The Best Organic Coffee Beans (True 100% Certified Organic)
We’re all here to find better coffee. But better can mean different things to different people. Are we talking about better taste? A better deal for the growers? Or better for the environment? I believe that true organic coffee gives you all that in one aromatic cup.
How can you be sure you're buying true organic beans? And what do you need to know before switching to organic?
It’s worth noting that you get a little less geographical variety with organic. Around 75% of the organic beans in the world are grown in Latin America. The remaining quarter comes from Asian and African countries.
The biggest single producer? Peru. (Check our Peruvian Coffee guide here.)
That’s not to say that you won’t find organic coffee from other places, but you will probably have to pay a premium for it. Now, without further ado, here are the best organic coffee brands as discovered via our editorial teams extensive research. In on particular order:
Dr. Charles Livingstone embarked on a mission to find coffee that he could enjoy every day, without sacrificing his health or the environment at the same time. He couldn't find what he was looking for so he scratched his own itch; and Life Boost Coffee was born.
They offer organic medium roast, dark roast and low acid beans with an impressive number of certifications and features: USDA certified organic, single origin, mountain shade grown, spring water washed and 3rd party tested for Mycotoxins.
There motto is “Helping you achieve the healthiest, tastiest cup of coffee possible, using sustainable farming and protecting our wildlife”. And do they hold up to their promise? The reviews online look promising, and a very common thread you'll see is that taste has not been sacrificed at all during processing.
Not only is Death Wish the strongest coffee in the world, but it’s also organic! All their beans are grown to USDA certified organic standards. On top of the high caffeine content, Death Wish offers a low-acidity brew that will really put a spring in your step. Of course, with high caffeine, you’re getting Robusta beans in with your super-smooth Arabica, but customers note how smooth the brew is despite that.
Although some say you need to add extra sugar or creamer, Death Wish is noted for not being as bitter as the other ultra-strong coffee brews. If you’re caffeine sensitive then this really isn’t a choice for you, but it is a very well rated coffee (and in fact, some of the reviews are downright hilarious).
Death Wish Coffee is available as a dark roast, because of course, it is. In addition to whole beans, you can order ground coffee for drip coffee makers, and it's even available in K-cups.
Read our full review of Death Wish Coffee here!
Everything (1) that Camano Island roasts is organic. They’re serious about their coffee, buying only the highest quality Arabica beans to use for their blends and single origin brews. They’re also serious about their ethics, choosing shade grown, fair trade certified beans. What's more, their beans carry the Specialty Grade Top 1% Arabica badge, signifying that their green beans have passed the highest rating by the Specialty Coffee Association for uniform size, texture, and quality. All of these are important to coffee lovers.
Their Sumatran makes this list because it’s an unusual choice for single-origin organic beans. (If you're not a fan of Sumatra, they also offer beans from other locations such as Brazil and New Guinea, in a range of light and medium roasts as well as dark roast.) Sumatra isn’t widely known for its organic farming, and with a ‘love-it-or-loathe-it’ reputation for flavor, it’s not what many brands would look to as the first choice for gourmet coffee. But with a flavor profile described as ‘fruity, sweet and full-bodied’, their Sumatran is praised for its rich flavor and robust brew.
Perhaps that’s because their beans are grown at high altitude, as the best premium coffee should be – this is not second-best bean decaffeinated.
As a final touch, Camano Island roasts in small batches just prior to shipping, so you know you’re getting your beans at their best.
When it comes to organic coffees, Volcanica Coffee Company knows what they’re about. You can tell simply by reading the description right on the top of their organic coffee page.
They’re not interested in slapping a label on a bag and then hiding behind it. They are obsessed with sourcing the best coffees on the planet, and have visited the farms they’re getting these coffees from. In addition to being certified organic, they are also Fair Trade Certified and Rainforest Alliance Certified (2), which check off two more crucial factors in the elite, well-sourced, ethically made coffee world – a world that Volcanica dominates.
Furthermore, beans from Volcanica are roasted in small batches only after you place your order, guaranteeing optimal freshness to the roast. And while whole bean coffee provides the ultimate in freshness and taste, you can order Volcanica Coffee pre-ground for French press, drip coffee, and espresso coffee makers.
The best part about all of this?
The site has a big selection of beans from all over the world. We’re talking Indonesian options like Sumatran and Sulawesi beans, African beans from Cameroon, Colombian and Bolivian beans from South America, Central American beans from El Salvador and Guatemala, and the list goes on. Furthermore, these beans are available as dark roast, medium-dark roast, and more, for a range of sensations in your cup.
Cafe Don Pablo is another producer that ticks all the boxes and seems genuinely concerned about producing a quality product in an ethical fashion. They produce a variety of coffees, including their Signature Blend as well as a single-origin Colombian from their own rainforest-certified plantation.
