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Organic Coffee

I'm sure you've noticed that the last couple trips down to the local coffee shop or to the supermarket, you've seen some coffee products that have advertised itself as 100% organically grown.  Although the term organic has a nice ring to it and organic farming techniques generally produce better tasting products, what exactly is organic coffee?  The answer is a bit complicated, as organic coffee touches on a number of issues.

The rise in the popularity of organic coffee has been a direct response to the changes in the international coffee trade.  As coffee is one of the three most traded commodities in the world, coffee production is big business.  However, as many coffee lovers have surely noticed, the cost of coffee hasn't really risen in this period.  As a result, traditional coffee farming methods have been reshaped in ways that causes damage to the natural environment.  Additionally, many smaller coffee farmers have been forced to either change their techniques or lose their farms due to the lowering profits brought in by coffee.  This has created a new type of coffee that is growing in popularity and is closely aligned to the organic coffee movement: fair trade coffee.

Organic coffee refers to coffee production using organic farming methods.  Some of the principles involved in organic farming including the avoidance of synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in farming.  Additionally, organic coffee growers follow the principles of sustainable agriculture that places an emphasis on soil health that results in healthier food.  Due to the changing nature of the coffee trade, coffee production has moved from traditional coffee growing methods to modern methods that has negative consequences on the environment.

One of the most fundamental principals of organic coffee growing is the use of shade trees.  Traditional methods of coffee growing involved inter-planting coffee with shade trees, composting, and eliminating harmful chemicals.  These principals were used in the Yemeni port city of Mocha, which continues to use these methods and produce one of the most highly desired and tasty gourmet coffees today.  However, due to the difficulty of coffee growing and the lowering profit in the coffee trade for coffee farmers, many coffee growers have began to grow coffee in full sun fields.  The reason for this change is strictly economic, as this method results in the growth of more coffee beans at a lower price.  Many traditional coffee growers have been forced to make this switch of coffee growing due to declining profits.

Organic coffee, however, is not grown in full sun fields.  The reason is that this method of coffee growing has a number of serious environmental effects.  One of these problems involves birds that visit America during the summer months but migrate annually to and from Latin America in the other parts of the year.  The habitat of these birds in Latin America has become increasingly converted to sun-grown coffee plantations that have resulted in a loss of forest habitation.  This has resulted in the shrinking migratory songbird population in the world and is a problem that the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and other environmental groups have been trying to rectify.

Additionally, the use of full sun coffee plantations has led to the deforestation of traditional coffee plantations in Central America and Mexico.  As one of the leading coffee growing areas in the world, these parts of the world have already suffered major losses of tropical forests.  With the increasing use of full sun coffee plantations, further deforestation is placing Central America and Mexico in further environmental danger.  Another consequence of deforestation that has been driven by the deforestation of shade grown coffee plantations is that it has increased the use of powerful pesticides.  Considering that when trees are cleared, natural predators that have kept insects in check are no longer present, farmers are increasingly have to rely on pesticides that harms the wildlife, themselves, and the taste of coffee that is grown in these areas.

Organic coffee is produced in conditions that are conducive to the environment that many feel actually results in a better tasting cup of coffee.  Specialty coffee and gourmet coffee like Kona, Mocha, and Java are produced in organic coffee growing conditions.  Although there are only two predominant types of coffee plants, the characteristics of coffee are highly dependent on the specific conditions in which the coffee plant is growing.  The quality of soil and the elevation of the coffee growing area will determine the quality of the coffee bean that is grown.  The traditional growing methods used for organic coffee promotes the use of shade trees and the mixing of coffee crops with other food crops.  These practices result in a healthier soil that prevents water contamination and provides a home for migratory birds.  Additionally, the absence of pesticides results in a cup of coffee that is healthier to drink.

As coffee lovers learn more about the specific conditions of coffee growing, they are becoming increasingly attracted to organic coffee products.  Shade grown coffee has traditionally made the best gourmet coffee drinks and everybody wants to leave the environment in a better state than it has been.  To help out, it is recommended that you purchase some certified organic coffee products.  Not only will you be doing something for the environment, you will be feeding your social conscience … with a delicious cup of organic coffee that just tastes great!