Coffee is one of the most common beverages consumed in the world and is one of the most important commodities that are open to free trade practices. In its importance coffee comes only second to oil. So it goes without saying that coffee brings in a huge amount of business and therefore a lot of importance is attached to it.
Coffee lovers are united in their opinion about the taste of the product,the vitality and the wonderful experience attached to it. However there is a huge body of medical disclaimers that deride coffee on grounds that coffee is the root cause of acidity, hypertension, gastroenteritis, infertility, menopause, arthritis etc. all these have been attributed to the presence of tannic acid and also caffeine which is addictive by nature.
A growing sense of social consciousness about one’s health coupled with an increasing regard for the damages to the environment, essentially soil conservation and keeping ground water resources pollution free, has led to a scouring for healthier alternatives. One of the alternatives is to have soybean coffee. However this is an alternative that leaves much of the problem of deforestation (caused by the environmentally damaging cultivation patterns, especially in those countries that undertake large scale operations) and use of harmful pesticides and genetically modified supplements unanswered.
There are two varieties of coffee plants - Arabica and Robusta. Arabica accounts for nearly two-thirds of the world coffee production with Robusta accounting for the rest.
Organic Coffee and Health Benefits
What are the health risks posed by commercially grown coffee that is not organic?
On the lower range of the health scale, coffee causes acidity, headaches, difficulties in digestion, gastroenteritis, stomach ulcers etc. It is addictive and contributes to a general feeling of sluggishness. On the other extreme of the health parameter are problem such as high blood pressure, hypertension and a tendency to be more open to stress and panic, menopausal difficulties and even infertility along with cardiac problems and sometimes even Cancer. These are some of the problems listed out by the International Food Administration Council.
Coffee contains ‘tannin’ which is actually the root of all these problems. Adding to this basket is the fact that agriculturists grow their beans with the aid of pesticides and fertilizers that are not conducive to human consumption. These find their way into the blood stream opening up a plethora of problems. Organic Coffee refrains from the usage of such additives and relies on more natural ways of cleaning out insects which makes it a much safer and healthier option.
Organic coffee also costs less, since the cut down on additives reduces the cost of the production making it cheaper. So it seems a wiser decision to choose organic coffee over coffee that is not so.
Organic Coffee - Environmental Friendly
The environment is a huge contributor to any kind of agricultural produce. In the case of coffee, it assumes a lot of significance; in fact coffee requires a fine tune between the climate and the soil in which it is grown. The coffee beans that are grown in high altitudes, in a topical climate, and where the soil is rich in its nutrient quantity, produces the best beans in the world. Little wonder why the equatorial region, between the latitudes 25 degree north and 30 degrees south is best suited to grow this produce.
As an example of how important the climatic conditions are, is the case of Kona Coffee, from the Hawaii Island that is very popular world wide. The natural elements all work together in the region to give the best coffee – the soil is rich in its nutrients and comes from the Mauna Loa volcano. The topical cloud cover forms just the right umbrella for the seedlings from the sun; frequents light showers give it just the right amount of water. Finally the beans are handpicked and carefully processed so as a produce a full bodied beverage – delicious, rich and very aromatic.
The soil in which it the coffee plantations stand are also of huge importance. Coffee requires a rich soil, loaded with nutrients. Often this does not happen due to which farmers resort to spraying and using the fertilizers and other additives. This is not just injurious to health of the consumer, but also it is environmentally polluting. Coffee plantations stand at a gradient, usually in the mountainous slopes and the pesticides and other things are washed away from the slopes due to rainfall. These are then absorbed into the ground, thereby turning the ground water unsafe for use.
Another factor that has much of the environmentalist’s frowning is the way coffee is cultivated sans any regard to issues of deforestation and soil conservation. Coffee plantations need shade and so it is required that a farmer plants rows of shady trees alternating with his coffee plants. However this is not what is happening in most parts of the World. Countries with an eye on export figures and revenue collections are eager to increase their volume of produce. Large tracts of lands are cleared for coffee plantations and the coffee in grown in brazen sun fields without the mandatory planting of trees. The loosening of soil and clearing of land has led to expansive deforestation, especially in Africa and South America. Large tracts of topical forests have been rendered barren threatening the world environment and climate at large.
An example of how shade grown coffee is better is displayed by the rich taste of the Yemini Mocha Coffee. The coffee is grown using the traditional method of interspersing coffee plants with shady trees. Quite naturally, composting, soil conservation and elimination of harmful chemicals through this method of cultivation turns out a cup that is far superior.
Since organic coffee is not grown in sun fields, it also provides the perfect home to many migratory birds that travel from America to Latin America in the cold winter months. Conversion of tree filled coffee plantations to sun grown coffee plantations has resulted in loss of forest habitat and a shrinking songbird population. This is a problem that environmentalists are trying to rectify and thus calling for an alignment with coffee producers all over the World.
The above also contributes to a lowering of the use of pesticides. Birds are natural predators of insects and the forest cover ensures that the birds are at hand to act as natural pesticides. So there is no use of pesticides in organically cultivated coffee fields which work alongside environmental concerns of deforestation and soil conservation. In the absence of pesticides, the brew also tastes better. Kona, Mocha and Java, gourmet coffees are grown in this way which gives the consumer taste along with health and a socially awake conscience.
