Organic vs. Non-Organic Coffee
When organic produce first started gaining prominence some years ago, organic vs non-organic coffee wasn’t a key topic for discussion. However, once the initial general debates about health, the environment, and taste led to individual products, coffee beans, and the resulting coffee, were also examined in this context.
Discerning java lovers understand and appreciate the nuanced differences from one type of brew to another. In case you were wondering, yes, whether coffee is organic or non-organic can influence some of those variations.
While one isn’t necessarily better than the other, there are some very significant distinctions in how each type is grown.
What Is Organic Coffee?
A lot that goes into classifying coffee beans as organic. In order to use the “organic” label, coffee must meet several criteria. First and foremost, it must be grown without using chemical-based fertilizers or pesticides and without genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
According to the USDA, there are some exceptions, but for the most part, a farm must avoid man-made chemical farm products for three consecutive years. These standards are created by the National Organic Program, and meeting these standards is what makes coffee organic.
Farms must be inspected yearly for verification that their products are indeed organic, plus, every step of the farming process must be documented through record-keeping.
Similarities and Differences Between Organic and Non-Organic Coffee
The vast majority of commercial java is non-organic. Coffee demand is high throughout the world, and farmers understandably feel pressured to do whatever they can to increase their yields. Comparing expenses in organic coffee vs non-organic makes it easy to see those differences; earning organic certification requires extra time, money, and expertise.
Keeping costs down to maximize profits is the name of the game. Farming organically is significantly more expensive, which is one reason why the organic coffee market is much smaller than the market for conventional coffee. In addition, most coffee farms are located within so-called developing nations, where farmers may not have the resources to support organic farming.
Organic and non-organic coffee requires very different growth environments. Coffee’s natural preferred growing areas are shaded with diverse ecosystems. However, those areas also make tending and harvesting plants more difficult. For that reason, non-organic coffee plants have been bred to grow better in open, sunny, and warm areas. This hybrid of coffee also ripens sooner, allowing for faster production.
On the other hand, organic coffee still prefers shaded areas, which host other wild plants and animals. These wild plants help keep the soil healthy, while animals take care of pests. Coffee grown in shaded areas takes longer to ripen, though, which is another reason that organic coffee production is lower than non-organic. Because the land remains closer to its natural state, these farms are better equipped to adapt to changes with weather.
Pesticides and Herbicides in Non-organic Coffee
Land is often cleared in large swaths for non-organic coffee farming, which leads to a less diverse ecosystem. The unintended knock-on effect is the elimination of natural fertilizers and pests’ natural predators. So the process of growing non-organic java requires fumigation to eliminate fungicides, chemical fertilizer to return nutrients to the soil, and pesticides to protect the coffee plants from damage.
Organic coffee farms rely on natural fertilizer, such as compost, manure, or even pulp from coffee plants. Animals eat weeds that might interfere with plant growth, or weeds might be pulled by hand. However, farmlands for organic coffee are much smaller than those used to grow conventional java, so organic farms simply can’t produce as much.
As I mentioned earlier, certain synthetic substances and chemicals may be allowed for organic farm use. However, the list is small and these can only be used after natural means have proven ineffective. These coffee pesticides must not contaminate plants, soil, or area water.
Generally, organic coffee costs more than conventional coffee. The reality is that organic farming can entail more costs but lower production than non-organic farming. Another issue that affects price is the simple law of supply and demand; a key reason why organic coffee makes up a very small percentage of the coffee market.
It’s also one reason there aren’t as many choices in the organic coffee field. Conventional coffee offers every imaginable roast and blend, while the selection is much narrower for organic java.
Reasons to Use Organic Coffee
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks worldwide, and most consumption is of the conventional, non-organic version. However, there are some strong reasons to consider going down the organic route instead.
Health: Is Organic Coffee Better?
The jury is still out on whether organic java has more nutrients than conventional coffee. Although some studies have shown that organic coffee has more antioxidants, further research is needed. However, there’s no question that non-organic coffee is exposed to significantly more chemicals and pesticides than its organic counterpart.
While those chemicals may not make it all the way through the harvesting and roasting processes and actually be consumed, they do impact workers who handle coffee plants and beans. Many of those chemicals can be dangerous for workers to come in contact with, particularly in countries with less stringent standards.
Organic coffee farms are much more environmentally friendly than conventional coffee farms. Not only do these farms try to maintain land as it is, rather than change it, but they don’t rely on synthetic chemicals to grow crops.
