Let’s be honest, most of us want to live healthier, longer, and more active lives. Simply, choosing the healthiest option on a food menu or buying food and beverages that are organic is where many of us can make small subtle changes to our lifestyle with little effort.
As coffee lovers, the new research and information about the various health benefits of coffee is fantastic news, especially after years or negatively towards coffee was mainstream. It really seems like coffee is gaining popularity for all the right reasons.
With so many health-conscious individuals now picking up a cup of Joe it’s not surprising that organic coffee is finding its way onto more supermarket shelves than ever before.
However, organic isn’t necessarily synonymous with better or healthier coffee. In this blog post, I aim to lift the lid off the misconception that organic coffee beans are the best choice and why it’s important to carefully read the packing when the coffee is labeled organic.
Don’t fall prey to the marketing hype, after reading this blog post you’ll be armed with enough information the make smart educated choices when buying the best organic coffee. Real 100% organic coffee beans are awesome and if you can source the real stuff you’re guaranteed to not only brew a healthier cup of coffee but you’ll also enjoy a more flavorful cup.
What is Organic Coffee?
You may or may not know that coffee is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. Coffee is also among the world’s most valuable traded goods after pretorium. With such high-demand globally and with prices reaching all-time highs it’s no surprise that farms are trying to cut corners and make more profit for each harvest.
Unfortunately, most coffee beans we consume are grown using chemicals like pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. All of which, have been linked with cancer (1) and have been shown to be potentially damaging the reproductive and nervous system; scary stuff.
Commercially large-scale grown coffee is already one of the world’s most heavily sprayed crops. But the use of pesticides isn’t solely limited to grown coffee the further processing from the ground to the bag can also involve some nasty chemicals.
The good news is that change is coming.
Many coffee producers are now transitioning over the more organic growing practices. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy or simple transition to make because the soil and growing location have to be chemical and pesticide-free for three years before growing.
There are many types of certification for organic coffee, each country sets its own requirement as to what warrants organic coffee. But, for this blog post, I’ll be sticking with the US quality standards that are overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (2).
The USDA looks at many factors to determine whether they can give coffee organic certification. For instance, the fertilizer used for growing the coffee must be 100% organic. Many farms will use the coffee pulp, chicken manure, and general compost for their coffee-growing rather than chemicals.
But, organic coffee doesn’t just stop there. What about the processes after the coffee has been harvested, such as roasting? The good news is that the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) (3) keeps a close eye on the coffee after it’s been harvested by regulating how the coffee is handled and the chemicals used.
Simply put, if the coffee is grown has had contact with any type of non-organic fertilizer the USDA will not give the certified organic approval. If coffee is organic, almost 99% of the time they will proudly display clear labeling to let you know the beans are organic.
Are Organic Beans Healthier?
Now that you know how organic coffee is grown and produced using no harmful chemicals it shouldn’t come as a surprise for me to tell you that it’s healthier than regular coffee.
What many people don’t understand is that many of the chemicals and fertilizers used for growing not only coffee but a whole range of food products actually kill the “good stuff” too. A lot of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are also reduced or even destroyed when grown using pesticides and other chemicals.
Environmental Benefits When Growing Organic Coffee
Generally, growing organic coffee will be better for both the farmers working the coffee plantations and the environment that surrounds those growing locations.
Pesticide and fertilizer runoff can have serious negative impacts on not only the local water quality but the wildlife ecosystems in the surrounding areas.
But that’s not all.
When coffee is grown on a large scale the natural growing location is more often than not “destroyed”. Because coffee is grown in the sun to ensure a higher yield, it means that any forests are cut down. This, in turn, negatively influences the local wildlife – they lose their homes.
The good news.
Almost all organic coffee is grown in the shade, so the local vegetation stays put and the critters and animals still have a home, plus, the coffee beans take slightly longer to ripen meaning you get a more flavorful cup of coffee – it’s a win-win!
Organic Decaf Process
Coffee is decaffeinated in a range of different ways, some processes are healthy and some not so much. If you want to know how coffee is decaffeinated I recommend that you spend a few minutes reading this > How is Coffee Decaffeinated?
However, when it comes to decaffeinating and organic coffee, there are only two methods that come to mind – the Swiss Water Process and the Carbon Dioxide Process. All the other decaf methods used typically introduce more toxic chemicals to get the caffeine out.
The good news is that both of these natural methods are also the two that helps to retain the flavor in the coffee. So you’re not losing out on anything by staying true to your organic principles.
What’s the Downside of Organic Coffee?
It’s not all positive when we talk about organic coffee beans. For example, there are additional costs involved when growing and processing the coffee which gets passed on to the consumer – that’s you and me.
As I have mentioned previously, for someone to label organic coffee “organic” it has to meet certain criteria, if it passes, only then will the coffee become certified organic. But this comes at a price for the farmers who have to pay for the inspections so they can achieve certification; becoming certified isn’t free.
