8 Sustainable Coffee Brands in 2021
We all love great tasting coffee. But, to paraphrase the famous saying, what if you could have your coffee and drink it too?
I’m talking about delicious coffee that’s sourced, shipped, roasted, and packaged with an eye to sustainability.
Keep reading for 8 sustainable coffees that feel as good on your conscience as they taste in your cup.
At A Glance:
The 8 Best Sustainable Coffee Brands in 2021
Producing sustainable coffee need not be a losing proposition. At least, according to the president of the Committee on Sustainability Assessment, Daniele Giovannucci.
It is possible to get much closer to sustainability. We simply need the courage to make it a priority that is part of and not separate from profit
This is especially true with conscientious consumers like you, willing to seek out eco-friendly brands. With that in mind, keep scrolling for 8 fantastic brands who know that profits are only part of the equation.
Larry’s Coffee’s sustainability practices extend to EVERY ASPECT of the product chain, making them our top pick for sustainable coffee this year.
Larry s Coffee is a founding member of Cooperative Coffees, a co-op of independent roasters sourcing only Fair Trade certified coffee. They buy exclusively from small coffee farms, most measuring less than 5 acres in size, that would otherwise have little say in their treatment and pay.
Their ethos is to treat farmers like partners, not suppliers.
All the coffee they roast is certified Organic and Fair Trade and Shade-Grown. That even includes the ground beans in their newly launched line of K-Cups, which they’ve also ensured are fully recyclable.
Just as impressive as their sourcing is their roasting facility. It has a unique passive solar “clearstory,” it uses rainwater to supply the bathroom, and on-site composting minimizes food waste. Even some of the building’s architectural details are made from reclaimed materials.
Give it a try! If you want to sample Larry s Coffee, check out their Blue Ridge Mountain Blend. It’s a medium roast with the smoky flavors of s’mores and roasted cacao. As part of Larry’s For-A-Cause series, they donate 5% of sales to the Arbor Day Foundation and plant one tree for every bag sold.
Wonderstate Coffee (formerly Kickapoo Coffee) is another Cooperative Coffees member, but they take pride in going well beyond Fair Trade coffee price minimums. They skip the third-party certification process instead of using what they call “sourcing for the collective good.”
Coffee is chosen based on taste, ethos, and community practices.
Using this Direct Trade model, they pay producers an industry-leading 80% above Fair Trade minimums, and 50% above for organic coffee. This system puts farmers rather than market forces at the forefront. As a result, Wonderstate has access to some of the best coffees around the world. In fact, they won Roast Magazine’s “Micro Roaster of the Year” in 2010 (1).
Five years ago, Wonderstate’s Wisconsin headquarters became one of very few 100% solar-powered coffee roasters. Moreover, they purchase carbon offsets for their wholesale shipping. Each year, they donate 5% of their profits to community-based initiatives.
Give it a try! Wonderstate’s best-selling blend is the Organic Driftless, a cozy and balanced medium roast. Blending Central and South American beans, it features the crowd-pleasing flavor notes of toasted almond, toffee, and cocoa powder, with a graham cracker finish.
Counter Culture Coffee is ONE OF THE OLDEST sustainable coffee brands. They were founded over 20 years ago, paving the way for many others in the coffee industry.
In 1997, they were Sanctuary Coffee, one of the first brands to highlight shade-grown and bird-friendly coffee. Five years later, they became the first certified organic coffee roaster in America. While Counter Culture continues to prioritize certified organic coffee, they’re also developing a more well-rounded gauge of sustainability on the farm.
In 2012, they received the Green Plus Sustainable Enterprise of the Year Award. That same year they co-founded the Coalition for Coffee Communities to address food security in growing regions. They’ve recently launched a series of Climate Change Adaptation Workshops, using research-backed science to help fortify farms against a changing climate.
Most important, from a coffee quality standpoint, is their policy of guaranteed contracts with farmers. These provide farmers with the incentive to grow the best coffee and the financial freedom to experiment in the quest for greatness.
Give it a try! Counter Culture’s single-origin coffees are particularly impressive. For example, check out the Ethiopian Muda coffee. This unique medium-light roast is brightly acidic, with notes of lime, florals, and dark honey.
Stumptown Coffee has committed to sustainability throughout its supply chain, regarding economic, social, and environmental impact. All this thanks to the fact that they’re based in the coffee haven of Portland, Oregon.
They’re a new member of the B Corporation club, having achieved the status in 2019 (2).
Their sourcing relies on a Direct Trade model, which they helped pioneer nearly 20 years ago. They take a relationship-driven approach, with their team on the ground in growing regions roughly half the year, talking to farmers and seeking out the quality coffee beans. In 2019, they sourced over 90% of their coffee from farmers with whom they’d worked for 3+ years.
Instead of tying coffee prices to market forces, Stumptown pays farmers based on coffee quality. For this, they use the international Q grading system. This ensures farmers receive fair wages and incentivizes them to produce the best coffee.
