We have all seen the word “organic” printed on just about every type of product out there. But what does organic coffee mean? In some cases it is important, but in others, it is simply used as a buzzword to make people think that they are buying something of higher quality. The fact that something is organic does not mean it is healthier or a better product.
The simple fact that it is organic coffee, does not mean that it tastes better. Nor does that mean it is specialty coffee. There is actually a 100 point scale that determines whether or not coffee is special. Some factors that go into this rating include; elevation, soil, harvest/processing techniques, roasting, age, storage, water quality.
Also, being organically certified through the USDA is different from labeling something as organic. Basically, if a seller can articulate in their own eyes that their product is organic, they can call it that. For example, this blog post is organic. See what I did there?
When it comes down to the consumer, you, the specialty rating is just a number. It is a subjective value and you should only care about the taste. If you can’t tell the difference between organic and conventional coffee, or are unsure if organic is worth it, keep reading!
Organic Coffee Benefits
Although we understand that some farmers cannot afford the organic coffee label, there are some health benefits to drinking organic coffee. These include better treatment, healthier coffee and less defective.
1. Better Treatment
For starters, an organic coffee bean is typically treated better and more carefully than coffee beans grown with dangerous chemicals. Chances are, if a farmer is willing to go the extra mile by becoming certified organic, the beans will be carefully milled, washed and shipped out (usually in Grain Pro bags to preserve freshness).
2. Healthier Coffee
An organic coffee bean will not contain harmful chemicals which will prevent the consumer (you) from putting those chemicals into your body. Although organic coffee isn't healthier in terms of calories consumed, your body and brain will thank you for choosing the healthier, chemical free option.
3. Less Defects
Since organic coffee is typically sold for a greater amount, it'll typically have less defects which alone equals a higher quality bean. When we say there are less defects, it's not because of a lack of chemicals, it's actually because of how closely vetted these coffee beans are. Defects like disease, mold and insects will be less likely as the coffee will cost more and be more thoroughly inspected.
USDA Organic Certified
Now that we know the difference. What makes coffee USDA certified organic and does it matter?
For a coffee producer to be certified organic under the National Organic Program of the US standards, it must meet several requirements such as; no use of prohibited substances on the lands where it was produced for three years (most pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers), crop rotation plan to prevent soil erosion, farmers must annually pay for their organically certified certificate (most farmers cannot afford this).
Those are just some of the requirements on the farmer’s end. Additionally, each processing plant, exporter, importer and company must complete their organic certified plan annually which can range from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand.
As you can see, there is a lot of responsibility at every step of this chain of custody, making it difficult to label your beans USDA Organic Certified. Even if all of these factors were met, there remains one huge problem. The roaster, my part!
For a coffee roaster to receive the label, the beans need to be roasted, de-stoned, and packaged separately from any products that are not organic. This means that you would need two separate sets of equipment. Even if I accidentally passed a single coffee bean (non-organic) through a grinder or roaster, I would need to purchase a whole new piece of equipment. At the moment, this is not a financial obligation I can take on as a small batch roastery.
Also, farmers occasionally run into diseases such as coffee rust where they are forced to use chemicals to keep their crops, and ultimately their way of life alive. It would be a difficult situation to end a healthy partnership with a coffee producer (for at least 3 years) just because they had to overcome an unfortunate situation like this and default to using certain chemicals to keep their production going.
That being said, over 80% of fair trade coffee is organic, whether it has the official label or not. Based on the fact that my coffee is purchased fair trade, it is pretty safe to say that it was organically produced.
Best Organic Coffee
Although we do not pay for the organic certification on our coffee bags, we do offer a few choices that are labeled as organic from our farmers and importers. If you are searching for the best organic coffee, these three options will not disappoint!
As I mentioned earlier, there are some instances where you should be paying the extra amount for the certified organic products such as dairy, fruits and vegetables. Remember though, just because coffee is organic, it does not mean that it tastes better.
When it comes to the coffee industry, the best guarantee of a high quality, healthy cup of coffee is through a small batch, fair trade coffee roastery like Black Ink Coffee Company.
This is because we value honest and open relationships with our producers by documenting every step of the way from how it was grown, to the processing process, all the way to the importation and roast of the beans.
To sum up everything into one line; we do not pay for the USDA Organic Certification because we focus more on paying for higher quality and sustainable products.