Over the last few years, people have become increasingly health-conscious, and we now pay more attention than ever before to what we eat and drink. A popular trend nowadays is to opt for chemical-free organic products – so here’s our guide to the best organic coffee beans.
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What is organic?
Let’s start with the basics – what does “organic coffee” mean?
In the US at least, organic coffee must be certified by the USDA, and to receive this certification, it must be grown in accordance with strict guidelines.
To be certified as organic, coffee must usually be grown without the use of any prescribed artificial herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers – although in some situations certain artificial substances may be used if they are judged to be non-harmful.
The crop must also be grown on land that has been free of these substances for three years. Before the three years is up, crops may be grown there but the land is considered to be “in transition” and the coffee cannot be labeled as organic.
Finally, a buffer zone must also exist between organic crops and non-organic crops. For example, coffee grown immediately adjacent to non-organic coffee trees is also considered non-organic.
Organic Coffee Farm vs. Non-Organic coffee
What are the advantages of organic coffee beans?
There are some specific advantages to buying organic coffee beans; they can be broken down into benefits for the environment, benefits for the farmer, benefits for the community and, of course, benefits for the consumer.
Advantages for the environment
Coffee that is grown organically is more environmentally-friendly in several different ways.
First, since no artificial chemicals are used, organic coffee can help protect local plant and animal life from the harmful effects that come from the use of such chemicals.
Second, organic coffee is often grown in the shade rather than in the sun. Pest control is taken care of by natural predators that live in the surrounding trees, and the canopy also provides a habitat for local birdlife.
Non-organic sun-grown coffee produces a higher yield and the coffee cherries ripen much faster, but this kind of agriculture has resulted in the clearance of vast swathes of forest, causing habitat loss and the extinction of many of the species that previously called the forest their home.
Advantages for the farmer
Many coffee growing countries are developing countries that lack adequate infrastructure, education, and controls. This means that often coffee growers do not have the knowledge or training to handle dangerous chemicals properly.
For example, it has been shown that the majority of coffee farmers in Jamaica show the symptoms of at least one illness related to mishandling artificial chemicals, ranging from minor conditions to the most serious.
By choosing organic coffees, we ensure that the farmers are not exposed to dangerous chemicals and can continue to provide for their families.
Furthermore, even though organic coffee is more labor-intensive to grow, it also fetches a higher price, meaning more money ends up with the farmers – usually the people who need it most.
Advantages for the communities
When coffee plantations are organic, it also helps to keep the local environment clean and the water supply free of harmful chemicals.
It ensures that farmers can provide for their families and also ensures a sustainable coffee industry, providing jobs for the next generation of coffee farmers, without whom there would be no coffee.
Advantages for the consumer
Of course, the end consumer also benefits from a healthier, more natural product. In fact, it is debatable how much of the artificial substances used to grow non-organic coffee actually reaches the final cup, but at least drinkers of organic coffee can have greater peace of mind.
On top of this, by drinking organic coffee, we can also feel assured that we are doing our part to help protect the environment, the farmers and their communities in the sometimes far-off lands where the beans we use to make our favorite drink are grown.
This alone is surely worth paying a slightly higher price each time we reach to make ourselves a brew.
Dry milling vs wet milling
There are currently two milling processes used for the organic coffee bean. The first process is dry milling which involves laying out the beans in the sun for a period of up to four weeks.
The beans are occasionally raked to ensure equal drying and prevent mildew. The second milling method is wet milling. In wet milling, the bean undergoes pulping (the removal of the fruit covering) and it is then washed by mechanical equipment.
After washing, the bean is left to dry. Wet milling is generally seen as better than dry milling because it yields a better quality of the coffee bean. When purchasing organic coffee beans, be sure to check the label to see if the coffee beans were wet milled or dry milled.
How do you choose organic coffee beans?
So, if you have decided you want to buy organic beans, how do you choose? There are two things you need to look at – the certification and the coffee itself.
As we mentioned before, organic coffee in the US is certified by the USDA and you should make sure that the packaging bears the USDA seal. If it doesn’t have the seal, it is not genuine organic coffee, whatever else the packaging may claim.
Along with the USDA organic certification, you may also look for other certifications that tell you your coffee is sustainable and that the farmers who grew it were given a fair deal.
