The Green Way to Drink Coffee

roasting-bean-arcDrinking coffee doesn't have to break away from a green, ethical lifestyle. The ever-expanding market for coffee has given rise to many organic options for every step of the coffee making process. It can be challenging to understand what various eco-friendly labels actually mean. This article explains the most common terms used in the name of environmental goodness.

Modern day convenience, including online shopping and big box megastores, isolates consumers from the process by which products become available. Every cappuccino originates with a coffee plant growing in a farm; every paper coffee filter became a bundle of fibers after a tree was cut down. Although organic coffees are typically more expensive than ordinary beans, integrity comes without a price tag. Consider that our most precious commodity, the Earth, is irreplaceable and shared by every living thing on the planet.


Names like "organic" or "shade-grown" can apply to any crop that grows on a farm. Learn more about what this agricultural industry jargon entails for growing coffee.

Fair Trade

Fair trade is a program that certifies companies involved in importing and roasting coffee beans from small-scale cooperative (co-op) farms. This scheme was designed to bring greater equity to international trade, especially rural workers who are typically marginalized. The coffee is purchased at a fixed rate of $1.31 per pound or more, guaranteed through a yearly contract. The fair trade scheme promotes long-term trading contracts between farming co-ops and importers, bypassing middleman who shave profits from farms. This small shift in profit is significant, most rural coffee raising communities are ridden with poverty.fair-trade-certified

The purpose of using co-operatives and fixing the prices is to pay workers fair, living wages that allow them to support their families. Big agro-business has a pernicious effect on the local communities located within the sphere of factory farms. They bring environmental devastation, which has ecological implications of great magnitude. Slash-and-burning a rainforest near a community in the tropics can changes the local climate making it more extreme. Deforestation destabilizes water flow, rainfall, and land density, leading to erosion. This makes regions more prone to flooding, droughts, and forest fires; pesky species like mosquitoes must relocate from forests to villages, bothering local indigenous populations.

Coffee beans that have been granted a Fair Trade Certificate will have the black and white logo on their packaging. Internationally, different labels may be used to signify fair-trade.


Certified organic means the farmer has completed a 3-year training and monitoring program. Soil is free from herbicides and pesticides which makes it healthier. Farmer is protecting the quality of the soil, water, taking into account the farm's impact on the surrounding environment. Organic farms most have a compost heap for organic waste, separate from harvesting and processing. Additionally, genetically modified coffee plants aren't used in organic harvests.


On kosher farms, a rabbi inspects the facility to ensure the cleanliness, equipment, and procedures being used enhance product purity. Buying kosher coffee beans acknowledges the inherent spirituality that comes with of food preparation, apart from any particular organized religion.


A marker of ecological soundness comes from the ability of a coffee farm to provide a habitat for many species. Biologically diverse farms promote conservation efforts by harboring forest-dependent animals, plants, and other living species. Properly balanced farms work as a microcosm, a self-sustaining life cycle in which coffee-plants have a symbiotic relationship with other forest dwellers.


Planting coffee plants amongst endemic trees and native species is known as the shade-growing process. The slower cycle is more expensive, but allows the coffee more time to develop.

Shade-growing preserves indigenous trees, creating home and shelter for migratory birds, maintains ecosystems by allowing coffee to integrate into the biosphere. Millions of flora and fauna have been supported on a microbial level by the presence coffee plants within their ecosystem. Shade-growing can be contrasted to the slash-n-burn fields normally used for harvesting coffee. They receive full-sun exposure, which makes coffee grow faster and yield more crop, but destroys existing ecosystems.

Extra Considerations

Besides paying attention to labels, avoid being fooled by clever marketing or exaggerated claims at environmentally responsible farming. It's well worth taking the time to educate yourself and investigate any claims a coffee company makes. Many reputable companies will provide information online, on their packaging, or through other media to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.


International organic certifying agencies can provide 3rd party verification. Some coffee farms voluntarily have their farms audited, to proffer transparency to consumers and to corroborate their claims of green farming. There are dozens of independent sustainability auditors that monitor farms, looking beyond certifications for signs of ecological soundness, environmental stewardship, and fair labor practices. These third parties can help weed out organic imposters from truly environmental operations.

Does "green" coffee taste any better than ordinary coffee? It's too subjective to give an absolute answer. Many coffee connoisseurs have enjoyed a richer, deeper flavor from shade grown coffee beans. Organic coffee drinkers have reported that organic coffees are less upsetting to their stomach. Many roasters who use eco-friendly beans only roast in small batches. Personal preference will help you decide, but ultimately buying organic coffee beans benefits the environment without a doubt.