Give it a try! To sample what Stumptown is all about, grab a bag of their most popular blend, the Hair Bender. This sweet and balanced brew mixes beans from South and Central America, Africa, and Indonesia. With a rich flavor and luscious body, it’s perfect for espresso or French Press.
Salt Spring Coffee began as a small family-run business but quickly expanded thanks to a growing fan base. They’re based on Canada’s west coast. Salt Spring Coffee’s sustainability policy is embodied in their “quadruple bottom line” strategy: people, Planet, profit, and purpose.
Salt Spring Coffee is not just a B Corp; they’ve been awarded B Lab’s Best for the World three times, meaning they go above and beyond what is required for B Corporation certification. On top of that, they’re a member of 1% for the Planet: with at least 1% of their annual sales donated to environmental causes.
All Salt Spring Coffee is certified Fair Trade and Organic. They are active in coffee growing regions, building relationships with farmers, and establishing sustainable farming practices. Twenty years ago, they started the Fair to Farmer Fund, providing money to coffee origin projects.
Salt Spring is committed to tackling the coffee packaging problem head-on. Their bags are RECYCLABLE in British Columbia, and they are researching cellulose-based biodegradable bags and other sustainable options. How awesome is that?
Give it a try! Salt Spring’s Metta Espresso is a personal favorite. It’s a classic medium-dark espresso blend of coffees from Sumatra and Latin America, with a heavy body, velvety mouthfeel, and smooth flavors of chocolate, caramel, and cherries.
Wandering Bear started just a few years ago as two graduate students trying to fuel their studies during the hot NYC summer. They set about to make the strongest and smoothest cold brew possible and to minimize their environmental footprint while doing it. Mission accomplished!
Wandering Bear sources EXCLUSIVELY CERTIFIED organic coffee beans from small farms and co-ops in Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru. These regions are known for smooth and clean coffee, with sweet flavors of chocolate, nuts, and ripe fruits.
They made their name by being the first coffee company to offer boxed cold brew coffee on tap. Like boxed wine, boxed cold brew is ultra-convenient and cuts way down on packaging. Wandering Bear now offers single-serve products to meet consumer demand, but they’ve maintained their sustainable ethos.
Both their K-Cups and resealable cartons are fully recyclable, with the carton lids made from sugarcane!
Give it a try! Wandering Bear Cold Brew is available straight black or flavored with hazelnut or vanilla, all of which are delicious. The 96-ounce box will keep you caffeinated for a while, and you can recycle it when you’re done.
Driftaway Coffee’s tagline, “Sustainable Coffee for People and the Planet”, tells you all you need to know. Their list of sustainable practices is as long and impressive as their list of available coffee!
A certified B Corporation, Driftaway is working toward carbon neutrality by adapting their business and purchasing carbon offsets. Their E-commerce business is already significantly more energy efficient than retail outlets, and they minimize shipping and travel to limit emissions.
They roast three-quarters of their coffee using the ultra-efficient Loring roaster, and as of 2019, their packaging is 100% compostable. For the unavoidable emissions inherent in shipping fresh coffee all over the country, Driftaway purchases carbon offsets through Cool Effect. This contributes 90% of funds to eco-friendly projects.
Give it a try! Sign up for a Driftaway subscription, and you’ll receive four small bags of coffee to sample. Rate each of them to establish your taste profile, then Driftaway will send you coffee matched to your preferences. Keep rating the coffee you receive, and your subscription will evolve with you.
More often than not, specialty coffee roasters will only have one or two decafs available, but not Cafe Mam. Besides having some crucial sustainability and socioeconomic initiatives, they offer every one of their coffees a decaf or half-caf option.
As befitting a coffee company with environmental concerns, they use the Swiss Water decaffeination process, which uses water rather than chemicals to gently remove 99.9% of caffeine, leaving behind 100% of the single-origin flavor.
Cafe Mam is named for the Mam people, a subgroup of the Mayan Nation known to be some of Mexico’s best farmers. Cafe Mam partners with the Mam people through independent co-ops to source some of the region’s finest coffee.
All Cafe Mam coffee is certified organic and Fair Trade, but it’s also approved with the Small Producers’ Symbol (SPP). As the only farmer-owned Fair Trade certification, the SPP is designed better to meet the needs of coffee farmers and their communities.
Give it a try! Want to see how good decaf can taste? Try Cafe Mam’s decaf Royal Espresso. This medium-dark blend varies from harvest to harvest but always delivers exactly what you’re looking for in an espresso blend: a rich body and sweet flavors.
How to Choose the Best Sustainable Coffee Brand
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Choosing a sustainable coffee means finding a coffee company whose values align with yours in terms of social responsibility, environmental impact, and of course, great taste.
We know that by preserving good environmental conditions and protecting biodiversity, we will create good conditions for the growth of high-quality coffee.
Lucky for us, sustainable growing practices often produce the tastiest brews (3)!
This buyer’s guide is here to clarify the technical stuff, like certifications and energy efficiency, so all you need to worry about is delicious flavor.
Check for Certifications (and Know What They Mean)
There are dozens of possible coffee certifications, but a few carry more weight than others. Here are some of the most common and what they promise.
