You know we love to have fun and be in our silly era, but every now and then the motivation for something deeper hits. This time it’s the urge to tell you about sustainable coffee farming because I recently found myself digging DEEP into a responsible coffee consumption rabbit hole. But fear not, I promise I’ll keep it light and imprudent!
So all cards on the table: I’m a big (and proud) coffee snob, but also a softie because my forever order is a flat white and I really enjoy my iced latte in the summer. Nevertheless, after spending a week at a sustainable coffee farm in Chiapas, Mexico, a couple of years ago, I became much more aware of the world of coffee farming and what they call the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty we have to touch on some sustainability-101 without boring the shit out of you. Firstly, it’s important to understand it as an ever changing concept, a dynamic process, instead of a static idea. When we talk about sustainability in coffee we’re talking about three different aspects: environmental, social, and economic. They are all intertwined with one another and in order to achieve true sustainability all three aspects need to be addressed holistically (yes, exactly like wellness). In a bit of a more poetic way: sustainable development meets the needs of today without compromising future generations. I know what you're thinking: well fuck, they’ve already compromised our generation. And, as much as I agree with you, let’s aspire to do and be better!
Back to coffee! If you’re anything like me and have an emotional attachment to your coffee you might already know that regions where coffee grows are particularly vulnerable to climate changes such as extreme temperature fluctuations, heavy rainfall and droughts; all of which pose serious risks to coffee crops. And just the thought of these changes ruining my most sacred morning ritual makes me shiver in fear. But all selfishness aside, these risks are hitting, already vulnerable and struggling, coffee farmers and their incomes really hard.
Even though the environmental aspect is probably the most pressing of them all and the one getting more and more attention, it’s clear that if the economic factor of sustainable coffee was reasonably addressed, the environmental and social factors that coffee growers face would then automatically improve as well. I’ve lost myself here a little bit, too, ngl. So to put it more simply: the big guys (companies and governments) need to help out the small guys (coffee farmers and producers) with their big bucks, so that we can all collectively help mama earth as well. Happy ever after, right? If only it was so simple…
If only being more sustainable was so simple we wouldn’t even be having this conversation and I wouldn’t have gotten into my rabbit hole in the first place, either. But there I was and here we are and now we’ve got to fix it. And because it’s not as straightforward, farmers are having to come up with their own solutions to be more sustainable without blowing up their entire profits and some coffee farms and other non-profit organisations are doing some really good shit.
A coffee farm in a small ethnic minority village in Lăng Cú province in Vietnam is using regenerative farming practices and have actively mitigated certain harmful effects of climate change in their region. By using organic compost instead of chemical fertilisers, farmers have managed to keep their costs down without compromising soil quality, resulting in higher profits for low-input, sustainably cultivated coffee. Pretty fucking cool right?
On the other side of the world, Juan Jiménez, his wife Julia Cabrera, and their two children have successfully restored ecosystems on their coffee farm in Cajamarca, Perú. Since they partnered with Rainforest Alliance their farm is now more productive and more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Absolutely love that for them!
And last but definitely not least, there’s this brilliant brand in the UK that, even though they don’t farm their own sustainable coffee (because coffee hates our weather almost as much as I do), they understand their role and responsibility to make coffee production and consumption more sustainable. Exhale Healthy Coffee is deeply committed to the environment through multiple pro-planet actions as a core value to them, but I will only deep dive into the coffee specifics to let let you go sooner.
I love seeing a British brand be conscious about the cost to the environment for transporting their coffee from around the world, which is why they’ve centralised all of their coffee to be produced in the same farm and shipped only once a year in a shipping container. Their biggest dream though is to eventually sail all their coffee across the Atlantic to move even closer to carbon neutrality. I have to admit that this has now become my biggest dream, too (not to sail coffee per se, just to sail across the Atlantic myself).
In the end, as tough as Juan Jiménez and Julia Cabrera work to keep their farm producing more sustainable coffee and do their best to help mama earth, it’s on all of us and our addiction to coffee to make their hard work worth the while. From now on I am fully expecting you to consider your every cortado’s, iced latte’s, flat white’s, cold brew’s, even Nespresso (the coffee devil) pods’ origin and farming method. I will hold you accountable for this, mark my words!