There are only two things I crave on a night shift: coffee and chocolate. Not that night shifts are special in this way; it’s just the cravings seem a bit more appropriate then. In reality, that parody of the English professor in Stranger Than Fiction (awesome movie, by the way) is starting to feel a little too close to home. Did you notice the perpetual cup of coffee in his hand, for those of you who have seen the movie? Yah, that’s pretty much true of everyone here in the lab who actually drinks coffee.
So what’s the point of this post? Well … Coffee can have a pretty big toll on both my carbon footprint and my environmental impact, in ways I didn’t really think about when I decided to get addicted to the stuff in the first place. Back then (junior high school, for the record), all I cared about was not looking Mormon in Salt Lake City. Now? I’m afraid I’ve fallen in love with the ritual. The espresso machine in the morning, or the latte in the cafe down the street. But I’m hoping to get my fix in a slightly more responsible manner these days. The good news is, it isn’t that hard to make a few choices that will at least minimize the damage your coffee habit causes. I promise, I won’t say you should quit, ok, because I’m just not ready for that. Heh… No, I’m not an addict. Right??
Ok, so here’s my simple advice: Choose coffee companies that pay growers and workers fairly, and use organic, sustainable growing practices.
Admittedly, my advice sounds simpler than it is, which is partially because I started this post with the idea that looking for a sticker on a bag would do. I was simply going to advocate for organic, fair trade, shade-grown coffee beans, but then I came across this post on the Intelligentsia website, which discusses the shade-grown certification and why they don’t support it. And I think some of the reasoning makes sense. Ok, I think the diaper argument they use as an analogy is kind of ridiculous, but I do agree that blanket certification is not always a good thing. I also agree with the fact that habitats in which coffee shrubs are grown vary considerably from region to region. If you’re going to start a coffee plantation in the rainforest, you’re better off choosing shade-grown coffee, for the very reason that clear-cutting the rainforest destroys habitats (even for birds that you may think of as native to the US). Beyond that, I’m not sure shade-grown makes sense in places where there is very little shade to begin with.
So I guess the lesson is, think about what you’re buying before you buy it. And ask questions if you’re unsure. It’s the only way to get companies to support sustainable practices, because if their customers care, then they will have to start caring as well.
Some companies I support? Well, I wish I had a long list for you, but this is a relatively new search for me, as you might have guessed from the non-linearity of this post. Intelligentsia isn’t a bad place to start, and you can buy a pound for only a little more than you’d spend at Starbucks. For the New Haven residents reading this, Fuel in Wooster Square is a good place to try, and Lulu’s is the kind of shop where you can ask and expect a detailed answer about where your beans come from. As long as Lulu is working the counter, of course… As an aside, the coffee’s pretty damn good (though I only order actual coffee — I’ve never really been a fan of their lattes, when I can make better ones at home). Koffee (any of them) will sell you fair trade, organic beans, and that’s reportedly all they serve. I only wish I liked their coffee a bit more.