Organic Certification and Green Coffee

When we have certified organic coffees they have “organic” or “FTO” (fair trade and organic) in the coffee’s name. You can view our current organic offerings here

Much of the coffee we source is grown without fertilizer or pesticide or fungicide. We know this because we travel to origin and we see the farming practices personally. Certified organic coffee, however, is a different matter. While there are many cases where organic certificates benefit farmer groups, we’ve probably seen as many cases where it doesn’t. Certifications are not a guarantee of stewardship of the land. 

Specialty coffee of the arabica variety (what we sell through Sweet Maria’s) is generally traditionally grown – so sparse use of pesticides, if any.  It is the robusta variety coffee grown in the mega-agri-business coffee areas like Brazil, Vietnam, and China that are more worrisome. 

A lot of coffee farmers in Ethiopia and Yemen are essentially organic simply because the farmers are too poor to afford pesticides, but on the other hand, they also can’t afford the official organic certification. Kenya is a different story – while still not mega-agribusiness style farms, they do use pesticides and other more western methods of pest and weed control and so it is rare to find an organic Kenyan. Most Central and South American coffee farms will use some fungicides due to Roya, the coffee rust disease, but such use is targeted and occurs long before any fruit begins to grow on the tree. 

In terms of how much pesticide reaches the cup – we think roasting, grinding and brewing could eliminate almost all traces of pesticide.  It’s much more likely you could be exposed to pesticides via fresh produce like beans or tomatoes if those are not organic. We don’t want to minimize the importance of organic farming – it is a real concern for the health of the farm workers and the environment of the farms, but certification isn’t necessarily the best way to identify good farming practices.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for your comments here about organic coffees.
    What you say about certification not necessarily being the best way to identify good farming practices makes sense given the stringency and potential cost of the certification process to growers.
    I want to buy my coffee from growers that care most about ecological concerns, who love the plants and animals that, hopefully, thrive on their lands. My favorite coffees come from Guatemala, from Central/South America. Are there any growers in particular you offer green beans from who prioritize my concerns? Thank you, Jon

    1. Hi Jon,

      I think it’s safe to say that most of the coffee farmers we buy from directly are small-scale, and not using chemical pesticides, or herbicides like Round Up on their crops. These are implements you’d likely see at the large scale estates, who have more resources at their disposal. Small producers we buy from in Colombia and Guatemala for example are mostly using organic inputs like recycled coffee pulp for fertilizer, and reserving treatments such as fungicides, calcium, etc for shrubs with leaf rust, and other types of fungus that affect the health of the plant. But that is very localized, and should have minimal impact on the ecosystem.

      Off the top of my head, most non-certified organics will include most Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, and Flores coffees. Small farmer projects we have in Guatemala (Huehuetenango/Xinabajul for example), Colombia, and Peru come to mind for Latin American coffees that use low to no synthetic inputs.

      In all cases, you’re just not going to see indiscriminate spraying like you do in high value crops such as leafy greens, passion fruits, etc. Coffee just doesn’t have the same return to offset such costs for the small farmer.

      I hope this helps!


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