Thursday, October 8, 2009

Finding a (truly) good cup of coffee

There are few consumables I enjoy as much as good coffee. Curled up in a cosy chair with a steaming cup of espresso is my favourite way to start the day. But don’t be lulled into thinking that coffee is as gentle on the environment as it is on me in the morning.

The environmental impact of coffee is huge and complicated. Coffee comes from far away places so in that respect it has a carbon footprint that’s larger than many things we consume. But there are other ways that coffee can have a negative impact on us, the environment and the distant lands where it’s grown.

Coffee is big business. Canadians consume more than 118 million kilograms of roasted beans each year. That’s about 4.37 kg per person (adults anyway), which is almost 10 pounds of beans a year. I actually consume more than that, so I want to make sure that every cup I drink is as green as possible.

It used to be that most coffee was grown under a canopy of trees using few pesticides and no synthetic fertilizers. Coffee was a crop that actually helped with habitat preservation for migratory birds and other wildlife. But to feed the world’s appetite for coffee many farmers have swapped their traditional farming practices for harsher, higher yield methods – like clear cutting for sun-grown coffee, heavy use of pesticides and a dependence on petroleum-based fertilizers. (This is the coffee you get when you buy the big brands at the grocery store or when you stop by a large chain coffee shop.) As you can imagine this coffee has taken a toll on the environment and on workers’ health. Not to mention the fact that workers often don’t get paid a living wage either.

Brewing coffee from pesticide-laden beans picked by near-slave labour isn’t the way I want to start my day. And you don’t have to either. There is a handful of local shops selling coffee that is good in every sense of the word.

• Just Us! is a brand of coffee carried at both Sobeys and Superstore. Their coffee is organic and fair trade as well, meaning that the coffee farmers get paid a fair wage for their beans. (Fair Trade certified grower cooperatives also encourage more sustainable farming practices, support community development projects and ban the use of the most toxic pesticides. So even if they’re not organic chances are they’re not as bad as regular grocery store coffee). Look for Just Us! in the natural food section.

• Red Whale sells fair trade and organic beans and brewed coffee.

• Java Moose has some organic blends and also buys many of their beans directly from growers, so while it isn’t fair trade certified the farmers do get a fair price for their beans because there is no middle man.

• Bikes and Beans has great coffee too, some of it organic, some fair trade and some farmer-direct.

• Starbucks sells fair trade coffee and occasionally has organic blends.

Whether you brew your own at home or stop by a coffee shop to grab your morning fix (or both), it can be easy to enjoy a greener coffee. Don’t forget to bring your own cup.

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