Coffee beans with an organic coffee certification have not been grown with a chemical fertilizer or pesticide and were kept away from non-organic coffee beans during processing.
A USDA Certified Organic label also means a coffee’s roasting machine either doesn’t roast non-organic coffee, or goes through intense cleaning before and after roasting non-organic coffee beans.
Proponents of organic farming generally believe it to be better for maintaining healthy soils. Growing organic coffee can lead to better coffee plants in the short term and healthier farms in the long term, not to mention lowered risk of harmful chemicals from a pesticide or fertilizer affecting the environment around the coffee farm.
Switching to organic production can, at least in the short term, reduce yields for growing coffee, which can be a challenge towards a farm’s economic sustainability. It’s important to remember then there isn’t just one type of organic farming, and one type of non-organic farming, so judging overall sustainability for an organic product is much more complex than having an organic label or no label.
While organic coffees have not been coated with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, the concern isn’t so much that those chemicals will make their way into a coffee lover’s morning drink. At temperatures above 450 degrees Fahrenheit, the roasting process most likely burns off any residual chemicals used when growing a coffee plant. The real question is what these harmful chemicals could do to the environment and communities where they are sprayed.
Buying only certified organic coffee is certainly one of the ways a coffee lover can choose to shop with their values in mind. It should be noted, though, that organic production and certification cost a significant amount of money, so not every coffee farmer sees it as a wise investment to convert to an organic farm. And there are many farms that, though they follow practices that we understand as organic agriculture, don’t see the need to spend money on an organic certification for their coffee farm.