Attention Caffeine Junkies!

If you drink coffee (about 50% of Americans drink it every day, and 80% quaff it sometimes) you should know where it comes from. (and hey, now it’s good for you, so go ahead!)

The exhaustively researched cover story for the Nov/Dec Issue of E/The Environmental Magazine, “Grounds For Change” covers the coffee industry, from small fair trade outfits to Starbucks.

There’s three labels to be concerned with if you care about people, birds and the health of the earth: organic, fair trade and song-bird friendly. To make your life easier, if your coffee is organic, chances are it’s fair-trade and good bird habitat, so you don’t need to go nuts looking for triple-certified brew. Besides the labelling, organic coffee just tastes better. For the last few weeks I’ve been sipping on Equal Exchange’s decaf and it is the best decaf I’ve ever had! (I know, I know, decaf, I ‘m a weenie).

This is why: “Coffee grows best in tropical highlands,” explains Chris Wille, the Costa Rica-based chief of the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Agriculture Program. The bushy plants are maintained at a height of six to eight feet. After the seeds are dried and hulled, they become green coffee beans. A mature coffee plant generally yields about a pound of roasted beans per year. According to Connecticut-based roaster Coffee-Tea-Etc., “Every step in the process from climate and growing conditions, genetics of the tree, to the final brewing methods affect these natural chemicals. Each of these factors affects the distinct taste of the final brew.”

‘This is what shade-grown coffee looks like. Integrated with the forest, it makes a better tasting coffee.’

‘This is what coffee that's grown in the sun looks like. Monoculture alert!’

There are also some excellent sidebars to the article, including one on where to find this good-for-us-all brew.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.