Let's talk organic coffee. We get asked A LOT if our coffee is organic, and so I want to share some things I've learned along the way and the subsequent approach I've adopted when coffee buying.
Organic coffee is simply coffee that has had no non-organic material added to it (fertilizer, pesticide, pre-emergent herbicide). If it really was just that simple, it would actually be a great thing! The idea of having a clean coffee plant, free of harsh chemicals sounds great. But not so fast. As everyone knows, a non-organic apple is generally cheaper than an organic apple. This is 1) because people are used to paying more for organic produce and so companies charge more, 2) because it actually costs quite a bit more to keep an organic plant healthy, and 3) organic plants tend to have a smaller yield than non-organic.
In coffee, the cost is usually, but not always, reflected in the per pound price because most people in the chain of coffee buying (you and me included) are at the mercy of the greater coffee market. So that's the baseline understanding of organic coffee. At this point in our thought process, it just seems to be a difficult but probably good choice for a farmer to be "organic".
The other part of this is the label. The label actually costs money. I guess I get it, I mean there has to be a standard to be considered "organic" and therefore there must be standard checkers to make sure the standards are being followed....and yes, I guess that bureaucracy should get to skim some money off the top, BUT this can be a big hurdle to small farmers. Even a low cost inspection can seem not worth it when business finances are tight!
The final and most compelling reason for me to not worry too much about the label is the fact that it requires a 3 year track record of organic before you can actually say that you're organic. So imagine Wilder Garcia--the farmer from this month's Playground coffee whose coffee is organic. Here's an actual picture of him to help:
Now imagine that there is an outbreak of Coffee Leaf Rust, a real epidemic problem for coffee farmers, that begins to overtake his farm. He then has to choose, do I save my farm and survive in business or do I maintain my organic status and proudly hang an organic badge around my now non-existent coffee enterprise? Obviously, he saves the farm. Then he resumes his organic practices. However, because of that one life or death decision, he is now non-organic for 3 years no matter what his agricultural practices are.
So when I see a good coffee and it isn't labeled as organic, I can think of many good reasons why it wouldn't have the label and still be a wonderfully viable option for me to buy. The farmers from which Tag buys coffee trust me to roast the coffee carefully, not to add weird flavorings, and to present the fruit of their labor as faithfully as I can. Therefore, my philosophy is to buy from reputable importers that use honest, good practices and to buy on the basis of taste, not labels. The proof is in the cup.
I have a garden, I'm pro organic, but if I have to choose an organic garden or saving the garden (which I haven't had to do this year), then you better believe I'm going scorched earth to save my tomatoes and strawberries. I don't want to punish farmers who are faced with the same choice.
Levi Hartsfield // Roaster & Co-Founder
Photos courtesy of Wilder Garcia's Instagram @cafe_wildergarcia
This was a really helpful insight into organic farming, and it makes so much more sense now as to why it’s so difficult for farmers.