Regularly we get the question “which of your coffees are organic?” and though that may sound like a simple question, it is in fact not. So the proper answer would be “officially none, but in practice probably all of them”…. but how can that be? Engrano and organic coffee: how do we handle that?
The idea of organic coffee is based on 2 principles. First of all that growing coffee should have minimum impact on the environment. Secondly that the coffee should be as clean as possible from non-organic substances. And this is where it becomes difficult.
Minimum impact on the environment means for instance no use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides or other chemicals, It also means a minimum use of heavy equipment for for instance the harvest and processing of the coffee.
This is the easy part. Coffee farmers are generally rather poor and almost any small to medium size coffee farmer simply doesn’t have the money for fertilizer or pesticides and therefore doesn’t use them. They use, for instance, the coffee berries left over after washing the coffee as fertilizer for their plants. Or they plant certain trees in between the coffee plants, trees that add to the nutricion of the soil. And usually the farmers don’t have money for heavy equipment either. Not to mention that Arabica coffee usually grows on slopes where heavy equipement can’t even access.
So all together almost any small and medium size coffee farmers grow their coffee organically. They’re just not certificed, because to get an official certification they need to apply for an inspection and pay thousands of dollars per year for the certification. And the farmers simply don’t have the money for that.
The second part where the coffee should remain clean from non-organic substances is the harder part. This implies that the coffee is not allowed to be stored, transported and processed in the same space as non-organic products:
- It needs to be transported in a separate truck or container from the farmer to the harbour
- At customs (for export) it needs to be in a separate space for just organic products
- On the boat it must be in a container with only organic products
- At customs (for import ) it needs to be in a separate space for just organic products
- It needs to transported in a separate truck or container from customs to us
- We have to store it separately from non-organic coffee
- We cannot just roast it in the same coffee roaster as non-organic coffee unless we clean the roaster first
Only when fullfilling these requirements we can apply for a certificate that the coffee is organic, for which we need an inspection and pay lots of money to get the certificate. And of course we will only get the certificate if the farmer had the certificiate, which he usually doesn’t.
Interestingly enough, it apparently doesn’t matter whether the coffee is transported in a very clean or very polluting truck, boat and truck for the coffee to be organic or not. It’s only the presence of non-organic products nearby that is of importance.
Engrano and organic coffee; now you know why Engrano officially doesn’t have any. For us the most important is that the coffee is grown in the most environmentally friendly way and that the farmer gets paid a fair price so that he can keep growing the coffee like that. We’re not interested in spending a lot of time and money in certification of which we have our doubts that it would add much to the product apart from that some certification organization earns money from it. That is why we do direct-trade with small farmers: we pay them directly, we know them personally and we know they grow their coffee in an organic way.