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Organic Coffee – Should I Buy It?

October 30, 2008

Organic coffee is expensive. But they say it’s sooo good! Should I go for it?




A coffee plant in BrazilOrganic coffee is grown without synthetic fertilizer or artificial pesticides. This doesn’t mean, however, that the crops are free of fertilizer of pesticides. Farmers just use natural fertilizer and natural insect repellants - anyone said sterilized dung?

An organic product is important to many coffee drinkers because coffee is one of the most pesticide-sprayed crops around the world. Coffee beans are worth much more per pound than other crops like wheat, corn, or soy, so growers have an incentive to protect their crop and boost output with whatever pesticides and fertilizers work. And pesticides that have been banned in the US and EU are still used in other countries that grow coffee. So there is a perception that organic coffee is healthy and more natural. Many consumers reason that if they’re drinking several cups a day of something, it might as well be pesticide-free.

The OTA, the Organic Trade Association posts on its web site the “top three” reasons for buying organic coffee. Here they are: when buying organic coffee you say “I care with a flair”, you “impress your guests”, and you can use it to make ice cream. Mmm, someone there definitely has been drinking too much coffee…

But seriously, in his book “Espresso Coffee,” Andrea Lilly says that the more advanced farmers, aware of the need for environmental-friendly coffee, are using improved land management, organic fertilizers instead of synthetic ones, reduced pesticide, and reduced water use and pollution during post-harvest handling. These advanced farmers are certainly more like to produce higher quality coffee, which indeed seems to be the case.



Should it be certified organic coffee? How about Fair Trade?



Organic coffee is a fast growing trend. Already it is grown in more than 40 countries, including the United States (Hawaii). The fast growth is fueled by the general organic food trend and by the fast adoption of the fair trade practices. Although not all fair trade coffee is organic, due to the quality of the farmers adopting fair trade practices, 60% of that coffee is also certified organic.

It is important to note that there are many organic coffees which are actually not certified. The certification process is notoriously cumbersome and expensive and requires certification along the complete food chain including not only the farmer but also the roaster and even the trucking companies. Certainly this is way beyond the means of small farmers in developing countries such as Yemen and Ethiopia. In fact, in these countries, the coffee growers are so poor they tend not to use pesticides or fertilizers at all.



Is organic coffee actually healthier for you?



Health-wise, you can’t go wrong with organic coffee. That does not mean, however, that regular coffee is any worse. There are no studies comparing the health of regular coffee drinkers with organic coffee drinkers. It just might be the case that coffee, grown inside an actual fruit, may not be as susceptible to synthetic substances, as other fruits.



Is the quality in the cup better at all?



So, if you are just looking for a better cup, certified organic might get you there, but there are cheaper routes….if you are looking to make a statement though, certified coffee is definitely a good way to do it.






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