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How to choose the best coffee for your health and for the planet?

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What are the most eco-friendly, sustainable and ethical brands of coffee?

Author: Maciamo Hay

Coffee is one of the world's most popular drinks. The International Coffee Organization estimates that in 2019/20, coffee consumption worldwide exceeded 10 billions kg (169.34 million bags of 60 kg or 132 pounds). That's more than one kg per person, even including children, people who don't like coffee and people too poor to buy coffee. Over 10 million hectares of land are used to grow coffee worldwide and every year an additional 100,000 hectares is added (to get an idea, one hectare represents nearly two football fields). That is mostly land reclaimed from tropical forests. In other words, coffee has a huge environmental impact. This is why it is important to ensure that plantations are sustainable and do not destroy tropical forests. Two labels ensure this: UTZ and Rainforest Alliance.

Is my coffee healthy?

Coffee has been proven to have substantial health benefits. But that is for proper coffee. The use of pesticides and glycophosphates (herbicides) is quite common in coffee plantations and will undo any health benefit. Pesticides and herbicides have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkison's, Alzheimer's and ALS, to cancer, diabetes, endocrine disruption (such as infertility), and immune system disorders, among others. Organic certification is vital if you don't want to poison your body.

Do I want coffee produced by slave labour and children?

Anybody is free to decide whether they condone the exploitation of workers in developing countries. Slavery has been part of human society for thousands of years because there has always been people who didn't have any scruples. Personally it annoys me to know that my coffee (or any other product) has been produced by people toiling in slave-like conditions. It's all the worse if these people are children. Ethical coffee is coffee from local producers who are decently paid and which does not exploit child labor. That's what fair trade is about.

Choosing the right coffee

The following brands are all extremely well rated for sustainability, eco-friendliness and fair trade, and are also certified organic. Prices are indicated in the local currency of the company.

Brand Country Shipping from website Available on Amazon Price per kg
Bird & Wild Coffee UK to most developed countries Amazon UK 19.99 - 24.95£
Cafédirect UK from Oxfam UK UK and Germany 14.32 - 37.98£
Café Libertad Germany to all EU countries - 14.22 - 16.09€
Equal Exchange USA to USA only USA & Canada 23.28 - 27.51$
Ethical Bean Canada to USA and Canada USA & Canada 35.27 - 39.64$
Grumpy Mule Coffee UK to UK only UK and Germany 21.99 - 24.18£
Kicking Horse Coffee Canada - USA & Canada 30.68 - 35.27$
Revolver World UK to all the world - 22.45 - 30.79£

There are also several French coffee brands and they tend to be (much) cheaper than British, American and Canadian brands. Unfortunately delivery from their websites is only available for France. It may be possible to order from other countries from Amazon France. Many are available in supermarkets or organic shops in neighbouring countries.

Brand Country Available on Amazon Price per kg
Alter Eco France France 12.60 - 17.88€
Cafés Chapuis (World Café) France France 14.40 - 15.80€
Café Michel France France 11.70 - 21.11€
Destination France - 11.91 - 28.40€
Ethiquable France France 15.90 - 17.50€

Café Michel is sold on Kazidomi, an online organic shop that ships all over Western Europe (+ Sweden, Finland and Greece). The Kazidomi membership confers permanent discounts of up to 50% compared to regular prices, which makes it cheaper than Amazon or any other shop I know.

How to make healthy coffee with the least waste?

French press coffee produces the least waste and is arguably the best for health. Filtered coffee comes second, along with coffee pads made of paper such as Senseo (by Philips and Douwe Egberts). Nespresso may be popular, well designed and convenient, but the capsules are difficult to recycle and may be bad for health due to the presence of aluminium.

If you already have a Nespresso machine, you can avoid the high environmental cost of aluminium capsules either by recycling them (Nespresso offers to take used capsules when they deliver new ones to you). But the best is to buy compostable and biodegradable capsules compatible with your Nespresso machine. Here are some of the brands that make such pods. They are listed by rating (organic, fairtrade and rainforest sustainability), then by price, but you can change the classification by clicking on the column of your choice.

Brand Country Delivery Price per 10 capsules Organic Fairtrade UTZ/Rainforest Alliance
Destination France France only 3 to 4.1€ yes yes sustainable
Ethical Bean Canada Canada only / sold on Amazon USA and Canada 8.3 to 9.16 CA$ yes yes sustainable
Gourmesso USA sold on Amazon USA, Canada, UK and Germany 3.69 to 4.33$ yes yes some
My Cups Germany sold on Amazon Germany and France 2.64 to 3.25€ yes no carbon neutral
Café Chapuis France France only 2.9 to 3.2€ yes yes no
Café Liégeois Belgium to Western Europe and North America 2.20 to 3.45€ some some no
Roar Gill UK to most developed countries 3.75 to 4.37£ no yes no, but plant trees
Blue Goose UK UK only 4.50£ some yes no
Lost Sheep Coffee UK worldwide 1.87 to 4.20£ no no some

Other brands also manufacture compostable and/or biodegredable coffee pods, but unfortunately are neither Fairtrade nor UTZ or Rainforest Alliance certified. Therefore there ecological impact at the source is probably higher, making them less recommendable.

Brand Country Delivery Price per 10 capsules Organic Fairtrade UTZ/Rainforest Alliance
Bioco Belgium - 4.19€ yes no no
San Marco France - 4 to 4.49€ yes no no
Novell Coffee UK UK only 3.60£ yes no no
Eden Project UK UK only 3.50£ yes no no
Caffè Vergnano Italy - 2.59 to 3.49€ some no no
Pellini Caffè Italy - 2.63 to 3.38€ some no no
ilcaffèitaliano Italy to most of EU 1.6 to 2€ no no no
Moving Beans UK to most developed countries 2.80£ no no no
Rave Coffee UK worldwide 2.95 to 3.25£ no no no
Coffee & Kin UK worldwide 4.50£ no no no
Molecule Coffee USA - 6.29$ no no no
Filicori Zecchini Italy/USA - 6.5 to 8.0$ no no no

Buy local brands and choose coffee grown in the nearest continent

To further reduce your ecological impact, choose coffee makers located near you and ideally also coffee grown in the closest continent to limit the carbon footprint of transportation. Europeans should choose African coffee. Ethiopian coffee is getting increasingly popular among Fairtrade selections. North Americans should buy Latin American coffee, if possible from Central America. Mexico and Guatemala grow excellent coffee and are very close to the USA. People located in East Asia or Oceania should buy Asian coffee. Indonesia is the biggest producer, but coffee is grown all over Southeast Asia and India.

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