Millions of people drink organic coffee on a daily basis for all sorts of reasons: it tastes better, it's a more healthful beverage than non-organic, it helps the environment, it supports the economies of those who grow it, and more.
While those are certainly persuasive reasons, many coffee drinkers wonder whether the commonly stated advantages of organic coffee are fact or fiction. What are the actual differences between the two? Are all organic coffees “good” and all non-organic varieties “bad”? Understanding how coffee obtains organic certification and what it actual means will help you better appreciate your morning cup of organic coffee.
One commonly accepted definition of “organic coffee” is this: It is coffee grown without the use of any artificial chemicals, which primarily show up in herbicides, additives and pesticides.
The standard definition is a bit too simplified, however. There's more to obtaining organic certification than that bare-bones description. For one thing, all fertilizers used in the growing process must be organic, and contain no synthetic chemicals. In many cases, a grower must not use any of the restricted chemicals on farmland for three years before harvesting a coffee crop from it.
After harvest, another set of rules comes into play for coffee that will eventually gain “organic” certification. While post-production rules issued by Organic Food Production Act of 1990 are not as stringent as the pre-harvest regulations, certain standards need to be met with regard to
processing and treatment of the beans. All in all, certified organic coffee is grown on land that is relatively chemical-free and not tainted by artificial chemicals in processing after harvest.
Myths and Facts about Organic Coffee
Myth: Organic coffee is subject to the same certification rules in every nation.
Fact: There are many sets of rules. In the U.S., one of the world's largest consumer markets for coffee, “organic certification” means three things: farmers use no synthetic substances for 3 years prior to harvest, growers utilize full-scale crop rotation to maintain the health of the soil, and a “buffer zone” exists between the coffee crop and any nearby non-organic crops.
Myth: If a coffee is not organic certified, then it contains synthetic chemicals and pesticides.
Fact: There are plenty of coffee growers who just don't bother to get certification, but produce chemical-free, organic coffee anyway.
Myth: All organic coffees taste better, and are of a higher quality, than non-organic coffees.
Fact: Taste is subjective, and many consumers can't tell the difference between the two. However, most organic coffee does tend to be of better quality than mass-produced, conventional products. Theoretically it is possible to find a low-quality organic coffee. And in point of fact, there are some very high-quality non-organic brews on the market.
Differences between Organic and Non-organic Coffee
Most certified organic coffee must be processed, ground and roasted on machinery that is not “contaminated” by non-organic coffees. If the same equipment is used for both, it must be completely cleaned between processes to make sure no synthetic chemicals “bleed” into the organic product.
Overall, organic coffee beans are cleaner, offer a richer taste and are grown in a more natural environment. Mass-produced, conventional coffee beans are usually grown in the sun and call for hefty doses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, both of which can affect taste. Whether your coffee is organic or not, it's well documented that coffee has many health benefits. But due to the manner in which organic coffee is grown and produced, it should come as no surprise that organic coffee tends to confer greater health benefits than it's non-organic couterpart.
More than 12 billion pounds of coffee is grown and harvested each year, making the dark, warm beverage one of the most economically important crops on earth. While strict definitions of “organic” vary from place to place, it is safe to say that the cleaner, more natural drink that comes from organic coffee is more healthful, tastes better, and helps maintain a sounder natural environment. Like it's non-organic counterpart, organic coffee is available in the most popular delivery forms including k-cups, single serve coffee pods, and whole beans.