Organic Coffee Vs Conventional Coffee

You might have heard this buzz phrase while sipping a mocha latte certified organic coffee but what exactly does that mean? And what’s the difference between organic coffee and organic fair trade coffee? Understanding the basics behind the buzz can help you make an informed decision when you buy your next bag of coffee beans.

Organic Coffee Versus Conventional Coffee

What’s the difference between regular coffee and organic coffee? Organic coffee plantations focus on using practices that protect both the environment and the workers who grow, harvest, roast and pack the coffee.

Conventional Coffee Plantations

Conventional coffee plantations use several practices that are not good for either the environment or the workers. Many of the fertilizers and pesticides used by conventional coffee growers have been shown to leach into groundwater supplies, streams and rivers killing off wildlife, causing plants to overgrow and overtake lakes and rivers, and polluting the drinking water supplies used by the locals.

Traditional farming methods involve clearing forest (sometimes rainforests), resulting in lost topsoil and lost forest area. With the lost forest comes displaced birds and wildlife that no longer have places to live, threatening endangered species. Many of the coffee growers still use antiquated chemicals such as DDT. These chemicals endanger the workers, who are exposed to cancer-causing agents as they work with these dangerous chemicals.

Organic Coffee Plantations

Plantations that use organic farming methods refuse to use dangerous chemicals or fertilizers to protect or enhance their crops. They also focus on growing coffee in the shade even though this process takes longer and is more difficult. When you read a label that lists “organic shade grown coffee,” you’re holding a package of coffee that has been grown the way coffee was intended to be grown in the shade of higher vegetation or trees, without the use of chemicals.

Shade-grown coffee is richer in flavor, but it takes longer to grow and is more costly to produce. Shade-grown coffee is also called “bird-friendly” coffee because it protects the habitat needed by many birds. All of these practices protect the workers (who labor to provide for their families) and the environment.

Fair Trade Coffee

Fair trade coffee regulations were created in order to protect human rights for plantation workers. On many conventional coffee plantations, the workers are paid very little and work long hours.

Under the fair trade regulations, coffee farmers are paid a fair trade premium so they will have enough capital to invest in health care, education, fair worker wage and community infrastructure. As a reward for adopting safe and environmentally friendly farming practices, these farmers are given resources such as improved equipment and training so they can compete with the current market. If these farmers also decide to use organic practices, they receive an additional financial incentive. This benefits the workers, the community and society as a whole.

How do you know if the Coffee is Truly Fair Trade Coffee?

Look for the certification from Transfair, an organization which oversees the certification of fair trade coffee around the world. Go to for more information on which coffee plantations and producers are certified as fair trade coffee producers.

The Best of Both Worlds: Organic Fair Trade Coffee

The purposes of both these business models are the same: to help promote a way of conducting business that supports a sustainable society. Organic coffee production protects the environment and the health of the coffee workers, and fair trade regulations protects the rights of the workers so they are ensured fair pay and decent working conditions.

Why Pay Extra for Organic Fair Trade Coffee?

Unfortunately, organic fair trade coffee is more expensive than the competition. This is because these practices although best for the people and environment are more costly than the conventional options.

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