One important certification to look for is Fair Trade. This is more complicated than “organic” since there is more than one organization giving this kind of certification – each with slightly different definitions. However, in general terms, this will guarantee that the farmers were paid a fair wage.
You may also wish to look for “bird-friendly” coffee. This means the coffee has been grown under a canopy of trees that shade the coffee while it grows.
The advantages are twofold. The canopy provides a valuable habitat for birds that would have nowhere to nest on plantations that have been cleared for sun-grown coffee. Shade-grown coffee also ripens more slowly, allowing more complex flavors to develop in the beans.
Organic coffee, just as any other coffee, can have a full range of flavor profiles and characteristics. These can be affected by the altitude at which it was grown and the region as well as the roast level.
Just as with any other coffee, you should pay attention to the flavor profile, the cupping notes, the processing method, the country and region of origin and the roast level to determine whether it is likely to be a coffee that you will enjoy.
The best organic coffee beans on the market of 2019
1. Don Pablo Subtle Earth Organic Gourmet Coffee (Our Top Recommended)
Don Pablo’s Subtle Earth Organic Gourmet Coffee comes from the Marcala region of Honduras. The beans are 100% Arabica and are grown at high altitude. The fruit is pulped and used as fertilizer, and since there are fewer insects at high altitude, no pesticide is required.
These beans are certified as organic and are 100% GMO-free. They produce a coffee with a deep flavor, a velvety body, a low acidity and notes of honey, caramel and cocoa. They are suitable for all brewing methods, including French press, drip machines, pour-over, and espresso machines.
2. Death Wish Organic USDA Certified Whole Bean Coffee
Death Wish Coffee is extremely popular and for a good reason – it claims to be the world’s strongest coffee, delivering a caffeine kick to give you a boost in the morning like no other coffee can. If you need something more than just regular-strength coffee, Death Wish might be worth a look.
The flavor of this coffee is bold yet smooth, and the beans are roasted in small batches to guarantee extra freshness and a superior taste. The beans are certified as Fair Trade, are USDA-certified as organic and are also certified as kosher.
3. Stone Street Coffee Dark Roast Organic Whole Bean Coffee
These organic coffee beans come from the highly-regarded New York-based micro roastery Stone Street. They are a blend of South American and Indonesian beans that are dark-roasted using state-of-the-art equipment to ensure the coffee in your cup is of the highest quality.
The beans are certified as organic and Fair Trade, and the flavor profile is of a robust, bold and full-bodied coffee with a silky mouthfeel and notes of caramel and chocolate. They are suitable for all brewing methods, including drip machines, French press, and espresso machines.
4. Mayorga Organics Cafe Cubano Dark Roast
Café Cubano Dark Roast is Mayorga’s signature blend coffee. The beans are 100% Arabica and are sourced directly from small farms in Latin America. They are certified as organic by the USDA and they are GMO-free and kosher.
This dark roast coffee is described as being smooth with a bold finish. It displays notes of vanilla and a sweet syrupy smokiness. Mayorga Organics was founded on the premise of providing superior-quality coffee while also offering small farmers a fair deal.
Mayorga inspects the farms itself to ensure compliance with the requirements of producing high-quality organic coffee.
5. Mexican Chiapas Organic Coffee
These 100% Arabica beans from the Chiapas coffee growing region of Mexico are among the highest-grown beans in the country. They are certified organic by the USDA and are roasted in a special environmentally-friendly roaster.
They are medium roast and produce a delicious coffee with little bitterness and a mild body. Cupping notes describe a complex mix including hints of brown sugar, cashew nut, and pear.
Mexico might be one or the less well-known origins, but these beans are a great way to sample what the country is capable of producing.
Lots of choices for ecological, healthy coffee beans
As you can see, if you are looking for great-tasting and healthy organic coffee, there are some extremely tasty options out there. Whether you prefer lighter roast beans or a strong dark roast, you are spoilt for choice. The hardest part might just be deciding which one you want to try first.
My name is Kathy Gallo, Editor of Ag Ferrari, a Coffee buff. The guide you find here is designed exactly for you, and it is our hope that you find it not only interesting but also actionable.