What Does Sustainable Coffee Really Mean?
We expect our first cup of coffee in the morning to taste good, but what if we felt good about that first cup of brew? If you’re spending your money mindfully on sustainably harvested and imported coffee, then you can feel good about where that cup comes from.
What is sustainable coffee?
As with any crop, coffee farmers have choices to make when it comes to growing coffee beans. They can make decisions that leave nearly zero detrimental impact on the planet, or they can unethically harvest coffee beans by engaging in rampant deforestation or using toxic pesticides. They can also choose to treat and pay workers fairly or underpay and overwork them. We, of course, purchase and roast beans from growers who strive to plant and produce coffee that is both environmentally-friendly and worker-friendly.
When coffee farmers make commitments to using their land in mindful ways, sustainable farming might be more expensive on the front end, and consumers might pay a premium price for their favorite roast.
How can coffee be environmentally-friendly?
A variety of factors lend themselves to making coffee delicious in your cup and low impact on the earth. When coffee farmers make commitments to using their land in mindful ways, sustainable farming might be more expensive on the front end, and consumers might pay a premium price for their favorite roast. Still, the ultimate price for not taking these actions is far worse.
Sustainable coffee farming techniques include:
- Seeking independence from non-renewable resources
- Reusing coffee husks as heating fuel rather than cutting down eucalyptus trees
- Implementing pollution-free coffee dryers such as the solar coffee dryer developed by Coffee Kids
- Minimizing water consumption
- Spreading natural fertilizers and organic matter (composted coffee pulp) under the coffee trees and between the coffee trees
- Engaging in practices such as shade growing, biodiversification, organic farming, and sustainable agriculture
What about the farmers?
There would be no coffee for consumption without the hard-laboring coffee worker. For any farming to be sustainable (regardless of the crop), the farmer must be paid fairly and provided equitable working conditions. Farmers must also promote education programs and provide medical care for their workers. Without these basic needs, the farmers are not taken care of, in turn affecting the production of ethical, sustainable coffee beans.
What is the future of sustainable coffee?
More and more people are willing to spend a few extra dollars on coffee they feel good about drinking. They want to know where their coffee came from, they want to trace its exact origins, and they want to know it was grown by good people who treat their land and their workers with respect and dignity.
Rather than relying on Arabica and Robusta, the two most common species, coffee farmers need stronger varieties that can withstand harsh conditions like excessive heat and pest infestations.
But, there’s a significant issue facing growers and consumers. It’s climate change, and it could influence how all of us drink coffee—if we are able to drink it at all.
Scientists at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens report that 60% of all wild coffee species could disappear in the coming decades due to worsening climatic conditions, deforestation, and the spread of fungal pathogens and pests. Experts predict climate change can cut the land suitable for Arabica coffee beans in half by 2050.
One way to combat the problem is through crop diversification. Rather than relying on Arabica and Robusta, the two most common species, coffee farmers need stronger varieties that can withstand harsh conditions like excessive heat and pest infestations. World Coffee Research is a nonprofit organization conducting fundamental research to understand the impacts of climate change on coffee in order to develop successful adaptation strategies. By understanding how coffee quality is impacted by genetics, environmental conditions, and processing, they work to ensure that the highest quality coffees are available for generations to come.
What is our role?
At South Slope Coffee, we can’t diversity crops, but we can, and do purchase green coffee from ethical farms and producers around the world. We partner with merchants who have the same ideals we do and commit to making minimal environmental impacts with their importing. These efforts ensure our roasts are sustainable, traceable, and environmentally and worker-friendly. What you end up with is that mug of coffee that tastes as good as it makes you feel.