Eco-Friendly and Ethical Coffee

While sipping your first cup of coffee in the morning, do you ever think about its environmental and social impact? I didn’t, but I do now.

While researching and writing about eco-friendly and ethical chocolate a few months ago, I learned that cacao and coffee growers often face similar issues like poverty and land degradation.

Everything we grow, make, and use has an environmental impact. This video provides a short overview of coffee’s environmental impact.

For those of us who are coffee drinkers, like my spouse and I, we can and should buy coffee from environmentally and socially responsible companies and look for ways to green our coffee drinking practices.

7 Ways to Green your Coffee Drinking

Purchase Eco-friendly Grown and Ethically Sourced Coffee

Some coffee brands focus more on environmental aspects of coffee growing and others on social responsibility. Fortunately, what is good for the land is usually good for the people who farm it. For instance, eliminating pesticides promotes healthy ecosystems and people. Intercropping coffee trees with other crops such as peppers, bananas, and avocados increases biodiversity and provides additional income for coffee farmers.

Bird-Friendly, Rainforest Alliance, and USDA Organic are a few certifications available for coffee that meets specific environmental and sometimes social requirements. Fairtrade and Fair Trade USA promote trade equity for coffee growers.

Brew your Own Coffee

Author's Reusable Mesh Coffee Filter and Coffee Bean GrinderBrew coffee at home and skip the waste generated by take-out coffee—plastic lined, non-recyclable, non-compostable single-use cups, cardboard cup sleeves, plastic lids and stirrers, creamer and sugar packets, and paper napkins.

Give yourself extra credit if you brew with a reusable mesh filter basket instead of a paper filter.

Don’t use Bottled Water

Water is an important component of coffee taste. Don’t like the taste of your tap water? There are many easy and often inexpensive ways to filter water so just say no bottled water (forever).

Black is Best

Drinking coffee black is the most eco-friendly option. Stirring 1 tablespoon of cream into a cup of coffee increases its carbon footprint by 250% and adds 20 calories (sugar adds 49 calories). Although non-dairy creamers and artificial sweeteners may contain fewer calories, they are highly processed food-like substances so are not low carbon options. I am a non-dairy creamer user so need to work on this one.

Author's Coffee Thermos and Porcelain Reusable Coffee CupThermoses are not just for Construction Workers

After the coffee is brewed instead of leaving the coffee maker warming plate on, pour the coffee in a thermos to keep it warm for future refills. Or brew with a coffee machine that uses a thermal carafe. A thermos is an easy and inexpensive way to take coffee to work.

Reusable Cups and Travel Mugs

Author's Reusable Travel MugsWhether at home, on the move, or at the office, use a reusable cup or travel mug. If you go to a coffeehouse and plan to hang out to drink your coffee, ask for a washable cup. Want your coffee to go? Patronize a coffeehouse that gives away or sells reusable travel mugs for customers to bring back for refills, or better yet, one that allows customers to bring their own reusable mugs and gives discounts to those who do.

Compost Coffee Grounds

Collect and compost coffee grounds, and coffee filters if you use them. Don’t have a composter? Sprinkle coffee grounds around your garden—the plants will appreciate the nitrogen and their granular texture deters slimy insects.


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Coffee — Trivia & History

Green, Roasted, Ground, and Instant CoffeeThe history of coffee is filled with legend, intrigue, innovation, and interesting bits of trivia.

While researching coffee brands for my spouse and me to try in our quest to find one that is environmentally friendly, socially responsible, tastes good, and reasonably priced, I found myself pondering coffee in general and broadening my research. This, in turn, led to a series of posts about coffee, of which this is the first.

Coffee Trivia

  • Coffee beans are the seeds of coffee cherries which grow on trees that can reach 30 feet in height and live for 60 to 70 years.
  • It takes approximately 2,000 coffee cherries, the harvest of one tree, to produce one to two pounds of roasted coffee.
  • Some people believe the word “coffee” is derived from Kaffa, a region in Ethiopia, others that it comes from the Arabic qawah or Turkish kahve.
  • Coffee Tree CherriesCoffee is the 2nd most traded commodity on earth, oil is the first.
  • Hawaii is the only U.S. state that grows coffee.
  • The retail value of the U.S. coffee market is estimated at $30-32 billion dollars of which specialty coffees make up about 50% of the dollar value.
  • Coffee was the first food to be freeze-dried.
  • Arabica, Java, and Mocha coffee varieties are named after their ports of origin.
  • Light roast coffee contains more caffeine than dark roast.
  • Coffee contains antioxidants which help prevent cell damage.
  • A sack of coffee weighs about 132 pounds and contains over 600,000 beans.
  • Possibly the first use of a webcam was in 1991 when Cambridge University researchers rigged one to monitor the coffee pot level in a distant break room.

Coffee History – A Few Highlights

 "Bean Belt" - Coffee Growing Regions of the WorldThe coffee tree is said to have originated in Ethiopia and eventually spread around the globe forming a “bean belt” roughly bounded by the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, 23.5° latitude north and south of the equator respectively.

  • 0850 – Legend has it that Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder, noticed his goats become lively after eating red berries from a certain type of tree. He tries them himself with a similar effect.
  • 1100 – Arab traders transport coffee from Ethiopia across the Red Sea to Yemen and cultivate it on plantations for the first time.
  • 1475 – Coffeehouses open in Constantinople and become known for their political debates, thus initiating the tradition of coffeehouses as gathering places for animated discussions.
  • 1570 – Coffee drinking arrives in Venice and begins spreading across Europe.
  • 1668 – Edward Lloyd opens the first London coffee house which eventually morphs into the insurance company Lloyd’s of London.
  • Coffee Tree Plantation1718 – The Dutch begin the spread of coffee growing in Central and South American by planting trees at Surinam colony in northern South America.
  • 1723 – French naval officer, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, plants a coffee tree cutting on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean.
  • 1817 – During King Kamehameha’s reign, coffee cultivation is brought to Hawaii from Brazil by Don Francisco de Paula Marin.
  • 1864 – New York inventor, Jabez Burns, patents the first coffee roaster that did not need to be moved away from the fire to retrieve the beans.
  • 1903 – Ludwig Roselius and Karl Wimmer discover a way to remove caffeine from coffee beans.
  • 1908 – German housewife, Melitta Bentz patents the first paper coffee filter.
  • 1972 – The first automatic-drip coffee maker for home use, Mr. Coffee®, is introduced by Ohio businessmen Vincent Marotta Sr. and Samuel Glazer.
  • 1987 – Howard Schultz buys Starbucks and embarks on an expansion program to build a Starbucks on every corner.
  • 1998 – Keurig patents the K-Cup, a capsule containing one serving of ground coffee and a filter, which fits in their single-serve coffee brewing machine.
  • 2012Brazil is the world’s leading coffee producer, followed by Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia, and Ethiopia.