Is Coffee Vegan?
When you embrace a restrictive diet, choosing appropriate food can be a challenge. Can I eat this dish that someone else prepared? Can I have my favorite dessert? What can I buy at the store?
But there’s one food-related question that is absolutely crucial (for us, at least!): is coffee vegan?
I had to find an answer so that we can settle this once and for all. Here’s what I found.
Is “Vegan Coffee” Really a Thing?
There’s a lot to a cup of coffee besides the beans. There’s the water (okay, that one’s obvious), but there’s also the cream, milk, flavored creamer, sugar, sweeteners, etc.
And what about specialty coffees? (Forget Starbucks, if it’s not labeled “vegan”, it’s going to take you hours to figure out where each ingredient came from!)
But before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page here regarding our terminology.
How Do We Define “Vegan”?
This is a coffee site, not a vegan hot spot, so we’re not about to dive into the vast and complex world of eating vegan. I’m assuming that if you’re reading this you’re already pretty up to date on what vegan is anyways!
However, it is helpful to take a second to lay out just what is meant by “vegan coffee”.
Being a vegan implies that there’s more on the table than just healthy eating. Vegan is a lifestyle, and a set of beliefs – and it requires active research into where one’s food comes from.
For example, like vegetarians, vegans don’t eat meat, fish, or poultry. But, unlike vegetarians, they take this a step further and remove all animal products and by-products from their diet. We’re talking things like eggs, honey, and even leather and wool. Generally speaking, if it came from an animal, it’s off the table.
Here’s a good video that breaks down some general facts about vegans.
All of that said, it’s interesting to note that, while coffee itself isn’t an animal by-product, some animals actually are involved in some of the most high-demand coffee out there! Kopi Luwak, for example, is literally made from the civet cat ingesting and then pooping out the coffee! (more on that one here… just make sure that if you look into this stuff, it’s from a reputable seller that takes care of the animals!).
Is Black Coffee Vegan?
At least, the coffee itself is. But (and this is a BIG but!)... the other point to consider is how the coffee got to you.
Note: Here’s a great breakdown for all of you non-vegans out there looking for ways to drink coffee black... and enjoy it!
The Great Search for Vegan Coffee Brands
Coffee is a global industry, with thousands of people involved in the process. So you can’t just assume that all coffee is ethically produced. You’ll want to do a little research before you commit to a specific brand.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while searching for vegan coffee brands.
Look for that USDA Organic label
- While it doesn’t address every ethical concern, it does imply that fewer chemicals were used and less damage was done to the environment and the coffee farmers themselves while growing the beans.
Look for the Fair Trade label
- This one’s for all the coffee farmers out there. If the coffee is certified fair trade, you know that the people involved in growing your coffee were paid fairly for their labor. What more could a person ask for than fair wages and respect for their hard work? Here’s a great medium roast coffee that’s both organic and Fair Trade!
Keep an eye out for the Rainforest Alliance or similar labels
- This one can be more difficult to find, but it’s one of our favorite indicators that the coffee is coming from a good place. It means it’s been held to exacting standards regarding everything from the workers to the trees, soil, water, and wildlife that are involved in the process. Here’s a dark roast option that’s Rainforest Alliance certified.
Finally, look for shade-grown beans.
- Shade-grown coffee indicates that the producer cares about the trees themselves, and is not just interested in rushed production, which usually takes place in the sun. It also means fewer chemicals were used during the growing and harvesting process. It might not be common to see “shade-grown” coffee labels, but sometimes the coffee name speaks for itself, like this Premium Shade Grown Coffee from Audubon Coffee!
Now, finding all of these labels on a single bag of coffee can be difficult, but it’s worth the effort to look for as many of them as you can. Sometimes the labels can overlap in their purpose, too.
For example, the Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance labels both involve protecting the farmers, so if the Fair Trade label is missing but the Rainforest Alliance one is there, you’re probably good to go.
Making Vegan Coffee at Home
So, we’ve established how to get some vegan coffee beans. But what if you don’t like your coffee black? I mean, a lot of us think drinking black coffee is crazy, right?
If you want to spruce up that coffee with some added flavors, though, don’t despair. We’ve got some good vegan coffee recipes for you to check out.
This isn’t a recipe post, so we’re not going to break down the individual recipes one by one, but there are a couple of good spots where you can find some delicious vegan hot coffee recipes. Think New Orleans coffee and Irish coffee, as well as vegan iced coffee recipes like the deliciously named Vegan Thai Iced Coffee!
Check out these 7 recipes from thespruceeats.com, and a whopping 33 recipes from care2.com!
And follow this link to get a good rundown of the best non-dairy creamers that can serve perfect vegan coffee creamers, as well.
So, Is Coffee Vegan?
I think at this point we can confidently say that the answer is both yes and at the same time, it’s so much more complicated than that.
Coffee beans are indeed vegan, but the way they’re produced isn’t always ethical. You need to do your homework to get the right beans and then find the proper alternatives to milk and sweeteners to create your vegan drink.
If you have any further questions or comments about vegan coffee, leave them below and I’ll do my best to help you out!