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Organic Coffee

PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2013 5:41 am
by joshmcneilly
We know about the quantifiable benefits of eating organic produce and meat over conventional, but there doesn't seem to be much data out there about organic coffee being more healthy than conventional. In my mind I'd like to think there are benefits, but I also wonder how much it would matter, seeing that the beans are roasted at such high temperatures.

I've had multiple customers lately who have expressed deep concern to whether the beans we carry are certified organic, because they are "ultra-sensetive to consuming pesticides/fertilizers/ect." While I'm going to call BS on that, at least when it comes to coffee, I do like that more people are concerned with what they are consuming in our country, and seeking out organic coffees.

I do know about the benefits of farming organic, and how it preserves the soil better, is better for surrounding communities, is better for workers on the farms, but I'm talking specifically about health here.

I do try to explain that most farmers coffees that we carry are very often organic, even though most farmers can't afford the certification, and that organic farmers (in Central/S. America) have it the most rough right now and some are abandoning their organic certification in order to save some of their crops from leaf rust. But I do feel strange charging the most in town for coffee, and still having questions about why a particular coffee (from national well-known direct-trade roasters) can't afford (or doesn't want, perhaps) organic certification.

I'd love to hear what you all think about organic coffees, and I'd love to see quantifiable data about the health of organic coffee.

Re: Organic Coffee

PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 3:57 pm
by Jessica Cole
Organic certification bums me out.

Well, no, it's not so much the certification itself, it's the consumer's perception that an organic label carries added value. If there are studies regarding the health benefits of organic coffee over conventional, I'd love to see them. I have a hard time believing that the benefit could be that great, but I have no idea what I'm talking about - I'm just being contrary. ;)

I'm a bit surprised when people refuse to drink coffee that's not been certified organic, given the controversy over acrylamide content in roasted/browned foods. Like... here's a carcinogen right here, and it's just as present in organic roasted coffee as it is in non-certified coffee. Whether the level of acrylamide in roasted coffee qualifies as carcinogenic is up to someone else to decide. It's all a bit silly. As you said, Josh, organic farming methods certainly have a positive impact at a local level (although they do require extra labour, which can be good or bad depending on the availability labourers, I guess?), I'm just not convinced that consumers half a world away are getting much benefit other than feeling good about a purchasing decision (while being in the uniquely First World position to demand that producers meet this standard).

So in a nutshell, I too am interested in this info. I'm not saying organic certification is bad, but I'd be happy to be better educated about its cost and benefit.

Re: Organic Coffee

PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 3:59 pm
by Jessica Cole
Come to think of it, I'd like to be better educated about the pros and cons of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, too....

Re: Organic Coffee

PostPosted: Thu Oct 24, 2013 7:49 pm
by Sean Starke
The acrylamide issue is one that drives me nuts. Billions of people have drunk literally trillions of cups of coffee over the years...somehow I think if this was in any way an issue there would be a weighty amount of evidence given the sheer numbers involved in the "sample set." But there simply ain't.

Re: Organic Coffee

PostPosted: Wed Nov 06, 2013 5:00 pm
by stevelee
Geoff Watts wrote some thoughtful insight on Intelligentsia's stance on Organic Certification and a little about the issues being brought up in this thread.
Hope it answers some questions and/or helps- ... ing-part-1 ... ing-part-2 ... ing-part-3 ... ing-part-4

Re: Organic Coffee

PostPosted: Wed Nov 20, 2013 5:15 pm
by Jessica Cole
Steve, thank you so much for the links. This is exactly the kind of information I want to pass along to our baristas and even customers.

Re: Organic Coffee

PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 11:15 pm
by Peter G
This thread is a few months old now, but I feel compelled to add a few words. Here they are.

1. Geoff mentions this, but it bears repeating: there is zero evidence that drinking organic coffees is healthier than non-organic coffees. In fact, there doesn't appear to be any evidence that eating organic ANYTHING is healthier than its non-organic counterpart. Personal health is not a very good reason to choose organic.

2. There is significant evidence that organic agriculture is healthier for ecosystems and farming families than conventional agriculture. This IS a very good reason to choose organic.

3. Certification exists so that farmers who are performing certain practices- like organic farming- can be recognized for it and the market can reward them with higher prices. The only way I know of that a consumer who cares about environmentally-positive farming techniques can communicate their desire through the system is to buy certified coffees.

4. Coffee buyers who make claims about the environmental sustainability of the farms they buy from are treading on very thin ice. Coffee buyers are simply not trained to assess the environmental impact of a farm. Inspectors- like those who work for organic certification agencies- are. This is a real value of certification: an actual expert- and a third party one at that- has assessed the environmental impact of the farm and has certified it to be authentic. I know of only one coffee buyer who has ever gone through serious agricultural assessment training, and she works as an organic inspector on the side and buys only organic certified coffee.

5. There is a myth going around that there are many farms practicing organic techniques but are not certified because of cost. I have visited hundreds of farms in my life and I have never seen even one that fits this description. I have challenged my coffee buying colleagues to show me one and so far I have had no takers.

There are a lot of sensible ideas in Geoff's piece referenced above, but many oft-repeated errors as well. Most of these are addressed in Kim Elena Ionescu's excellent FAQ she created for Counter Culture's "Save Our Soils" campaign, which advocates for organic agriculture:

I'm really concerned about the cynicism about organic agriculture that I've experienced in our community. I even worked alongside a barista recently at a public event who gleefully lied to consumers, telling them the coffee was "grown without chemicals", later admitting laughingly that she actually had no idea.