Organic Vs. Conventional Coffee

Coffee lovers are discerning people, and there’s a lot to say about its many flavors, aromas, and origins – but one of the biggest differences between coffees is most striking before it even reaches your cup.

It’s the difference between conventional and organic coffee. Even if you already choose organic in the produce aisle, you might wonder why it matters for your brew.

To put things in perspective, coffee is one of the most widely traded commodities in the world – with over 12 billion pounds of coffee produced annually.

Meeting that demand is no easy task. So over time, farming methods have been developed to maximize production – but often at the expense of human and environmental health. What results is the non organic, conventional coffee that many are used to. So what’s the difference between that and organic coffee?

First, conventional coffee is among the most heavily chemically treated foods in the world. It is steeped in synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides – a real mouthful with a bad taste. Not only does the environment suffer from this overload, but so do the people who live in it. Farmers are exposed to a high level of chemicals while spraying the crops and while handling them during harvest. The surrounding communities are also impacted through chemical residues in the air and water. These chemical presences are not just unpleasant; many are highly toxic and detrimental to human health.

In the case of organic coffee, there are no synthetic fertilizers or chemicals used in growing or production, which means cleaner beans, air, land, and water. The coffee is grown with only organic fertilizers, like coffee pulp, chicken manure, or compost. Organic farms also combat climate change by emitting less carbon than chemical farms, while also sequestering significant amounts of carbon. As a bonus, organic coffee beans are richer in healthful antioxidants, and many people can even taste the difference. Your health, and the health of the planet, both get a boost.

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Second, most conventionally grown coffee plants are hybrids developed to flourish in open sun. Coffee naturally prefers the shade, but a crop grown in thick forest is more difficult to tend and harvest, and cannot be planted as densely.

Forests are cleared to make room for open fields in which to grow mass amounts of this sun-loving coffee variety. Production increases, but the wild ecosystem of flora and fauna is demolished. Natural pest-deterrents, like birds and lizards, are left without a habitat – and coffee-ruining insects overpopulate, leading to more pesticide use. And without the natural fertilizer of these ecosystems (bird droppings, leaf litter, and natural decay) the use of chemical fertilizer increases.

When it rains, the lack of tree cover means there is increased water runoff. Soil washes away, and with it go natural nutrients, eventually eroding and degrading the soil so much that growth is almost impossible. The rainwater carries away not just the soil, but all of the chemicals it has been treated with, and both end up in local water supplies.

Most organic coffee is grown the natural way – within the shade of lush forests, providing a home for wild plants and animals, sustaining soil fertility, and keeping unique regional ecosystems alive. These forested farms also more resilient and better equipped to handle unusual weather patterns that are a result of climate change, making them a safer investment for farmers and their futures. Hundreds of thousands of acres of South American rainforests have already been demolished for various industries, but Equal Exchange has partnered with co-ops that are working to restore the land to its natural forested splendor while growing organic coffee.

So what can you do? The organic coffee market has grown according to increased demand from people who want to drink something they can feel good about. Industries can and do change based on the choices that you make in the grocery store or at your favorite café – so you can vote with your mug! By purchasing organic coffee where you can find it (and demanding it where you can’t), you support systems that value healthy ecosystems, sustainable methods, and superior coffee. Now that’s good taste!


  • Barstow, Cynthia. The Eco-foods Guide: What’s Good for the Earth Is Good for You. Gabriola, B.C.: New Society, 2002. Print.
  • Basic Standards for Organic Production and Processing. Tholey-Theley, Germany: IFOAM, 2000. Print.
  • Benbrook, Charles. Core Truths: Serving Up the Science Behind Organic Agriculture: 2006 Compilation of Research. Foster, RI: Organic Center, 2006. Print.
  • “Coffee in the Global Economy.” Global Exchange.

About The Author

Sara Fiore


  1. Marvin Benadavid | 22nd Dec 19

    Does regular or decaf coffee have the highest concentration of potassium? This is relevant for coffee lovers with chronic kidney disease.

    • Kate Chess | 27th Dec 19

      Sorry, Marvin — potassium isn’t something we test for, so I can’t answer definitively. But according to an article by the National Kidney Foundation, coffee is considered a low-potassium food if consumed in moderation:

  2. Jim Lynch | 1st Dec 19

    Can you share stats & sources of the fatalities and illnesses linked conclusively to these nasty, ugly things attributed solely to the consumption or production of conventionally produced coffee?

  3. Dan Goebel | 31st Jul 19

    I am a strong flavor lover, so I get the Equal Exchange Organic French Roast. I also like using the pods with my Keurig, so the flavor is more fresh/bold. Enjoy!

  4. Robert J Cuillo | 7th Jul 19

    Why does organic coffee taste much weaker than conventional coffee?

    • Kate Chess | 8th Jul 19

      If it’s brewed correctly, it definitely shouldn’t! Check the proportions of coffee to water that you’re using and make sure you’re using an appropriate grind for your brewing method. If that doesn’t help, try a dark roast for a bolder flavor.

  5. Linda | 25th May 19

    Where can I buy organic green beans?

    • Kate Chess | 28th May 19

      We only sell roasted beans — good luck with your search!

  6. Claire | 24th May 19

    I have been told that many coffee roasters do not seek out the Organic Certification, because it is very pricey, and then they would have to transfer that cost by paying the farmers less. Is there a way they show are Organic, even if they don’t acquire the cert?

    • Kate Chess | 28th May 19

      Hi Claire — it’s true, certifications are costly. All Equal Exchange coffee that says Organic IS certified organic, but it’s definitely a considerable expense.

  7. Mary Gates | 30th Mar 18

    Where do we buy organic coffee?

  8. William | 22nd Sep 17

    As small batch coffee roaster in Newburgh Indiana I appreciate that although a bit more expensive, the benefits far outweigh the cost.

  9. Connie | 14th Jul 17

    Thanks so much for the very helpful info! Am switching to organic after reading that!

  10. Fiorella | 24th Jun 17

    Please any brand of good organic coffee?

    • Gary Goodman | 26th Sep 17

      You can try Equal Exchange brand coffee.

  11. Chemex 101: Brewing Tips and Advice From a Coffee Novice | Downshiftology | 7th May 17

    […] what I can say is do pay the extra and buy organic coffee. Conventional coffee is one of the most heavily chemically treated foods in the world. So I choose quality over […]

  12. Jan | 28th Mar 17

    Can anyone recommend a great organic coffee?

  13. Laura | 20th Mar 17

    First cup of organic coffee.
    LOVE IT!!! Will never buy conventional again.

  14. Mads | 17th Feb 17

    Thank you for this!

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