Friday 17 January 2020

How can you make your daily hit of coffee more sustainable?

But whether you order a double espresso to go, or French press your own at home, how do you make your daily fix more sustainable?
But whether you order a double espresso to go, or French press your own at home, how do you make your daily fix more sustainable?

Fran Power

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Flat white. Latte. Americano. Cappuccino. Just 10 years ago, you could have been forgiven for thinking these were expensive shades of paint. Not any more.

Once a nation of tea-drinkers, now one in three of us will buy a coffee today and 56pc of us will drink one or more cups a day.

But whether you order a double espresso to go, or French press your own at home, how do you make your daily fix more sustainable?

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The answer, as always, is complicated. And that's without delving into the complex issue of how to dispose of the 22,000 cups we dump every hour in Ireland. That topic is for another day.

Our thirst for coffee is growing at a rate of 5pc a year globally. It's one of the world's biggest commodities but it has been badly hit by climate change.

In Brazil, in 2014, for example, intense drought destroyed one-third of the coffee crop, while, in Columbia, warmer, wetter weather is bringing the blight of coffee leaf rust to higher altitudes than ever and devastating crops.

In eastern Ethiopia, temperatures have already risen by 1.3°C over the past 30 years, and are predicted to hit 3.1°C by 2060.

"Climate change kicks in," says Peter Gaynor, executive director of Fairtrade Ireland, "because coffee grows at a particular height, about 1,300 metres, but with less predictable rainfall, and weather, there are lower yields happening with growers' coffee bushes. And they either have to move or plant more coffee just to stand still."

Our thirst for caffeine has also affected the way the crop is produced. Traditional shade-grown coffee is cultivated under a forest canopy that provides shelter not just for the crop but for a rich wildlife that keeps pests down and helps prevent soil erosion.

To boost yields, farmers have cleared trees for plantations of sun-cultivated coffee, effectively growing a mono crop that requires fertilisers and is more vulnerable to pests, diseases and an erratic climate.

What's a coffee lover to do? Shop wisely is the answer.

Luckily, a new wave of Irish micro-roasteries is making that easier. Places like Imbibe in Dublin 8, or Calendar Coffee in Galway, both available online.

Andrew Willis runs Sligo-based Carrow Coffee Roasters. He buys single origin beans direct from growers in Columbia, Brazil, Guatemala and Ethiopia and supplies shops and cafés that include Mortons in Ranelagh and the Duck Café in Drumcondra.

"All along the chain, there are moments where sustainability can be improved, but perhaps the most important stage, in my opinion, is how coffee is actually grown," says Willis.

Willis knows what he's talking about. He spent four years in Columbia as a commodities journalist for Bloomberg News and would often visit farmers to learn about their growing methods - and the difficulties they faced from the climate crisis.

An organic farmer himself, he is careful to source from sustainable or organic growers such as La Indonesia on the border of Equador where the owner runs reforestation projects, grows crops that promote insects, and uses composting techniques to regenerate the land.

Not only is he growing coffee, says Willis, but he's looking after the quality of his soil and the environment around him.

"We buy the coffee directly from the farmer and we know it's grown without artificial fertilisers and pesticides, and that's good enough for us. Then the consumer has to decide, is it good enough for them?"

The big plus is that the grower receives a good price. Willis says he is paying roughly three times the value of commodity coffee. "I'm very happy to do it because I know it's grown in a certain way, it tastes great. He's getting paid a price that allows him to live with dignity, and a price that allows him to pay his pickers a fair rate."

If online buying is not for you, then look out for the Fairtrade logo. It ensures that farmers receive a fair price. It guarantees a minimum price plus a premium of 20c on every pound of coffee, and so buffers the grower from the volatility of a boom and bust market.

But while Fairtrade has good environmental criteria that cover deforestation, water use and how coffee is processed, there are other certifications such as the Rainforest Alliance that focus more on sustainability. It's found in Ireland on brands such as Grumpy Mule, Badger & Dodo, Lavazza.

Perhaps the best advice to coffee drinkers is to use their pester power. "If you don't see any information on the packet about where the coffee is from, or how it's been grown, then you can start to ask questions," advises Willis.

Irish Independent

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