THE QUESTION:

Dear Alexandra,

I have a quick, but perhaps complicated question about coffee for you.  Every morning I have at least a cup.  It hadn’t really occurred to me until recently that my coffee habit could have environmental repercussions.  So, what coffee should I be drinking?

Thanks,

Cynthia

THE ANSWER:

What a great question and oh so appropriate considering September 29th (today!) is National Coffee Day (as if every day isn’t national coffee day in my apartment). The answer is a little complicated and a bit controversial.  Chances are you live in the United States, very very far away from any coffee plantations. This presents a problem for the most hardcore locavores (cough) whose diet consists of only local foods.  For the rest of us who are reluctant to give up our morning mug, there are options, which I explain in The Conscious Kitchen.

I’d like to state for the record that while I am a hardcore locavore, I literally do not put a toe on the floor in the morning without my coffee. I know this sounds bad. If you’re tempted to judge me, I suggest you try writing three books in as many years with no nanny and a small person in the house! I did give coffee up for years–when I was pregnant and breastfeeding–so I know I can do it. I just prefer not to.

But enough about me! The excerpts:

“The key thing with coffee is to source it carefully, especially since by some estimates it is the second most widely traded global commodity after oil.  Think of the eco-repercussions of drinking the worst-farmed beans, 365 days a year.  When it comes to coffee, the best brew goes beyond just choosing organic or sustainable beans for personal and environmental health.”

“To ensure that the workers growing your coffee are being treated right, look for fair-trade certification (TransFairUSA.org) on your bag of beans.  This, they say, takes into account fair prices, labor conditions, direct trade, democratic and transparent organizations, community development, as well as environmental sustainability – the last of which is especially crucial for the rainforests, where a great deal of coffee is grown.  Fair Trade Certified products tend to come from small producers on small farms that belong to larger cooperatives.”

“Coffee traditionally grows in shade, under a natural canopy that’s home to many birds.  According to Sierra magazine, low-quality coffee can be grown more easily and cheaply in full sun, ‘but only with extensive use of pesticides.’  The Rainforest Alliance certification label covers both worker treatment and birds (Rainforest-Alliance.org).”

“Coffee and fair-trade fanatics can compare and contrast these certifications at length, but keep in mind that choosing either over conventional coffee is key.”

Most importantly, if you buy consciously, you’ll have a better tasting brew.  Canned conventional coffee is probably a nasty mix of downed twigs, dust, and floor sweepings according to Treehugger.com.

And remember to always bring your own mug, use reusable or unbleached filters, compost your grounds, and doctor it with organic/local milk and fair trade sugar.

Happy National Coffee Day everyone!  I think I’ll have two cups to celebrate. Cheers!