Some of the coffees we buy are certified organic - including our popular Classic Espresso from the El Palto cooperative in Peru - whilst others, such as our Ethiopia Nano Challa, are wild grown. This blog explores what actually these terms mean and how you can help make conscious purchasing decisions.
WILD GROWN COFFEE
Good soil. High-altitude. Shade trees. Great coffee starts with great beans grown in high-quality, nutrient-packed soil at high elevations under a natural shade canopy.
Wild grown coffee can be defined as coffee naturally grown from inception, before agricultural chemicals were invented. Traditionally most Yemeni and Ethiopian coffee is wild grown, although wild grown coffee can also be found elsewhere. This coffee is truly organic, needing less farm management or indeed certification.
However, deforestation, climate change and the spread of pests and diseases means that 60% of all wild coffee species are under threat of extinction. In Ethiopia, for example, the number of locations where wild Arabica grows could decrease by as much as 85% by 2080.
We know that every coffee we purchase has been produced in an environmentally responsible way, however for small producers it’s often too expensive to become organic certified.
In some cases the coffees we buy organic coffee, but as our roastery is not organic certified we cannot label it as organic. For this reason we cannot label our coffees as organic certified, even though in some cases for all intents and purposes, the coffee is organic.
Certification has been in the spotlight more lately across all industries - the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy gives a rather open view on how certification can sometimes be misleading. Certified organic coffee doesn’t mean that the coffee is of higher quality, nor that even no pesticides were used.
On organic farms, it is true that growing conditions and processing have been thoroughly monitored by independent agencies and found to be free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other potentially harmful chemicals. However, this is usually done on such a large scale that it’s difficult to guarantee verification.
Our Founder Dan has personal experience of this effect. He shares his view:
"In my old traceability life we did surveys on use of chemicals on farms and found that, despite certification, farming practices for large scale or lower quality farms often did not differ regardless of whether they were organic certified or not."
CAN COFFEE TREATED WITH CHEMICALS BE BAD FOR MY HEALTH?
Applying pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to any crop can have negative environmental and social impacts (specifically around the handling of these chemicals). However, there is often a misunderstanding around any health concerns when drinking coffee that is not organic certified.
Coffee is not eaten raw like other fruit. Firstly, the flesh of the fruit is discarded and then the bean is soaked, fermented, and subject to a thorough drying process before leaving its origin. A huge amount of heat is then applied during the roasting process - which depending on the bean, can be in excess of 200 degrees Celsius. Finally (if brewed correctly), coffee ground coffee will be subjected to water of 92-96 degrees Celsius.
There is little evidence of any chemical residue found on coffee by the time it is consumed, no matter how it’s been produced, processed or handled.
HOW YOU CAN MAKE CONSCIOUS PURCHASING DECISIONS
At Chimney Fire Coffee, we aim to work with small producers and form direct relationships with small scale farms to ensure we know every aspect of our supply chain.
This means not only having full transparency on how this coffee is bought and sold or on the quality of the coffee, but also how it has been produced and handled before it arrives at our roastery. We also use quality control tools at our roastery, such as moisture and density meters which will also allow us to keep a close eye on what we are purchasing from origin.
Wild grown coffee is definitely a good place to start - our Ethiopia Nano Challa or Colombia Finca Las Cruces for example. As mentioned before, climate change and deforestation are major threats to wild grown coffee, so the more we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and make wider conscious purchasing decisions, the better.
There is still a place for certification, and as we grow, we are increasingly working with organic certified producers for our larger volume coffees, (e.g. Peru).
This will very much be a secondary consideration though, as other attributes such as altitude, shade cover and really knowing the producers help guarantee the coffee has been produced in the way we are happy with.
As always, please get in touch if you have any questions and we'll be happy to help!
This article was originally written by Dan Webber and published in August 2021.