The bad news is that many small family-owned coffee plantations cannot afford to get the organic certification. These small farms even don’t have enough money to use expensive pesticides and chemicals – they are organic but cannot be labeled as such and ultimately cannot charge the higher price for their beans.
Farmers use pesticides or other toxic chemicals to yield a larger crop by killing off infestations and insects that would otherwise destroy the coffee beans. Obviously, if they use no pesticides when growing organic coffee the chances of whole fields of crops being destroyed are very real.
The main problem that many plantations face is “coffee leaf rust”, also known as la Roya in Latin America. If coffee farmers cannot successfully treat this infestation, they lose their coffee crop. Luckily, Colombia is on the case and they’ve developed leaf rust-resistant (4) coffee strains that help combat this problem.
The 5 Best Organic Coffee Brands
You’ll probably notice once you shop for organic coffee that you get a little less geographical variety compared to regular coffee beans.
In fact, Latin America grows the most organic coffee with about 75% of the market share with Peru being the biggest single producer. The remaining 25% is sourced from Southeast Asian and African countries.
Sure, you can find organic coffee from other countries, but due to the small-scale farms, you may find the cost per pound will be more expensive.
However, you needn’t worry because I’ve done some of the legwork for you and found five of what I think are the best organic beans. There are lots more, but I settled on just fine brands that I have personally tried.
Cafe Don Pablo Gourmet Coffee
Out of all the organic whole coffee beans, I’ve tried Café Don Pablo is among some of the best and it’s very affordable.
Rather than opting for toxic chemicals to ensure a fruitful crop, Don Pablo favors alternate “green” methods to promote coffee growth. They use a natural fertilizing process called vermiculture which uses worms to break down organic food waste they use that along with old pulp from coffee cherries (cascara) as the main fertilizer for the coffee shrubs.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Cafe Don Pablo coffee plantation is located in the elevated Marcala region. Because insects don’t thrive in higher elevations, they require no insecticides. However, in the rare instances that insects become a problem Cafe Don Pablo opt for natural insecticides; planting peppers is just one example.
The flavor profile of this particular medium-dark roast has nuances of honey and chocolate with a slight hint of hazelnut. Cafe Don Pablo Gourmet Coffee is also perfect for anyone that has a sensitive stomach due to the low acidity of the coffee beans.
Notes: Rich and chocolaty with a profound depth of flavor, velvety body, and low acidity
Ethical Bean Coffee Sweet Espresso
My second recommendation if you want to go organic with your coffee is Ethical Bean Coffee Sweet Espresso. This medium-dark roast can be served as a classic espresso shot and enjoyed or you can use the espresso shot as a base for a host of different coffee beverages.
Each bag of organic whole beans has been carefully sourced and then artisan roasted in Vancouver, Canada to ensure the best possible experience with each sip. They pay the farmers more than average for their beans and the farmers prefer to opt for more ethical, honest, and labor-intensive methods over technology to produce some of the best tasting organic coffee beans you’ll find.
Notes: Multi-dimensional and dripping with crema. Marries beautifully with milk.
The Bean Coffee Company
The Bean Coffee Company produces some excellent tasting organic whole coffee beans. This medium roast bag offers a full-bodied coffee with a sweet finish and a slight hint of chocolate overtones.
What I like about the Bean Coffee Company is how they roast their whole beans. Each week small batches of organic beans are carefully hand-roasted by skilled roasters and packaged in their prime; you’re always guaranteed a fresh bag.
Notes: Sweet finish with a hint of chocolate overtones
Java Planet Colombian USDA Organic
Colombian coffee is known for its winey, chocolate, and sweet flavor profile – and this bag of medium-dark roast, whole Arabica organic coffee beans by Java Planet does not disappoint.
You’ll taste an array of floral and chocolate notes with this organic coffee brand with a subtle hint of hibiscus, allspice and dark chocolate and pecan becoming more prominent on the finish. Even though the flavor profile of the Java Planet Colombian is pretty intense, the coffee, surprisingly, still has low acidity.
Notes: Smooth, full-flavored coffee without the bitterness or burnt taste
Kicking Horse Smart Ass
My final recommended bag of organic beans is by Kicking Horse. Canadian coffee roasting powerhouse Kicking Horse has carved out a small corner of the coffee market and produces some amazing tasting coffee of all kinds.
The team at Kicking Horse believe that “organic means not compromising,” and they openly say that organic coffee means:
“smart farming, planning for tomorrow, and not sacrificing the future”
This medium roast Smart Ass blend is a mix of coffee from three popular growing regions – Africa, Central America, and South America. This clever coffee blend brews a cup that’s well-balanced with pleasant chocolaty notes – worth a try for sure!