But their Subtle Earth Organic is made exclusively from Arabica coffee beans grown in the Marcala region of Honduras, where the soil and climate produce a cup of coffee with notes of chocolate, honey, and caramel with a deep finish. It's also a low-acidity coffee, if you're looking for a smoother cup.
Roasting, as is common among the coffee roasters on this list, is done to order, in small batches. The roasting facility is approved for organic roasting, which we explain in detail later in this article.
Subtle Earth is also available as a decaf, and of course, it's Swiss Water Process certified. And if you need your organic coffee fix in a hurry, Subtle Earth is available in K-cups.
Kicking Horse Coffee produces an entire range of organic, fair trade, and Kosher coffees made from Arabica beans. We've selected their Smart Ass blend because it's a standout medium roast. As much as we love dark-roast coffee for its intense, smoky tang that seems to reach down into your soul on a too-early, too-dark morning, sometimes we crave the bright, mellow sweetness of a medium roast. Third Wave coffee drinkers are asking for lighter roast profiles, and when you've had one full of bright, complex fruit and floral elements, you can see why.
The Smart Ass is a very popular seller; Kicking Horse describes it as having redcurrant notes with hints of sugar cane and milk chocolate, with a body of “honeyed berry.”
The Kicking Horse line includes multiple roasts (their Kick Ass coffee is a highly-rated dark roast), and they have a Swiss Water Process decaf as well if you're avoiding caffeine.
Things You Should Know When Choosing Organic Beans
Organic means grown without pesticides. It’s simple, right?
Well…no. It’s a matter of where the coffee is grown, where it’s sold and how it has been processed along the way. If that all sounds complicated, you can just skip to the part where we make our recommendations.
If you’d like to truly understand organic coffee, keep reading.
Organic Standards (are not all the same)
There are different organic standards around the world, which makes things complicated when you look at the regulations on selling something with the ‘Organic’ label in any given country. In the US, for example, the USDA organic certification can only be used where the crop has been grown to US organic standards (3), no matter where in the world it comes from.
If that makes your head spin, imagine being a coffee farmer.
You need to make sure that you’re not only growing to the organic standards of your country, but to those of any other country you might want to sell to. For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to use the common USDA organic standards in the US in our buying guide. Simply follow the same principles outlined here with your own country or region’s rules when dealing with other organic labels.
To sell organic in the US, you must be certified to put the organic label on your coffee — unless you’re selling $5,000 or less per year (4). If you want to be labeled USDA Organic, coffee sold cannot have been grown using synthetic substances (5), which is very often found in the fertilizers and pesticides used on typical coffee plants. Using GMOs is also off-limits (6).
However, that green and white label only needs to show that 95% of the beans were grown this way. You can get a more comprehensive idea of the intensive details of growing organically here (7).
NOTE: Keep in mind that organic does not automatically mean “entirely ethical.” Things like labor standards and environmentally safe growing conditions are not part of the certification.
Can the organic stamp always be trusted?
The USDA takes careful pains to ensure that their standards are not only up to snuff, but that all organic labeling comes through a process of approval by a certified agent. Not only that, but anyone caught selling under their label without certification can be fined $11,000 for each violation.
However, trading internationally (8) is a complicated thing, even for the USDA. If you’re uncertain about an organic label, though, you’re not entirely stuck.
How to do your own extra research if you’re not sure of the label
Here is the National List (9) of USDA-approved substances that can be used in Organic farming. This is a great tool to use in your inquiries. You can also contact a farm directly or, if you’re in the U.S., you can try to contact the National Organic Program (10) department of the USDA.
Organic Growing: The Fine Print
The part of organic that most people are familiar with is farming that doesn’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. There are some differences around the world in how long land must have been chemical free for the crop to be considered organic.
Some countries ask for a wait of 3 to 5 years, to allow residues to work their way out of the soil. For others, it’s only how you treat that particular crop which counts.
It’s a popular misconception that organic crops are grown without any fertilizers or pesticides. To ensure the health of the crop, both are needed. The difference is that the plants will be given a nutritional boost using natural fertilizers such as chicken manure, coffee pulp or compost.
When it comes to pest control, it’s a little more difficult. Modern coffee production has moved to growing in the open sun, to maximize the crop. This leaves the plants and cherries vulnerable to pests.
Organic growers generally choose ‘the old way’ and grow their plants at least partially in the shade. This encourages natural insect and bird life to thrive, and make a meal of crop-destroying pests.
Whether the coffee is wet or dry processed, the producer must be careful to make sure that the beans don’t get contaminated at any stage.
That includes things like the bags that the pickers put their harvest into, and the sacks the processed beans are sent around the world in.
