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!

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