Organic Coffee: What Does it Really Mean and Why Should You Care?

It’s cool to be green these days, and nothing says green like “organic.”

The organic movement continues to drive the local food economy and pretty much life as we know it. And now, it’s coming to your morning cup of coffee. That’s right, organic coffee is a thing.

But is it really? What does organic actually mean when it comes to coffee, and does it even matter? Should you care whether you’re purchasing organic vs. conventional coffee?  We’ll break it down for you.

What “Organic” Really Means

Most people hear the word organic and think that it means zero chemicals were used in production, but that’s not necessarily true. It’s more like mostly no chemicals were used.

To be labeled organic, the product just has to be (at least) 95% organic. The exception to this is when a product is labeled 100% organic. In those cases, it really does have to be full-blown organic. No exceptions.  And because coffee is a single ingredient product, it’s almost always 100% organic.

When Chemicals are OK

So how is it that chemicals are sometime OK even though a product is listed as organic? It’s a little tricky, but we’ll do our best to explain...

The USDA’s organic certification excludes most of the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers out there. However, there is a list of approved chemicals growers are allowed to use, such as soap-based herbicides and botanically-based insecticides.

This doesn’t mean that organic toxins can be used without worry. There are plenty of organic substances out there that are just as toxic to humans and the environment as their chemical counterparts. Think arsenic and nicotine -- both are naturally occurring but find themselves on the “banned” substances list.

Typically the chemicals allowed for use in organic farming are those that are less toxic in recommended doses and break down more quickly in the environment.

How to Get that Coveted Label

In the coffee industry, coffee beans typically have one of two labels:  Organic or USDA Organic.  The regular organic label typically comes from the country where the beans were farmed and harvested.  In order to get the organic label, the farmer must pay a government official to continuously come to the farm and inspect their practices to insure it is up to that country’s standards of the organic label.  It is a very pricey proposition for many farmers and co-ops, so while their beans are actually organic, they simply can not afford the label to prove that they are.  Some coffee brands like Jammin Java search out these types of farmers to offer Americans organic coffee at reduced costs.  While there is no “organic” label, they do have the label of “ethically sourced” where the farmers are paid a fair wage and the beans are grown and harvested in an organic fashion.

The other organic certification is “USDA Certified Organic”, but this one is much tougher to obtain.  You can’t just slap a USDA sticker on something and call it organic. That’s not how it works. There is a strict certification process that accompanies that label, and it is no joke.

Farmers are required to demonstrate their entire growing and harvesting process to become certified. If they’ve used any of the chemicals on the approved list, they must be able to show that there was no other way to protect their crops and that all natural remedies had been exhausted.  After this, the farmer or co-op, must adhere to not only their country’s regulations, but the regulations of the United States.  Coffee brands such as People’s Organic Coffee accept nothing, but this certification in their brand.

Once the USDA has given the thumbs up, farmers can receive certification and permission to display the organic label on their products.

4 Reasons Why You Should Drink Organic Coffee

OK, so you know how organic coffee got its name. Now the question is, does it really matter? The simple answer is yes, it does. For the long answer, check out these 4 reasons why you should buy and drink organic coffee.

1. It’s good for the environment. Did you know that conventional coffee growers often clear-cut rain forests throughout South America, Africa and Asia to create full-sun coffee plantations? Unfortunately, it’s the truth.

What makes it worse is that in tropical regions, nutrients aren’t stored in the soil -- they’re

Brazilian Coffee Farm after succumbing to Deforestation

immediately sucked up and used by all the rich plant life. So when you take all of that vegetation away during a mass clear-cut, nutrients simply disappear. Plus, without trees to provide shade, the soil takes a lot of direct sunlight. It’s no wonder then that farmers need chemical fertilizers to stimulate growth!

Deforestation also affects the diverse wildlife that call those areas home. Migratory birds have particularly struggled because there are fewer places from them to hang out for the winter.

When you buy organic coffee, you are quite literally helping to save the rain forest. Doesn’t that feel good?

2. It’s good for the farmer. You’ve heard of the fair-trade movement, right? Not all organic coffee is Fair-Trade Certified, but the two often come hand-in-hand.

The fair trade movement is a big deal. Without these practices, small organic farmers are forced to compete with the low prices set by conventional growers. What ends up happening is the farmer sell his products for less than what it cost to produce, he loses money, and is eventually driven out of business.

Because organic coffee is so often linked with fairly traded coffee, you can feel good knowing that the farmers who made your morning cup of Joe happen are being paid a higher, guaranteed price.

3. It’s healthier. Multiple studies have shown that a large portion of farming chemicals (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) are carcinogenic. In other words, they can cause cancer.

The chemicals will actually accumulate within body fat, causing damage to the body’s nervous and reproductive systems. They’re also known to disrupt the immune system and hormone regulation.

Who wants chemicals wreaking havoc on their insides? Not anyone we know. Organic coffee takes these health risks off the table and lets you simply enjoy your morning cup rather than worry about all the ways it could be hurting you.

4. It simply tastes better. Ask anyone who drinks organic coffee and they will tell you that conventional brews can’t compare when it comes to taste. It’s got a clean, smooth flavor that simply can’t be beat.

Don’t believe the hype? Try it for yourself.

So that’s the scoop on organic coffee. Have you tried organic coffee? What did you think and what brands did you like best? Let us know in the comments below and please subscribe to The Bean Buzz!

Comments are closed.

Want to Get The Buzz?

Get your coffee fix by subscribing to our deals and newsletter! We will send you a monthly discounts on coffee and keep you up to date with the latest Bean Buzz.