The coffee plant evolved in the forests of Ethiopia long before its discovery in the 12th Century. Today, over 40% of people globally drink coffee regularly and coffee trees cover an estimated 11 million hectares of land throughout the tropics.
However, coffee production is currently under a serious threat that could change the way we drink coffee and possibly leave our cups dry. The industrialization of coffee has led to a rise in monoculture, use of heavy chemicals, improper growing climates, and more.
Large farms, in places like Brazil, stand at a stark contrast to traditional farming methods. Small-scale coffee farmers perform nearly all their work by hand, from planting to picking. The African farms we partner with at Kahawa 1893 steward the land using traditional and sustainable coffee production methods.
Why is African Coffee the Most Eco-friendly?
1. Shade Grown
For thousands of years, coffee trees have grown wild in the shade of other trees in the forests of Ethiopia. As global coffee production has increased, African coffee farmers have continued to produce coffee honoring the traditional way coffee plants have evolved.
Shade-grown coffee slows down the ripening process of coffee cherries, allowing for a bold flavor to develop. African coffee is grown at high altitudes which means cooler temperatures. This environment is not hospitable to diseases and does not require the use of chemical fertilizers, fungicides, and herbicides to maintain production.
In contrast, industrial coffee plantations outside Africa cut down forests and grow coffee in the sun at lower altitudes. This environment is more susceptible to pests and diseases which in turn require the use of heavy chemicals.
Moreover, these large coffee plantations grow coffee as a monoculture crop without intercropping. This erodes the soil of nutrients and requires heavy use of synthetic fertilizers for production. These chemicals are not only damaging to the environment around the ecosystem but also pose a health hazard for the workers.
African coffee farming offers a sustainable model for the future of coffee farming, where coffee production preserves the environment and protects the future of the planet.
2. Regenerative Farming
Coffee is grown along the equator in East Africa where rich, fertile soil and the local microclimate provide the perfect conditions for cultivating coffee. Farmers employ traditional farming methods like intercropping that have regenerative effects on the soil and keep the land healthy. Intercropping is the practice of growing multiple crops within close proximity to improve biodiversity.
Regenerative farming stands in contrast to monoculture where a single coffee species is grown exclusively leading to the rapid erosion of soil nutrition. As a result, heavy use of chemicals like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is required to maintain industrial coffee farms. Healthy and vibrant soil doesn't require the use of chemicals. It produces more richly flavored coffee beans, nourishes the environment, and nurtures healthy communities free from harsh contaminants.
3. Species Diversity
There are 124 known species of coffee. However, over 99% of the coffee produced and consumed today comes from just two species: arabica and robusta. Due to low genetic diversity, the coffee plant is at risk of complete loss due to disease and climate change. It’s predicted that by 2050, half of the world’s coffee growing areas will not be suitable for cultivating the arabica coffee variety due to warmer temperatures.
As the birthplace of coffee, Africa is home to many coffee species beyond the Arabica coffee variety. These coffee species can adapt to changing climates and are more disease resistant. Native African coffee offers a genetic diversity that is key to the future of coffee and the luxury of distinct flavors.
4. Hand-picked Coffee Reduces Waste
During harvesting, African coffee farmers carefully hand-pick only the ripe coffee cherries from the tree and process them until the seed is ready to be roasted. Since the coffee cherries do not ripen uniformly, they return to the same coffee plant, several times within the same season.
In contrast, industrial coffee harvesting, using machinery, strips whole coffee branches from the tree. This process damages the trees and harvests unripe coffee cherries that are wasted or used to produce low quality coffee blends.
Handpicked African coffee results in a sweeter, more delicious cup of coffee. It values quality over quantity, preserves the trees, and maintains the forest ecosystem.
5. Naturally Processed vs. Washed Coffee
A study on coffee’s water footprint reported that it requires 140 liters of water to produce one cup of coffee. Post-harvesting coffee production uses a ton of water. However, in Africa the most popular way to process coffee is by drying it out in African sun-beds. This process is known as the natural process or dry process as it does not use any water.
Naturally processed coffees are complex and fruit forward. These are some of the most celebrated African coffees. Naturally processed coffees aren't just delicious, they also save water. Water is a scarce resource in coffee producing communities and women walk long distances to secure it.
Traditional coffee processing methods used by African farmers respect the natural needs of the beloved coffee plant. At Kahawa 1893, we're committed to partnering with small-scale farms to produce rich and flavorful coffee beans that are naturally more sustainable than modern farming alternatives. Eco-friendly farming practices are the solution for us to continue enjoying delicious coffee every morning.