The Daily Scoop Answers: What Is Organic Coffee?

Cafe Altura Organic Coffee

Ever wonder just what is organic coffee anyway? Here’s the scoop.

What’s in That Cup?

In short, organic coffee comes is coffee grown without pesticides. But to really understand what makes some coffee organic, it’s important to first note what makes non-organic coffee, well, non-organic. Most of the chemical pesticides used in coffee production are used to ward off common pests and diseases from crops.

The good news for coffee drinkers is that the roasting process dilutes or eliminates most of the harmful effects of these chemicals. However, that doesn’t take the risk away from the farmers who are exposed directly to these harsh chemicals – but more about that later.

Here are just a few of the worst chemicals that are used in the coffee-growing world:

  • Methyl parathion: The most toxic pesticide of all, methyl parathion is banned in many countries and is highly toxic to humans, birds, fish, and mammals. Despite being banned in many countries, it is still highly (mis)used.
  • Endosulfan: Used to ward off the coffee cherry borer, Endosulfan is toxic to most animals and takes years to break down in soil. It attacks the central nervous system, kidneys, liver, and reproductive organs.
  • Chlorpyrifos: Used against common coffee pests, Chlorpyrifos has been banned in the U.S. for household use because it has caused human death and birth defects. Needless to say, it’s quite detrimental to delicate ecosystems.

The Good News

There are ways to combat pests without using harsh chemicals, and if fact, many coffee growers use them. That’s where organic comes in. Organic coffee is coffee grown without the use of synthetic substances such as most pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. If coffee is labeled “organic,” at least 95 percent of the beans must have been grown under organic conditions. Most organic coffee farms are small and farmer owned—which means smaller crops and easier management of pests.

Many organic coffee growers keep pests and diseases away by using natural fertilizers such as poultry manure and bocashy, a mix of coffee plant pulp, manure, molasses, leavening, and other seemingly random ingredients. Another common tactic for keeping pests away is the use of the parasitic wasp, a beneficial insect that eats the larvae of coffee-plant-eating pests.

What to Look For in the Grocery Aisle

When buying organic coffee, look for the USDA Organic seal, which will certify that the coffee contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients and has been certified as organic by a certification agency accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To get you started, here are a few of our favorite organic coffee beans:

A good cup of joe that’s also good for the growers and the environment—count us in!

Mapping the Magic: The World’s Biggest Coffee Growing Regions

Coffee Cherries Ready For Harvest

You already know you love coffee. But how much do you know about where it’s made? If you’re on the hunt for clues about your coffee’s origin, we invite you to take our little tour of the world’s coffee growing regions—without having to leave your seat.

The roughly 70 countries that make up the Coffee Belt are scattered around the world, generally between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, comprising parts of Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. Being close to the Equator, these countries are able to offer coffee its favorite climate: average temps a balmy 70 degrees, rich soil, and a healthy mix of both sun and rain.

Why care? Beans from different places have big differences in terms of flavor, body, and acidity. So to help you navigate the geo-lingo, we’ve rounded up a few of the biggest producers, with a little help from the National Coffee Association.

First Stop: Central and South America

Guatemala has three main growing regions, each characterized by rugged terrain and rich volcanic soil. Guatemalan coffee tends to be medium-to-full bodied, with a slightly chocolate-y, slightly spicy twist. Costa Rica produces a wet processed Arabica, making for a nicely balanced cup of coffee.

South America’s home to two giants in the coffee world. First, we’ve got Brazil, where coffee has been thriving since the early 18th century. Today, Brazil is now responsible for producing a third of the coffee supply worldwide, and is “unquestionably the biggest coffee producing country in the world,” according to the NCA. Most of Brazil’s coffee tends to the sweet, medium-bodied, and low-acid side of the spectrum.

Meanwhile, Colombia holds its own in terms of worldwide reputation and production. Colombian coffee tends to have a balanced acidity and delicate aroma.

On to Africa

Ethiopia, where coffee berries were first appreciated for their energizing properties, still makes much of its coffee from wild coffee tree forests. Usually wet processed, Ethopian coffee is known for its rich, earthy, full-bodied taste.

Elsewhere in Africa, Kenya turns out a sharp, fruity, full-bodied coffee, while the Ivory Coast is one of the biggest producers of Arabica coffee, which is strongly aromatic with a light body and acidity.

Asia Steps Up

Yemen holds the honor as first country to commercially cultivate coffee. Its arid climate means these beans tend to be small and irregularly shaped, and are generally dry processed after harvest. The resulting flavor is deep, rich, and unique.

In Indonesia, three of the country’s thousands of islands are especially well known for their coffee: Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi. Dutch colonists first introduced the coffee plant to Java in the 17th century, and the area quickly became one the world’s leading suppliers. Indonesian coffee tends to be rich, full-bodied, and mildly acidic.

Vietnam is best known for its robusta, which is lightly acidic, mild bodied, and good for blending. They’ve been perfecting the cultivation process since French missionaries introduced the Arabica tree there in the mid-19th century.

And there you have it – some of the countries most responsible for providing our daily joe. Now, who’s up for a tour?