Coffee is one of the biggest traded commodities in the world. Around 12 billion pounds of coffee is grown, harvested, and moved globally every year. We’re pretty sure a few billion of those pounds have been consumed on college campuses in the night before an exam, but that’s another matter.
The chances are you’re a coffee lover too. With anything on that scale, the effects matter to the consumer, the world, and the environment. Organic coffee costs more than normal coffee, but is it worth it?
How is Organic Coffee Different?
To be organic means different things depending on where in the world you are buying your coffee. Each country has different standards. For a product to be labeled organic in America, ninety-five percent of the beans must be grown organically. That means, in general, no pesticides or fertilizers or herbicides can be used.
Organic coffee isn’t the same as Fair Trade coffee or Rainforest Alliance certified coffee, but it often overlaps. Organic coffee isn’t guaranteed to be done on a sustainable small-scale. Still, it usually is because of the growing methods used.
Coffee was almost always grown within the forest ecosystems until about fifty years ago. That changed when a new hybrid coffee bean was created that benefited from full sun and the use of agrochemicals, which are industrially manufactured pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.
The problem was that production increased with this new way of growing coffee. Forest clearing and the use of pesticides grew, damaging local forests and the people who lived there. The forests were cleared since these new beans didn’t need the shade of forest canopy.
While organic coffee won’t guarantee that these methods aren’t used, other labels do. In general, organically grown coffee tends to be more sustainable. That’s because those agrochemicals can’t be used to produce organic coffee, so there is no benefit in growing it in clear cut fields using the hybrid coffee beans.