Organic Coffee vs. Regular Coffee: What’s the Difference?
Here at Home Grounds, drinking coffee before, during, and after work is a nonnegotiable ritual. While we love the caffeine boost and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, we’re always mindful of how that coffee impacts the people who grow and process it and the planet we all live on.
How coffee is cultivated, harvested, and roasted has a profound impact on our health. That’s why Home Grounds often seeks out organic coffee to recommend.
What’s the difference between organic coffee vs. regular coffee? Can we really trust the “organic” designation on the label? Find out in this quick guide.
Organic vs. Non-Organic Coffee
What’s the difference between non-organic and organic coffee beans? Both types of coffee start off as the same coffee plant, but the similarities end there. Regular coffee is subjected to a variety of synthetic pesticides. However, USDA-certified organic coffee must be farmed and processed using natural methods.
Typically, non-organic coffee is grown in managed rows. These coffee plants are often planted as monocultures, which means they’re the only crop on that plantation.
In this environment, the delicate coffee shrubs are exposed to full sunlight and various pests, like mealybugs. Without the additional shade from trees, the birds that normally feed on these pests cannot thrive (1).
Monoculture coffee crops deplete the soil, making the coffee less nutrient-dense.
What is Organic Coffee?
Some of the best coffee beans in the world are shade grown and incorporated into their surrounding ecosystems. Shade from surrounding trees:
- Protect the coffee plants from sunlight
- Provides shelter for birds that prey on coffee plant pests
- Allows coffee cherries to mature and develop flavor
While the best farms are meticulous about quality, they must be equally meticulous in meeting the USDA’s organic certification standards. If a batch of beans doesn’t meet the guidelines, the coffee farmers will delve into each stage of the cultivation, processing, and roasting process to ensure they receive the certification.
This video highlights what goes into growing organic coffee:
What Does the “Organic” Label Mean?
The “organic” label informs consumers that all components within the package adhere to USDA standards. All organic produce in the US must meet a set of stringent requirements.
According to USDA guidelines, certified organic crops must:
- Use only natural substances, biologically-based, or mechanical farming methods whenever possible
- Be cultivated in fields with no prohibited substances—including fertilizers and pesticides
- Not use or contain genetically modified organisms (2)
What Does Organic Coffee Mean?
Organic coffee must adhere to these guidelines at every stage of growth and processing, from bean to cup, according to Miles McEvoy, National Organic Program Director at the USDA.
The organic standards are process-based, meaning they establish the rules for an entire system of farming that follows a product from its beginnings on the farm all the way to retail.
Organic coffee is grown using natural methods of pest control and fertilization. Surrounding trees provide food and shelter to birds, who prey on the pests that feed on coffee plants.They also increase biodiversity and enrich the soil around them. And because no synthetic pesticides and fungicides are used, surrounding waterways remain clean and healthy.
The Bottom Line
While regular coffee beans are convenient, Home Grounds recommends buying organic coffee beans. Organic coffee is typically shade-grown, so it benefits from naturally longer maturation periods. This yields a much sweeter, more nutrient-dense cup. Plus, the biodiversity of organic coffee plantations repels pests and disease and nourishes the soil to ensure a sustainable crop for years to come.
Buying coffee with climate-friendly coffee certifications is a great way to support your health, the future of the coffee industry, and the farmers who work to produce it.
The dangers of non-organic coffee are that the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides used during cultivation can end up in your cup. Exposure to these harmful chemicals may lead to birth defects and the death of birds and other wildlife (3).
Yes, organic coffee is healthier. Drinking organic coffee supports your brain health and improves your mood (4). Because organic coffee plants are shade grown and nourished by healthy soil, additional antioxidants end up in your morning brew.
Yes, you can take a look at the full list of coffee certifications here.
You buy organic coffee from your local roaster, online, or in-store. It is widely available. Home Grounds suggests Lifeboost Coffee, which aims to be the healthiest, most antioxidant-rich coffee in the world. Lifeboost boasts a selection of seasonal, dark, medium, light, decaf, and espresso beans to suit every palate.
- Rodewald, A. (n.d.). The Coffee–Songbird Connection. Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-coffee-songbird-connection/
- McEvoy, M. Organic 101: What Organic Farming (and Processing) Doesn’t Allow. (2017). Usda.gov. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2011/12/16/organic-101-what-organic-farming-and-processing-doesnt-allow
- Considering Coffee. (2017, October 10). Cornucopia Institute. https://www.cornucopia.org/2017/10/considering-coffee
- 9 Health Benefits of Coffee, Based on Science. (2022, January 11). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coffee/