Coffee and Your Conscience
So the question is: do we want to enjoy a cup of coffee for our own sense of enjoyment and fulfillment with a total disregard to the environment and its health?
Any right thinking individual would agree that coffee at the cost of the environment is a heavy burden and cost. Therefore the viable alternative that best answers the problem is Organic Coffee.
Although Organic Coffee has a very poor history as its starting point, it has now become one of the most important products that are traded in the world. Organic coffee was first started by agriculturists who did not have the necessary resources to buy pesticides and fertilizers. For a long time hence countries like Brazil with a large scale intensive farming methods did not join in. It was pushed up by countries as Mexico and Columbia which got small scale farmers organized into co-operatives. Organic coffee is now sold by almost all the countries that have been listed above. Mexico is the biggest exporter and along with Peru and Guatemala account for 80% of the total organic coffee export in the world.
With the right kind of media coverage and write ups as well as some amount of aggressive campaigning, the shade grown organic coffee is attracting a lot of buyers. In fact anyone who knows his coffee knows that organic coffee produces a superior taste and this has nothing to do with the processing or way of brewing.Hence organic coffee is the answer to a good cup of coffee which leaves you with a sense of vitality and well fed social conscience.
Fair Trade Coffee
It is pertinent to drive home the point that organic coffee and its popularity has been in direct response to the changes in the International Coffee Trade. However the cost of coffee has not seen a major jump, mainly because the consumption is far short of the produce and as the figures go, the world production was at 114.5 million bags while the consumption stood at 108 million bags. This gross difference has caused prices to depress causing coffee to move away from a luxurious brand to a product of mass consumption. As a result traditional farming methods have been restructured into methods that are environmentally non- conducive. Smaller coffee farmers have been forced to sell off their land. Alongside some have chosen to grow more beans in sun fields so that the yield is more and the slump in prices can be compensated. Therefore a new type of coffee has been introduced – The Free Trade Coffee that addresses these problems. The rise of this coffee is closely aligned to the organic coffee movement and addresses the issues of sustainability and free trade practices.
Coffee Growing Nations
Coffee is grown in more than 50 countries around the world. It was arguably discovered in Ethiopia. Brazil, Columbia, Indonesia and Ivory Coast are the largest producers and exporters of coffee in the world.
Coffee was brought to Puerto Rico from Martinique in 1736 and by the late 19th century Puerto Rico was the 6th leading exporter of coffee in the world. However Puerto Rico could not maintain its world standing as it failed to effectively combat competition from the world market. In addition, major hurricanes also provided the most unsuitable of all climates.
Other countries are Guatemala, Caribbean Islands, Costa Rica, Columbia and Brazil.
In Africa, the coffee producing nations are Ethiopia where coffee was first discovered, Kenya, and Ivory Coast.
From the Arabian Peninsula, the port of Yemen gave to the world the famous Mocha coffee, named after the port from where the coffee was shipped. Mocha became synonymous to Arabian Coffee. The Dutch combined the Mocha with the coffee grown in Java to produce a fine blend that we know today as Mocha - Java
In Asia, countries which grow good premium brew are Indonesia, Vietnam and some parts of Southern India. Coffee in these parts of the World was not as popular as tea. It is to the credit of the coffee industry that has managed to turn such traditional tea drinking societies into coffee users. In fact coffee production in these countries is scaling new heights and countries as Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Indonesia are fast moving into the Organic Coffee map.
Organic Coffee- Certification
Production of organic coffee in usually under an ecologically developed agroforestry management system that looks into aspects related to sustainable development, especially of the soil and forest/plantation cover where it is cultivated.
For a brand to be declared organic there are certain clauses that have to be fulfilled which is later reviewed by a third party that certifies that the product is indeed organic. The certifying authority oversees whether the following have been met or not:
- Has the coffee been produced without the help of pesticides and other prohibited substances for 3 years;
- Has there been a sufficient buffer between the organic coffee and the nearest conventional crop;
- Has there been a pattern of crop rotation that has prevented erosion of the soil and depletion of the soil nutrients.
There are a few bodies around the world that look into the issue of organic certification, applicable in the case of organic coffee too. The Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS),USDA National Organic Program (NOP), European Organic Regulations (EU 2092/91) ,Export Certificates for Japan (JAS Equivalent),Indian National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) and Quebec Organic Reference Standard (CAAQ) oversee the process of certification of the organic products.(www.onecert.net)
Organic Coffee – A Switch worth Every Cup
Therefore organic coffee is not just about taste, or individual health; but about a whole lot of larger issues- especially those related to sustainability, health and sometimes even livelihood and empowerment. The rising popularity of organic coffee has been in response to a growing international market for the produce. Since coffee occupies a prime position in the trade scenario, demands for organically grown coffee cannot be glossed over. This has led to an increase in the volume of production and coffee brands eager to ride the organic bandwagon.
Further Reading and Online Resources
- Fair Trade Coffee. This video is an overview of Fair Trade Coffee and how it can make a difference.
- Growing Organic Coffee - Sanora Vida
- A Look at Organic Indian Coffee: The Araku Valley in southern India is one of the best places to grow coffee.
- Fair Trade Coffee - An interview with a Fair Trade Coffee merchant.
- Organic Trade Association
- The Coffee Wiki
- Fair Trade Coffee