May 20, 2014
Cup of Coffee

Today’s blog post comes from Environmental Intern Cassidy Martin. One of Cassidy’s passions is coffee and today Cassidy shares information about three common coffee related questions.

About 83% of Americans drink coffee, with over 50% of people consuming it every day!  Yet despite this drink’s presence in our kitchens, workplaces, restaurants and malls, many people don’t know much about coffee beyond the way they prefer to drink it. This post will answer three common questions: Where does coffee come from? What do the certifications like Organic or Fair Trade mean, and does that mean the coffee is better? How healthy is coffee?

Coffee is produced in about 70 countries around the world, mostly in South America, Asia, and Africa. Coffee bushes grow best in tropical climates, especially at high altitudes. The countries that grow the most coffee are Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia. So coffee has traveled thousands of miles before it hits your cup!
Coffee beans are actually the pits of a fruit that looks like a cherry. After the berries are picked, they must be shelled, dried and roasted before they can be sold.

Unfortunately, there are still many negative aspects of coffee production, including low wages and environmental destruction. Certifications became popular as a way for consumers to choose coffee that was produced in an ethical or environmentally preferable manner. Organic and Fair Trade are two of the most well-known certifications.

Organic means the food is produced using fewer synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, with farmers using traditional growing methods instead. This helps to improve the quality of the soil, as well as promoting the health of the entire local ecosystem. However, there are many other environmental problems that Organic farming does not address, such as clearing more land for farms.

Fair Trade means that the coffee is bought for a certain minimum ‘fair’ price, which is higher than average. These farmers must belong to a co-operative. The idea is that small rural communities will benefit from higher prices. Fair Trade does not guarantee that the coffee is higher quality.
Whether Organic and Fair Trade coffee is “better” is up for debate. I think most people agree that treating workers fairly and protecting the environment are important goals. My view is that certifications are great ways to get people thinking about these issues, but are just one step in the process.

Studies have mixed results when it comes to the health benefits or side effects of drinking coffee. The general consensus is that drinking a small to moderate amount of coffee will most likely not damage your health in the long run, and may provide mild benefits. Some studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease. Black coffee (that is, coffee without any cream or sugar in it) only has about 5 calories per cup, a negligible amount.

However, there are a few other factors to consider! First, many people enjoy their coffee with a lot of cream and sugar, which can have negative health consequences, especially if you are a daily coffee drinker. Half and half is very heavy and contains 20 calories per tablespoon. Also, coffee naturally contains caffeine, which is a stimulant and can be addictive.
So, in order to avoid negative side effects and unhealthy sugar habits, the healthiest way to consume coffee would be drinking it black and in moderation.

Hopefully you have learned a little bit about your favorite cup o’ Joe. Enjoy responsibly!

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