After crude oil coffee is the world’s most commonly traded commodity, and tea is the world’s most consumed beverage after water. Making an “eco-correct” purchase of these mainstays of the American diet, however, can be complicated.
There are several categories for coffee. “Fair Trade” applies to coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, handicrafts that are produced in a way which ensures living wages and safe working conditions for farmers, promotes sustainability and usually includes rigorous environmental standards. “Shade Grown” coffee refers to the traditional method where coffee beans grow in shade and mature slowly, creating richer flavors. Coffee farmers were encouraged to replace shade grown coffee with sun cultivation in order to increase yield. To do this, over 2.5 million acres of forests in Central America were destroyed, which caused an immediate loss in biodiversity, both in the many types of trees and plants that were eliminated and the animals that depended on them. When I visited Brazil, we saw sun cultivated coffee plantations everywhere and were told that 95% of the Atlantic rainforest has been destroyed. Coffee and tea with the organic certification are ecofriendly, grown without toxic chemicals, thus sparing workers from exposure to the harmful pesticides and herbicides. They are also harvested in a way that protects the environment.
In summary, most fair trade coffee is also shade grown and organic. Otherwise, you choose which of the certifications is the most important to you and buy accordingly. Fortunately, you can now buy coffee and tea with these green certifications at most grocery stores, Starbucks, Peets Coffee and Dunkin Donuts.
One more tip, coffee grounds and tea leaves make outstanding compost!