How to Go Green: Coffee & Tea

how to green your coffee and tea cup image

[by Jacob Gordon]

Coffee is the world's most commonly traded commodity after crude oil, and tea is the world's most consumed beverage after water. So if tea and coffee are up there with oil and water on the world stage, we know there must be a lot at stake here. One thing that's definitely at stake is our desire to get a tasty, healthy, perky, fairly-traded, and eco-friendly brew to sip. Read on for a spin through some of the finer points of green coffee and tea connoisseurship.

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Top Green Coffee & Tea Tips

  1. The local brew
    Seek out the coffee and tea that have traveled the least distance to reach you and also aim at supporting local, independent farms, cafés, and roasters.

  2. Mug Shots
    Go ahead, find that perfect mug and make the investment. Not only is a reusable mug more pleasurable to sip out of than a paper cup, but it will replace an untold number of disposable cups, plastic sippy tops, "java jackets," and other disposable paraphernalia. If you've got a thing for paper cups and Greek art, try a more durable "We Are Happy to Serve You", the handy-work of TreeHugger founder Graham Hill. Make a quick tally of how many disposable coffee or tea cups you use in a month...yeah, it's probably a lot.

  3. Organic
    Coffee and tea that bear organic certification are more eco-friendly because they are grown and processed without toxic chemicals, are cultivated and harvested in ways that protect sensitive ecosystems, and spare workers from exposure to harmful pesticides and herbicides. Shade grown coffee is another important category that preserves habitats for migratory birds on coffee farms, also letting beans mature more slowly and creating richer flavors.

  4. Fair Trade
    Not only does certified fair trade coffee and tea help ensure living wages and safe working conditions for farmers, but TransFair and Rainforest Alliance both include rigorous environmental standards in their certification criteria.

  5. Home brew

    The local café is great. It's got your friends, good food, free wireless. But if you think you can be greener in your own kitchen, give it a try. When you do it at home you know where the beans and leaves are coming from and also where they go when they're spent. Plus, you can't forget your mug, you can choose organic milk, and never toss out another paper sugar packet. Try a bit of quick math on the cost savings of making your morning cup-o-joe at home.

  6. Loosen up
    Tea bags and coffee filters can be useful but are mostly unnecessary. Great coffee can be made at home with a reusable filter or a stovetop espresso maker. A quality tea infuser can last a lifetime and replace an untold number of (questionably compostable) tea bags. If you do use filters and bags, look for biodegradable and unbleached ones.

  7. Milk and sugar
    Most people put one thing or another in their hot beverage of choice. Don't foul up your organic, fair trade, bird friendly, solar roasted brew with chemical and hormone-laden milk and sugar from a little paper packet. If you don't do the cow thing, look for organic rice, soy, or almond milk to yin up your yang. In the US, TransFair also certifies sugar, so even your sugar can be fair trade. (Maple syrup in coffee is another well-kept secret.)

  8. "Press" the issue
    If the local coffee shop you love doesn't carry coffee and tea that meet your standards, start asking politely. Starbucks has a universal policy under which they will brew a French press of fair trade coffee for anyone who asks. Take the Starbucks Challenge and see if your barista knows what Starbucks has committed to.

  9. Compost the roast
    Tea leaves and especially coffee grounds make outstanding compost. Coffee's high nitrogen content has made it a fertilizer of choice since days of yore. Composting leaves and grounds helps keep organic waste out of landfills, makes great soil, and keeps waste baskets dry. If you don't have a heap to toss it on, just spread coffee grounds on the top of your plants' soil.

  10. Gift the good stuff
    Organic coffee and tea make superb gifts for friends and coworkers, as well as effective peace offerings for estranged family members and ex-lovers. It's also a great way to get people appreciating the many benefits of a "greener" coffee or tea habit.

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Green Coffee & Tea: By the Numbers

  • 17 to 20 million: Number of families who grow coffee around the world.

  • 50 percent: Percentage of the world's coffee grown by small family farmers.

  • 2nd: Coffee's value as a commodity in the world, after petroleum, and the U.S. is the world's biggest coffee importer.

  • $89 million: Sales of organic coffee in the U.S. in 2005, a 40.4 percent increase over the previous year.

  • From $50 million to $500 million: Increase in Fair Trade coffee sales in the US, between the years 2000 and 2005.

  • 11.5 million: pounds of Fair Trade Certified coffee purchased by Starbucks in 2005, North America's largest purchaser of Fair Trade coffee. Although this is a small percentage of their sales, it represents approximately 10 percent of global Fair Trade coffee imports.

Sources: Rainforest Alliance, TransFair, Starbucks
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Where to Get Green Coffee & Tea

Bird Friendly Coffee (and where to find it)
Birds and Beans
Blue Smoke Coffee
Café Ibis
Cameron's Coffee
Global Exchange Fair Trade Online Store
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
The Groovy Mind
Grounds for Change
Kicking Horse Coffee
Merchants of Green Coffee
Newman's Own Organics
Simple Coffee
Solar Roast Coffee
Sweetwater Organic Coffee Roasters
Today Was Fun
Blue Smoke Coffee
Choice Organic Teas
The Great Lakes Tea and Spice Co.
Harney & Sons
Numi Organic Tea
Revolution Tea
The Republic of Tea
Rishi Teas
Upton Tea Importers
Dagoba Hot Chocolate
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Gree Coffee & Tea: From the Archives

Dig deeper into these articles on green coffee and tea from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.
Drinking green coffee
TreeHugger serves up nine Fair Trade blends from Mexico and where to find them.

