Organic Coffee: What’s with all the Hoopla?
While doing some late night grocery shopping, I couldn't help but notice the abundance of organic goods gracing the shelves — everything from skincare products to food and, of course, coffee. What, a few years ago, had seemed to me to be a passing fad, much like acid-wash jeans, has not only gone mainstream but grown to be a full-pledged lifestyle for countless Americans.
I'll admit, I didn't know very much about the organic movement. Actually, my ignorance was hopelessly embarrassing; the words "natural and organic" always seemed to conjure up a mental image of hemp-clad hippies, dancing barefoot in an open field...quite picturesque, mind you, but not very informative.
Feeling like I was missing out on something major, I was on a mission to solve the organic mystery. I knew just where to start—a few cubes down from the office with Mark, our resident organic coffee expert. Boy, did he fill me in.
"You Mean, I Can't Just Stop Using Pesticides and Call It Organic?"
Organic coffee is grown using a particular set of farming methods designed to minimize negative impacts on the environment. In order for the crop to be sold as certified organic coffee, farmers must adhere to a specific set of rules including:
- Farming for three years without using prohibited substances such (e.g. synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms)
- Adhering to a crop rotation arrangement that prevents erosion and over using the land (causing it to lose nutrients)
- Allowing third-party agents to inspect the farm and verify that it is operating within organic standards
Nationally, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for certifying and regulating organic coffee. In order for coffee to be packaged and sold as certified organic, roasters must also abide by the USDA's rules, which largely involve preventing the beans from being "contaminated" with inorganic matter (e.g.: Using separate storage facilities and equipment for organic and regular beans).
"How Do I Know My Coffee is Really Organic?"
With so many kinds of coffees readily available, it is often up to the consumer to make sure that the products they're buying are truly organic. One sure fire way to do this is to look for the USDA's organic seal, which can only be printed on coffee that has been certified and is at least 95% organic. It is also useful to note that a high percentage (75%) of fair trade coffee is also organic. Fair trade certification helps to ensure that farmers are paid a fair price for their crops and limit the use of genetically modified organisms and harmful pesticides.
"What, There's More?"
In addition to fair trade, there are a number of certifications that can be associated with organic coffee. Check out a few listed below:
- Shade Grown
- Direct Trade
- Bird Friendly
- Rainforest Alliance
Organic, as well as most of the other special certifications, offer farmers stipends to grow environmentally friendly crops—enabling them to make a fair living. So, next time you're in the market for a bag of beans, consider organic!