Non-organic coffee farms develop a cycle that damages the land and its ecosystem. First, land is cleared of trees to create sunny areas where conventional coffee plants will thrive. This disrupts the ecosystem including the organisms supported by the natural vegetation.
Once land has been cleared, it no longer has trees or vegetation to hold the soil in place. Rain will lead to water runoff, which results in soil erosion. When chemicals are used, their residue also washes away with water runoff and ends up contaminating local water supplies. This can be particularly harmful if it’s a place which relies on well water.
On the other hand, because of the shaded areas that organic coffee plants prefer, those farms actually have a smaller carbon footprint than conventional coffee farms. Diverse ecosystems can remain in place, with much less disruption.
Taste, as we all know, is subjective. Many java connoisseurs swear organic coffee tastes better than the non-organic version. However, it’s very difficult to prove without conducting blind taste tests for virtually every flavor and blend of coffee. In other words, it’s not going to happen, so only anecdotal stories can be considered here.
With that said, organic coffee does taste different from conventional coffee. Why? Because the plants and growing conditions are very different, even minor changes within the environment can affect the resulting taste from coffee beans. Their flavor profiles are naturally going to stand apart from each other.
Organic vs Non-Organic Coffee: Which One Is Better?
It’s pretty clear which one wins the organic coffee vs regular coffee debate over the long-term. While it does cost more than its non-organic counterpart, organic coffee’s positive environmental effects can’t be ignored. Organic coffee is much less damaging to the environment, plus its lack of man-made chemicals make it safer for workers who handle the plants and coffee beans.
However, there are considerably more selections available with conventional coffee, and ultimately, that’s what drives the market. It’s a reasonable expectation that choices with organic java will continue to expand, though.
Organic Certification: Other Factors
Organic is not the be-all and end-all for labeling top-shelf java. As an example, a coffee farm may be certified organic, but the roaster may not be. For that matter, coffee that lacks an organic label could be considered organic, but it just hasn’t earned a certification because of the extra expenses involved with inspections and record-keeping.
Small farms with less than $5,000 in gross sales per year can label their own products organic, without the certification process. If you’re set on drinking organic coffee, you may want to do your own research to verify that it’s actually organic.
Benefits From All Coffee Types
Organic or not, all java offers some health benefits over other beverages. According to Healthline, drinking coffee can improve your energy levels, reduce your appetite while helping your body burn fat, and may lower your risk for certain diseases. It also contains vitamins and antioxidants, both of which are important in protecting your body from disease and illness.
If you’re asking, “should I buy organic coffee?” because you’re concerned about not getting all the benefits with conventional coffee, rest easy. All coffee has some benefit!
The market for organic coffee has grown considerably and is expected to continue showing strong growth. While organic java choices are still fairly limited, as its popularity increases, it’s almost certain a bigger selection will develop.
Organic coffee is better for the environment as it doesn’t significantly change the ecosystem as non-organic coffee farms do. Organic coffee is also safer for those workers who must handle the plants and beans, as any use of synthetic chemicals with organic farming is quite limited.
Unfortunately, cost can still be a factor with organic java. An organic farm is more expensive than non-organic, with less coffee to harvest, so those costs are passed along to consumers.
What’s your preference with organic vs conventional coffee and does one taste better than the other? Ask your friends and don’t forget to share this article!
Organic vs Non-Organic Coffee FAQs
Does Organic Coffee Taste Better?
At this time, there’s no evidence that organic java tastes better than its non-organic counterpart, and we are not aware of any official taste testing studies. However, some coffee lovers do insist organic tastes better.
Is Organic Food Actually Healthier?
There’s not much definitive evidence, but organic food may contain somewhat higher amounts of certain antioxidants and vitamins. It definitely has less exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, which is certainly safer for consumption. When it comes to organic coffee being healthier, the jury is still out but early studies support show support for this claim.
Is Organic Coffee Chemical Free?
Not necessarily. There are some chemicals, mostly natural, which can be used in organic farming. However, far fewer chemicals are used than with conventional farms.
How Can You Tell If Coffee Is Organic?
Check its packaging! Organic coffee will have an identifying label that certifies it as organic on the package. Don’t get it confused with a “natural” label.
Is Conventional Coffee Bad for You?
Java, whether organic or not, has many health benefits, such as reducing your risk for certain diseases. Organic coffee has less exposure to man-made chemicals, but all coffee is good for you in moderation!