USDA Organic Coffee What Does It Really Mean?
Organic seems to be the “it” word in today’s food culture and let’s be honest, there’s little denying the ongoing push and drive across the country for people to go organic. Venture into any established grocery store, and you'll most probably be inundated with organic products on almost every aisle, right? In fact, there are stores popping up everywhere that sell nothing but organic products, from fruits, grains, various meats, and of course coffee.
Just like any organic food product, finding organic coffee nowadays is relatively easy. But when we talk about “organic” what does that actually mean, what are you paying extra for, and exactly what is USDA organic coffee?
OKAY, I’m still confused, what the heck are you talking about?
If you're clueless about USDA organic coffee don’t worry, hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of what it means to be "organic" and how it can affect the taste of your daily brew.
Why Opt for Organic Coffee?
There is no denying that USDA organic coffee is the healthier option, coffee producers use minimal (if any) pesticides, chemicals, and fertilizers on their crops. Organic coffee is also grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment with systems in place that also helps to replenish and maintain soil fertility for future generations.
Any coffee producer wanting to get the USDA seal of approval must go through a strict certification process and prove that they only use materials and methods allowed (more on that further down) in organic production.
Many coffee geeks believe that these natural production methods ultimately produce a better quality bean and organic coffee provides a much richer flavor. So if you want the best tasting coffee, you should hunt down USDA organic coffee on your next shopping trip.
Organic Coffee and Chemicals
When you see coffee that's been USDA organically certified it doesn’t mean that no chemicals were used in the production of the coffee beans, what you are buying is coffee that has been grown with “almost no” chemicals.
If chemicals are used they aren’t just any random toxins; they have to be from a list of approved substances set out by the USDA, for something to be considered “organic.”
The approved list contains both inorganic and organic substances; however, there are organic substances that are every bit as toxic as the artificial stuff that’s cooked up in a science lab.
Organic coffee is not just about the added health benefits; the environment is also considered and a requirement of the USDA certification. To get the organic thumbs up coffee growers must also be able to prove that they are not doing any harm to the water or soil either with chemicals or how the coffee has been grown and sustained.
USDA Organic Certification
Now that you have a better understanding about the chemicals allowed in organic coffee, do you just take the farmers word that none were used and if they were did they have no choice?
For a farmer to use any of the chemicals on the USDA approved list, they have to clearly demonstrate that they have no other way to protect their coffee crops without using them. This verification can be done at the certification stage or if conditions change after the crops were harvested.
...I know it must all sound confusing.
Basically, any farmer that wants to be USDA organic coffee certified has to prove (and demonstrate) that their entire growth and harvesting process meets all the set requirements.
Once the USDA are happy, they can then obtain the organic certification and earn the right to stamp that label on the side of their packaging.
Tip: If you want my recommendation for a great tasting USDA organic certified coffee, Cafe Don Pablo makes a great tasting brew. It's 100% organic, and GMO-free has smooth, rich chocolaty notes, and low acidity (for those of you with sensitive stomachs).
Cafe Don Pablo is a family owned coffee roasters, and all of their coffee is roasted to order in small batches (typically 30-60 kilos) in Miami. If you can’t find any in your local grocery store, you can pick some up at Amazon.
It Says Organic, Does That Mean It’s Non-GMO?
The labels are very different and understanding the difference between non-GMO and GMO will ensure you are getting the safest coffee for your yourself and family. However, this is where it gets a bit confusing, here’s why.
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and an organism that has been genetically modified can still be grown organically - makes sense?
Previously (before 1997, I believe) the USDA organic certification didn’t require coffee growers to declare whether the coffee grown was non-GMO or GMO. Also, the USDA did not specify this on their labels. However, over the years the USDA has changed its stance on the whole GMO situation, and they now state on their website as follows:
"The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients."
To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren’t using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances from farm to table.
This statement explicitly states that USDA certified organic products (those food items that have the USDA stamp) are in fact also non-GMO products as well.
To be honest, in most cases non-GMO coffee growers are proud of this fact and will clearly label their coffee beans GMO-free if they are, so don't be surprised to find to labels on your coffee, one for GMO-free and one stating the coffee is USDA organic.