Coffee connoisseur and eco-urbanite Green LA Girl offers up a six-step program to better, greener coffee drinking. rates roasts and blends and makes fair trade coffees easy to find.

Speaking of, did you know you can find Fair Trade producers on Google Earth?

Here's the real story on shade-grown coffee and why it's important to drink it.

Get busy with these 5 Hacks to Green Your Coffee Break.

And, while you're at it, here are some tips to skip Starbucks and brew your own coffee.

Pairing organic coffee with dessert can be a delicious, sustainable treat; here are tips and recipes to try Kenyan coffee with organic carrot cake, UCA Miraflor Natural Reserve Nicaraguan Coffee and deep dish apple pie and Organic Sumatran and organic flourless chocolate cake.

When you're all done, take action and recycle coffee grounds, tea in your garden.

Green coffee gear and accessories
For that fresh-ground flavor when camping, living off-grid, or waiting out a world war, try a hand cranked coffee grinder like this one or this one.

This reusable coffee cup comes with its own key and could be the perfect remedy for sticky-fingered coworkers.

A quick roundup of green coffee tech for the home.

A reader asks about less wasteful alternatives to single-serve coffee dispensers we see cropping up in so many offices.

There was a day when only the military had the pleasure of biodegradable coffee cups. Now Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has brought compostable coffee cups for to masses.

Which is lighter on the planet: paper, styrofoam, ceramic? It takes a rigorous life cycle assessment to tell the whole story, and you might be surprised.

The Toddy cold brewer takes the slow and steady (and energy-free) path to brewing coffee.

TreeHugger's Warren McLaren tackles the conundrum of the potentially toxic reusable coffee mug.

TreeHugger John loves his French press coffee. He chronicles his search for a new brewing devise here.

Can the sun roast coffee? You bet. It just needs a little help from some mirrors.

Here's a fair trade coffee press and mug for your fair trade roast of choice.

The GeoCup is a conceptual alternative to the single-serving coffee cup.

If sipping coffee is wasting valuable moments you might spend talking about global warming and rising sea levels, this mug can cover for you.

Green coffee companies and organizations
Started by a group of your entrepreneurs, Simple Coffee is trying to expand the boundaries of fair trade.

Wildlife Organic Coffee from the World Conservation Society is all about Papua New Guinea.

Kicking Horse Coffee is a triple kick: shade grown, fair trade, and organic.

Vermont Coffee Company stokes its roasting engines with carbon neutral biodiesel.

Thanksgiving Coffee from Uganda is the work of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish farming cooperative.

This Ontario coffee company does some of the greenest beans around, all the way from the solar drying to the carbon neutral roasting.

Even coffee giant Nescafé has something to offer in the Fair Trade department.

TreeHugger had the opportunity to chat with the producer/co-directory of Black Gold, a documentary about the worldwide politics of coffee.

Drinking green tea
TreeHuggers get intimate with three world-class teas from The Groovy Mind.

Treleela and Tea Forte make tea bags like the world has never seen, but are they infusion art or a packaging nightmare?

Get down 'n dirty with some handy tips to brew a better cup of tea.

When you're done brewing, check out these five tips for reusing tea bags.

For a cool, refreshing beverage, try Emeril's rum-spiked sweet tea (in moderation, of course).

Green tea gear and accessories
When "designers and connoisseurs meet for tea," The Teastick infuser is born.

TreeHugger rounds up a selection of choice leaves for brewing.

The simplicity of the reusable tea infuser as a product service system.

The Eco Kettle by Product Creation is a hot pot that heats just the right amount of water. British, of course.

Green tea companies and organizations
Today Was Fun offers a range of creative blended teas including Green Green Tea, which is both healthy and carbon neutral.

Organic, fair trade, and beyond, from Republic of Tea.

Teaology offers organic flavors like Jumpstart, Whip It, Stop the Clock, and Urban Defense.

Kicking Horse Coffee also does some kicking tea.

Organic Revolution Tea is as pleasing to look at as it is to drink, biodegradable pyramid bags and all.

Rishi Teas offers ancient varieties of artesian, hand-picked and hand-rolled teas.

Moby and his sweety operate Teany, a tea lover's paradise in NY.

Guayaki organic yerba mate peps you up gaucho-style.

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Further Reading on Green Coffee & Tea

Coffee and tea are big subjects and we can't hope to cover every aspect, but here are some resources and leads to help you dig deeper into your search for earth and people-friendly tea and coffee.

The 2006 documentary film Black Gold delves into the social and political tangle of coffee.

Bring Your Own is a site dedicated to the non-disposable, from mugs to shopping bags.

Coffee and Conservation is a site dedicated to "resources on the coffee and habitat connection for the conscientious consumer."

Green LA Girl has been an authority as well as an agitator for fair and sustainable coffee. She is the spark behind The Starbucks Challenge and her blog is a trove of information.

Equal Exchange
Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International
Organic Trade Association
Organic Consumers Association
Rainforest Alliance is an organization doing a lot of good work to support sustainable coffee production.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park and Bird Friendly Coffee
TransFair is the Fair Trade certification organization here in the U.S.

How to Go Green: Coffee & Tea
[by Jacob Gordon]

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