In terms of processing, the simplest way to organically process is to use dry processing.
Wet processing takes a lot longer unless chemical additives are used to speed it up. It also uses a lot of water which has an environmental impact, as does disposing of the by-products.
Wherever it’s come from, if coffee is going to be sold as organic, it must be roasted in a roaster that hasn’t been used to toast anything other than organic beans.
If it’s been used for non-organic, then there could be chemical residues which are transferred into the organic beans during the process.
An organic roaster will also be sure not to add in any other chemicals or additives during the roasting process. No roaster performance-enhancing drugs. Your beans should come out as pure and untainted as when they went in.
How to Find Locally-Grown Organic Beans
Of course, if you live in a region where you have access to locally grown coffee beans, you can always try to purchase some organic beans right off the farm!
Searching for local growers can be as easy as Googling terms like “locally grown organic coffee” or “organic coffee farms near me.” You’ll likely find more than one farm’s website pop up claiming to have organic versions of your favorite beans.
Another option is to contact smaller, local Third Wave coffee shops. They’re likely to have a good deal of knowledge regarding local sources.
But, again, whether it’s a local coffee shop or farm, you’re going to want to ensure that, organically certified or not, the grower is truly sticking to those organic guidelines.
Questions to ask when inquiring locally:
- When were chemicals last used on the land?
- Does the grower have a plan in place for long-term organic growing?
- How do they fertilize and manage pests, if not with chemicals?
- Does the crop come into contact with other chemicals or GMO products?
- How do they feel about things like Fair Trade, shade grown coffee, or Rainforest Alliance? (Even if they don’t have these certifications, their opinion on them can show how seriously they take these kinds of things. Are they organic because they believe in it, or are they just trying to make a buck? The latter is more likely to lead to cutting corners.)
Benefits of Brewing With Organic Beans
Besides the fact that organic is so hot right now…
They are Much Healthier
One of the reasons many people cite for choosing organic is that a diet without additives is considered healthier. Organically grown coffee has vitamins, mineral and antioxidants which can also help you clear out the chemical load you picked up elsewhere.
There are plenty of health benefits to drinking coffee, and with organic there are no drawbacks.
And Better For The Environment
As I mentioned before, most coffee grown organically, is grown in shade. To grow in the sun, the forests are cut down. Tall trees and other plants are destroyed and animals and insects lose their homes.
That doesn’t happen when plants are grown under the shelter of other plants and trees. Not only does your coffee get longer to ripen on the plant (more flavor!) but you are ensuring a home for birds, bugs and beasts.
If you need your cup of java to be low-caf, you’ll probably know about the different methods used to get the caf out of the bean. Of the three main methods, only Swiss Water Process and Carbon Dioxide Process coffee can be considered organic. The other methods introduce more chemicals into the mix, to get the caffeine out.
On the bright side, these are also the two methods which taste best, so you’re not losing out on anything by sticking to your organic principles.
THE VERDICT: Where Do You Buy True Organic Coffee?
It wasn’t that long ago that organic was a niche market, and you had to pay a high price to have your coffee chemical free. Now, organic is mainstream and most coffee brands have their own organic blend.
While that’s great for choice, it can mean that choosing ‘the best’ organic brand means sampling a lot of different brands to find the one you like. The good news is that many premium coffee brands are exclusively organic; it may not be their major selling point but if you read more about their ethics you may find something tucked away there.
But the coffee brand that I think comes out best?
Yes, with all those buzz-words it sounds like an explosion in a hipster factory but there’s no denying that Volcanica Coffee Co. are ultimately about the same thing that we are. Good coffee.
- Organic Healthy Coffee Brewing | Best Ethical Coffee Retrieved from https://camanoislandcoffee.com/why-were-different/
- What Does Rainforest Alliance Certified™ Mean? | Rainforest Alliance Retrieved from https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/faqs/what-does-rainforest-alliance-certified-mean
- Organic Standards | Agricultural Marketing Service Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/organic-standards
- Organic Labeling | Agricultural Marketing Service Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/labeling
- What is organic coffee? Retrieved From https://www.ethicalcoffee.net/organic.html
- United States Department of Agriculture Retrieved From https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/OrganicGMOPolicy.pdf
- Organic Coffee Roasters: Ensuring Safe Coffee – Food Safety Magazine Retrieved from https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/december-2010january-2011/organic-coffee-roasters-ensuring-safe-coffee/
- International Trade Partners | Agricultural Marketing Service Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/organic-certification/international-trade
- eCFR – Code of Federal Regulations Retrieved from https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&SID=9874504b6f1025eb0e6b67cadf9d3b40&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:18.104.22.168.32.7&idno=7
- National Organic Program Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/NOP_Contacts%5B1%5D.pdf