Morning Coffee
Daily Environment Repost Urban Environmentalist

Morning coffee and the environment

Environmental protection starts at home. So, have a think about that cup of morning joe. Like many people, I am not ready to sacrifice my morning coffee. Since knowledge is power, a better understanding of the environmental impact of a cup of coffee might provide guidance on how to make it more environmentally friendly. 

The economic pathway that brings coffee to me each morning starts on the farm. Growing good coffee beans is step one in producing a quality cup of coffee. The two main types of coffee commercially produced in today’s market are Arabica coffee and Robusta coffee. Arabica coffee accounts for about 80% of the coffee on the market, because it is considered by many to have a superior taste to the Robusta beans. 

Traditional methods of farming grow the Arabica plants beneath a canopy of taller trees, thus producing shade-grown coffee beans. But high world-wide demand for coffee drives many farmers away from the shade and into the sun.  Full sun production allows for a higher density of coffee plants and therefore it increases productivity and profits. 

However, those profits come at an environmental cost. Sun-grown coffee creates a low-diversity ecosystem where pests and diseases are more problematic than on shade-grown farms. More pest-control then leads to the use of more pesticides. So, sun-grown coffee has two strikes against it: more chemicals and less diversity in the local ecosystem. It seems that step one in a more environmentally friendly cup of coffee is drinking shade-grown coffee.

How much energy does a cup of coffee require?

There is no question that more than half the energy required for a cup of coffee is expended on the farm long before you have access to the beans. The beans are then roasted in a middle step between the farm and your kitchen, so more energy is expended. The last leg of the energy saga is brewing the magical liquid to perfection. 

Pod systems are convenient, and some of them produce excellent coffee. But their energy footprint is considerable since it requires the processing and packaging of the pods. This packaging requires both excess materials and the energy needed to produce those materials.  Once you have the pod, there is still the need for heating the water and pumping it through the pods for a steaming cup of coffee.

Home percolators are another option for making that morning coffee. They use energy when heating the water, but then most systems continue to heat the flask so that the second cup is warm. The percolator ranks better than pods but still leaves a bit of room for improvement.

The lowest level of energy usage comes from the French press or using a pour-over method. I personally prefer the French press. Energy is needed to bring the water to just under boiling, and then the heat, water, and ground coffee can work their magic. 

Cup and grounds

In the cup/mug category, a reusable mug or cup beats out disposable cups for environmental friendliness. I prefer a large vacuum sealed cup for heat retention. This reusable mug allows me to make a single big cup in the morning and sip on it for the next several hours.

When all is said and done, and you have that perfect cup of coffee in hand, then you can recycle the spent coffee grounds as compost for your garden.

So, to sum it all up, for an environmentally friendly morning coffee, do the following. Put those shade-grown coffee beans in a grinder and then transfer the ground coffee to a French press. Heat your water to just below boiling and pour it in with the grounds. Let the grounds steep in hot water for about five minutes, then press and pour. Don’t forget to throw the used coffee grounds in your garden compost pile.


Sources

How to Reduce The Environmental Impact of Your Coffee Habit (By Perfect Daily Grind) – https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2019/05/how-to-reduce-the-environmental-impact-of-your-coffee-habit/ Also:

Shade-Grown vs Sun-Grown Coffee: Why It Matters (By The Exotic Bean) – https://theexoticbean.com/blog/coffee-types/shade-grown-vs-sun-grown-coffee-matters/ Also:

Feature Image: Coffee at Dad’s Diner  (By: Ruth Hartnup) Modified) –  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coffee_at_Dad%27s_Diner_(8786564351).jpg  –  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. –  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.