Simply stated, organic coffee is grown without the use of chemicals, including additives, pesticides, and herbicides. But that simplicity is complicated because different countries use different certification standards, with some using a governmental body and others relying on third parties.
Because organic certification can be time-consuming and expensive, many small farmers using sustainable growing practices never receive the official designation. So don’t immediately discount a brand that isn’t labeled “organic.”
Compared with organic certification, a Rainforest Alliance certification is more holistic. Independent, third-party auditors award it to products that support social, economic, and environmental sustainability.
B Corp is a designation awarded by American non-profit B Labs. It’s for a brand rather than a specific product. B Corporations are those that seek to create value in the world beyond shareholder profit. This balance between profit and purpose represents a fundamentally new philosophy for running a corporation (4).
Fair trade occurs when a developed country’s coffee company pays a fair rate to a producer in a developing country. There is no single Fair Trade certification, but rather a several bodies capable of designating Fair Trade coffee. As a result, many feel that Fair Trade certified coffee has lost its impact (5).
A similar, and in many ways better, system is known as Direct Trade. In this case, the producers and purchasers build direct relationships, removing the middleman of Fair Trade certification.
This kind of coffee is grown in a way that preserves or promotes habitat for birds.This coffee MUST be organic, along with additional criteria like shade-grown, plant species diversity, and canopy cover (6). The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center awards official certification, but many farms without the official designation are still described as “friendly to birds.”
Energy Efficiency Throughout the Product Chain
How the coffee is grown is only a small piece of the puzzle. The best sustainable coffee brands take energy consumption into account throughout the supply chain, including shipping, roasting, and distribution.
Look for coffee brands that take pains to minimize their carbon footprint and those that purchase carbon offsets for the inevitable emissions inherent in the coffee business.
Top brands use green building strategies to make their headquarters super-efficient, often becoming community leaders in green design.
This can include passive solar heating and light, solar power, other renewable energy sources, reclaiming rainwater, on-site compost and recycling, LEED certifications, and so on.
Don’t Forget About the Packaging!
It might seem like a minor point, but packaging accounts for 3% of a coffee product chain’s total carbon footprint. So, brands genuinely concerned about climate change won’t overlook this factor.
Unfortunately, sustainable coffee packaging is easier said than done. Coffee is porous and absorbs moisture quickly. So good packaging needs to be waterproof, airtight abrasion resistant, and shelf-stable for up to a year — no easy task for sustainable materials (7).
For eco-friendly brands, about 60% of the packaging is biodegradable, with inner plastic layers, valves, and seals needing to be recycled separately. However, it is an active research area, so expect to see progress on this front soon!
When buying sustainable coffee, look for recyclable or biodegradable packaging made from materials like rice paper, wood pulp, bamboo, cornstarch, cellulose, and sugarcane. Also, be sure to check what is recyclable in your area, as different plants have different capacities.
For a coffee company that truly values sustainability across the product chain, it’s hard to beat Larry’s Coffee.
This certified B Corporation and founding member of Cooperative Coffees sources exclusively Organic, Fair Trade, and Shade Grown coffee. They then roast it in their environmentally friendly headquarters and ship it in biodegradable and/or recyclable packages.
The main environmental problem with coffee is processing. It uses a lot of water and generates a lot of water pollution. Coffee production can also harm biodiversity, and like many commodities, global shipping has a significant carbon footprint (8).
Tea is more environmentally-friendly than coffee. The energy costs of tea and coffee are very similar, though coffee requires more water to grow. The most significant factor determining your favorite morning drink’s carbon footprint is whether or not you add milk. Cows, as it turns out, are less sustainable than either coffee or tea!
Starbucks coffee is becoming more sustainable, but they still have a ways to go when compared to the brands on this list. They source some certified organic, shade-grown, and Fair Trade coffee, but it’s a minority in their product line-up.
- Roast Magazine (2020). Roaster of the Year Competition. Retrieved from https://www.roastmagazine.com/about/roasteroftheyear/
- Stumptown Coffee Roasters. (2019, February 11). Stumptown is a B Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.stumptowncoffee.com/blog/b-corporation
- Petrich, I. (2019, September 6). Can Coffee Quality & EnvironmentalSustainability Go Hand in Hand? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2019/09/can-coffee-quality-environmental-sustainability-go-hand-in-hand/
- Kim, S., Karlesky, M.J., Myers, C.G., Schifeling, T. (2016, June 17). Why Companies Are Becoming B Corporations. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/06/why-companies-are-becoming-b-corporations
- Subramanian S. (2019, July 24). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jul/23/fairtrade-ethical-certification-supermarkets-sainsburys
- Birds & Beans. (2016, April 21). What is Bird Friendly Coffee? Retrieved from https://birdsandbeans.ca/what-is-bird-friendly-coffee/
- Fornero, L. (2020, September 2). How Sustainable is Your Coffee Packaging? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2020/09/how-sustainable-is-your-coffee-packaging-mtpak/
- Boydell, H. (2018, November 15). Sustainability in Coffee: What Are the Main Issues? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/11/sustainability-in-coffee-what-are-the-main-issues/