Disposable coffee cups pour your money down the drain and destroy our Earth. Most paper coffee cups and cup holders are made with little, if any, recycled paper and are not recyclable. After one use, they're thrown away into a landfill.


Use a thermos, reusable coffee cup, or ceramic mug for coffee instead. Many coffee shops offer a discount for bringing in your own cup. Reusable coffee cups are higher quality, made of sturdier plastic, ceramic, and metal parts. Quality thermoses are worth their investment:

  • Hotter: Many reusable coffee cups have a layer of insulation to keep coffee warmer, so it's enjoyable for longer
  • Easier Sips: The lids and cup often have an ergonomic design, cup is contoured to fit your hand and the lid allows for a more even flow of liquid.
  • Spill-Proof: Sturdier lids screw on or pop into place with more stick than a disposable lid. Ideal for cars, subways, or walking around.
metal-coffee-cup/ eco-cup/
Metal car thermos Eco-Cup mimics a paper cup, made of ceramic and silicon


Cows are treated cruelly in North American food-industry factory farms and the milk they produce is unhealthy. For the most part, cow's raised at dairy farms live their lives on large, disease and feces-ridden lots. They are pumped full of antibiotics and hooked up to machines several times per day for milking. Switching to dairy alternative or even milk from an organic farm, does not need to be drastic. Milk substitutes are just as tasty as milk.

Traditional cow's milk has been linked to many forms of digestive problems, especially in children and people of Asian or African American background. Besides lactose intolerance, studies have discovered that dairy consumption has led to allergies, juvenile diabetes, and asthma. The proteins in milk are in many cases very difficultrecycle-mug or impossible to digest for a certain percentage of the population; scientific research increasingly suggests that the nutrition that comes from cow's milk is not worth the added health risks. Cow's milk was designed to nourish calves, not people. Many alternative forms of milk can actually benefit your health.
  • Soymilk: Made from soybeans, soymilk tastes smooth and creamy. Most types are vitamin fortified. Soy milk is the most processed option and nutritionists debate the potential health hazard of genetically modified soybeans. Typically many varieties are available, including unsweetened, plain, vanilla, and chocolate. Silk brand soymilk even has a thicker soy creamer on the market!
  • Almond Milk: Almond milk tastes sweet, nutty, and creamy. It's low in protein, but naturally rich in calcium, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and other minerals found in almonds.
  • Rice Milk: Made of brown rice and a sweetener, such as cane juice or rice syrup. Tastes sweet, watery, and comparable to coconut milk. It's a good cooking substitute, but not as nutritious as milk. Look for rice milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
  • Organic Milk: Organic milk is produced by cows that are permitted to graze in open, green pastures. The organic cows are fed growing grass which has not been treated with antibiotics or pesticides. Organic milk must adhere to USDA regulations, which were updated in February 2010 to close loopholes for farms fallaciously claiming to be organic. Opt for skim milk, because it contains no saturated fat. There has not been conclusive evidence that organic milk is nutritionally different than regular milk, but at least it must adhere to some standards of animal humaneness.

Other dairy alternatives include milk made from grains, hemp, and other tree nuts.


Coffee filters are a wasteful byproduct of making coffee with a drip coffee maker or a cone cup. Most filters are made of paper, which is made from the fiber of trees which must be cut down.

Cloth Filters

Cloth filters have been proven to be the most eco-friendly option. Fabric filters made of hemp or certified-organic coffee can be used for 3-6 months. They're cleaned by rinsing with water after use.

Permanent Filters

Permanent filters are the greenest way to make filtered coffee, since they can be used for several years before needing to be replaced. Reusable filters are readily available made of nylon, stainless steel, another metal, or gold.

Paper Filters


Look for paper filters that are biodegradable and made with recycled fibers. Paper filters and used coffee grounds can be composted and used in the garden. Paper filters come in 2 colors: bleached white or natural brown color. There is no benefit to buying bleached paper filters, but if you want to, buy oxygen-bleached or chemical free filters.

Paper filters made out of bamboo are occasionally available on the market. Bamboo renews itself, growing much more quickly than the trees used for paper pulp. However, most bamboo filters are composed of 30-60% bamboo fibers, the rest is regular tree pulp.