by McKenna Ruzga

Most of us understand the benefits of choosing organic foods whenever possible, but does organic actually matter when it comes to your morning cup of coffee? If you consider yourself a "coffee person," you probably have opinions when it comes to pour over vs drip or single origin vs blend, but the process that goes into growing and harvesting the coffee has just as much of an effect on the final product as the brewing technique or the variety of bean. If you're an everyday coffee drinker, you'll consume 20,000+ cups of coffee in your life, so small changes can make a real difference. Here's why organic coffee is the upgrade you didn't know you needed.

Organic vs. Conventional Coffee

Over 10 million pounds of coffee are produced each year around the world. To keep up with that kind of demand, many coffee producers have resorted to farming practices that increase yield and help prevent pests. Makes sense, but unfortunately those practices are often at the expense of the planet and people's health.

Conventional coffee is one of the most chemically treated crops in the world, with some estimates showing every acre of coffee gets treated with 250 pounds of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Studies show most of those pesticides burn off during roasting, but there's no maximum residue limit (MRL) for pesticides on roasted coffee beans in the US, meaning there's no oversight or monitoring for pesticides in conventionally grown coffee. So although you're not exactly drinking a hot cup of organophosphates, the people living in communities where coffee is grown are exposed to these chemicals in high concentrations every single day.

In contrast, organically grown coffee uses no synthetic synthetic fertilizers or chemicals during growing or production. That means cleaner beans, land, and water, more environmentally friendly farming practices, and a tastier cup of coffee.

Why processing matters

Synthetic agricultural chemicals are only one piece of the coffee toxin puzzle. While most of those synthetic chemicals burn off during processing, another issue can arise when coffee producers take shortcuts: mold. This mold can cause the formation of a toxin called ochratoxin a (OTA). Too much OTA can be toxic, with possible side effects like immunosuppression, severe kidney damage, and even a potentially carcinogenic effect

OTA growth can usually be attributed to poor coffee harvest and post-harvest practices like poor drying, re-wetting, and bad storage practices in coffee handling. One study found 50% of coffee beans tested contained OTA, and unlike pesticides, OTA doesn't burn off during typical roasting. Once OTA is present, it's pretty much impossible to get rid of, so it's important to choose coffee that has been dried and handled carefully. 

Health benefits of organic coffee

  1. No synthetic pesticides. As we've already discussed, almost no pesticides typically remain after the roasting process. However, organic certification provides an extra layer of reassurance that you're not brewing up a cup of nasty chemicals. Plus, you're helping protect the health of the farmers and employees handling the coffee, as well as the citizens of communities where the coffee is grown.
  2. More antioxidants. All coffee contains antioxidants that can help prevent conditions like heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and more. Organic coffee grown in nutrient-rich soil rather than chemically depleted soil contains even higher levels of these antioxidants.
  3. Better taste. Okay, so it's not a health benefit exactly and there's no objective measurement, but many people notice a difference in the taste of organic coffee vs. conventional. Organic coffee grown in healthy soil in the shade grows more slowly, which reduces its acidity and often creates a more robust flavor profile. 

While organic coffee growing doesn't prevent OTA contamination, choosing a coffee producer who's transparent about their processes can help. When beans are processed, stored, and transported in dry, safe conditions, the chances for OTA contamination are significantly lower.

Environmental benefits of organic coffee

  1. No synthetic agricultural chemicals. Not only are herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and other chemicals dangerous for the people who work with them, they can also wreak havoc on the environment. Chemical residues from coffee production end up in water, air, and soil which disrupts the surrounding ecosystem and can pollute food and water sources for animals and humans alike.
  2. Less environmental disturbance. Coffee is naturally a shade plant, but growing in dense forests is much more difficult than open fields, so forests are often cleared to make room for growing mass amounts of sun-loving hybrid plants. This not only destroys habitats and releases carbon into the atmosphere, but also creates issues with runoff and soil erosion.
  3. Lower carbon levels. By using natural fertilizers and building healthy soils, organic farmers actually help sequester more carbon from the atmosphere.

Jack Henry Organic Coffee

Our ORGANIC COFFEE is grown and processed the traditional way in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria Mountains in Columbia. The beans are also Fair Trade Certified and Rainforest Alliance Certified, meaning they adhere to standards around sustainability, deforestation, worker rights, fair wages, climate-smart agriculture, and more.

What we refer to as coffee "beans" are actually the seeds of the coffee plant, and they grow within a coffee cherry. Our beans are sun-dried within the cherry (rather than the conventional method of separating the bean from the cherry, washing, then drying). This creates a more complex, full-bodied taste with a hint of sweetness. Finally, they're roasted in small batches here in Oceanside, CA for the highest possible quality.