It’s our daily ritual. It’s the beverage many of us rely on to kick start the day. It’s delicious, addictive and the second most traded commodity in the world after oil. I’m talking about coffee.  Like many, my love for coffee is deep, my addiction is real and I genuinely can’t function without it (you don’t want to be around me pre coffee in the AM!) Coffee culture is on the up and so is the demand for coffee worldwide. With all of my coffee consumption I rarely stop to think about the coffee I’m buying (apart from the taste and smell of freshly ground heaven) and how this obsession is impacting our planet. So, in our efforts to be conscious consumers, here are some things to consider next time you buy coffee:

Shade or sun grown?

Most of us think the more sun the better. Australians love the sun and a golden tan! But, when it comes to coffee production, more sun is definitely not better! Many plantations now grow coffee in sunnier conditions to return higher yields. This contributes to a range of environmental issues such as deforestation and soil erosion. In Central America alone 2.5 million acres of forest have been cleared to grow coffee. So next time you’re buying coffee remember that the more shade, the more sustainable the coffee production.

Look for coffee from: Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Sumatra, Timor, New Guinea and Ethiopia as they are mostly shade grown.

Try to avoid coffee from: Columbia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Kenya and Vietnam as they are more likely to be grown in full sun.

However, there can be exceptions to the above; if you’re unsure ask at your local café. Keep a look out for Australian grown coffee. Locally grown coffee is often farmed using organic practices and has lower carbon miles than coffee imported from overseas.

Does organic coffee really matter?

I’m going to be straight with you all when I say; I’m not one to buy everything organic but seeking out organic coffee is worthwhile. The high demand for coffee has increased production in a relatively short time and coffee plantations can now rely heavily on chemical inputs. This can lead to a range of problems including soil erosion, loss in biodiversity, contaminated water and human health problems. Organic coffee production is less likely to have a negative impact on the environment and is a more sustainable means of production. Remember, some small scale producers grow according to organic standards but bypass the certification process because of the costs involved. It’s always a good idea to ask your local café how their coffee is sourced and how it’s grown.

 What about Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance?

 Are these two certifications a marketing ploy to make us feel warm and fuzzy? Or are they making a difference to the everyday lives of coffee farmers around the world? Well, that’s a complicated answer but here’s some points to consider:

  •  Over 25 million people worldwide depend on coffee production for their livelihoods and the global coffee market can be volatile and often small scale farmers can get the raw end of the deal.  
  •  Fair Trade is about providing better trading conditions for farmers in developing countries by ensuring a safety net from fluctuating coffee prices and that farmers are paid a minimum price for their product. A premium price is also added to fund community projects with the goal of lifting living conditions.
  •  The Rainforest Alliance focus on the environmental impact of coffee production, encouraging conservation and farmers to grow via more sustainable farming practices.

 Issues with these systems include:

  •  The certification process for famers can be quite costly.
  • Some suggest that due to the pricing system the quality of Fair Trade coffee can be uneven.
  • Not all of the money of these systems goes back to the farmers directly.

 While these certifications are by no means a single solution, purchasing Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance coffee gives us the power as consumers to send a message to retailers and producers about the importance of fair and sustainable coffee. Ask your local café if they source Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance certified coffee or how their coffee is sourced.

 I can recycle my cup, right?

Not always. Paper takeaway cups with a plastic (polyethylene) film and polystyrene cups are not recyclable. However, most coffee cup lids can be recycled (check for the recycling symbol). 1 billion paper cups are produced every year and a lot of this ends up in landfill. So, what’s the best option? Join the reuse revolution. Use a mug or a travel cup, such as a Keepcup. Compared to ceramic mugs they take less energy to produce and are manufactured in Australia from recyclable plastic. 

Where can I get sustainable coffee?

Luckily, we live in Melbourne – coffee capital of Australia (sorry Sydney!) and there is no shortage of trendy hipsters to provide us organic, fair trade, ethically sourced, sustainable coffee. Here are a few of our favourite places around town:  


Coffee Supreme –An independent specialty coffee roaster based in Abbotsford. Their philosophy is based on creating relationships with growers to source great coffee and to pay a sustainable price to growers.

Jasper Coffee – "‘Re-humanising' the coffee in your cup". Jasper has cafes across Fitzroy, Prahran and Chadstone and High Point Shopping Centres. They have a great selection of certified organic and Fair Trade coffee from around the world.

Market Lane – Specialty coffee roaster, café and retailer with a focus on high quality coffee. They aim for 100% traceability with their beans.

2Pocket Fair Trade - Espresso bar and store on Little Lonsdale Street in Melbourne with a passion for making change for those caught in the poverty cycle, ensuring farmers are paid a fair price for their coffee.

With all this talk of coffee, I think I’m in need of a cup.