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7 Best Organic Coffee Beans (Buying Guide + Awesome Brands to Try)

Drinking coffee has been a pleasure enjoyed worldwide for hundreds of years, but whether or not it has been grown organically is a much more modern concern. With environmentally friendly practices and ethically sourced products being more important than ever, it can be tricky to find a good coffee that won’t make you feel guilty.

That’s why we’ve put together this rundown of our 7 best certified organic coffee brands, as well as a few tips on what to look out for to ensure that your daily cup of coffee is produced with the minimum environmental impact.

Certified and Organic, Decaf Organic Coffee – How to Find the Best Organic Coffee for You

Most of our favorite beans are organic. But what does organic even mean?

Organic coffee, by definition, requires that it be grown without the use of chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides. Of course, it has to be GMO-free as well. It is inherently and incomparably more environmentally friendly than non-organic coffee. However, just because it is certified organic doesn’t mean it’s ethically produced, or even that it’ll taste good.

coffee beans on a flat surface

So, let’s take a look at a few of the important things you need to know when you’re on the lookout for the perfect cup of coffee that is equally good for your soul and your energy levels.

What Certifications Are Important?

There are a number of different organizations that offer organic certifications, with each having their own standards as to what qualifies. All agree that there should be no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers used, but not all of them insist that the soil it grows on also has to be free of these harmful chemicals.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers one of the most respected standards, with a strict set of requirements that have to be met before a company earns its seal of approval. It doesn’t matter where the coffee was grown, as the standards are the same for all producers. The USDA organic certification indicates that the soil has been free of prohibited synthetic chemicals for at least 3 years and that the products have at least 95% organically produced content (1).

These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

Other important certifications include:

  • Fairtrade – You’ve most likely heard of this one by now. It’s a globally recognized standard that requires that products must be purchased at the market price. They also have to meet social, economic and environmental standards at all levels of the supply chain. It first came about as a response to the terrible struggles endured by Mexican
  • Certified B – For a business to be a Certified B Corporation, it requires companies to consider the impact of their business practices at all stages (2). From the benefits available to their employees, to where they source their products, a Certified B company is assessed on 80 separate criteria to ensure that it works responsibly.
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified – In order to earn a Rainforest Alliance certification, a company has to meet their rigorous Sustainable Agriculture Standard. The standard focuses on preserving biodiversity, conserving natural resources, and providing a safe and fair working environment for its farmers.

Is It Shade Grown?

In case you’ve wondered, there’s more to being an environmentally friendly coffee company than just producing an organic product. One of the marks of a truly eco-orientated growing practice is shade growing.

Much of the world’s coffee is produced in plantations that are open to the sun, which produces higher crop yields. This practice, however, does little to provide a habitat for the huge range of wildlife, from birds to dragonflies that call shade-grown coffee farms home (3). In order to make the space for these huge plantations, natural growth has to be cut away, depleting both wildlife and vegetation diversity (4).

Shade-grown farms help to reduce soil erosion and create the perfect environment for a bio-diverse ecology to thrive.

Shade growing makes for healthier plants, eliminates much of the cause for using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and arguably produces better coffee as a result.

How Can I Find the Best Organic Coffee Near Me?

Your first stop should be your local Third Wave coffee shop. While high profile brands like Starbucks often include organic coffees in their menu, artisan cafes usually have a wider selection and take more care to source a variety of eco-friendly options. There are also instant coffee brands that offer organic certified variants.

If you live in a part of the world that is suitable for producing coffee, chances are that they will also know if there is a local source from which you can buy organic coffee straight from the farm. If you don’t have an organic coffee shop nearby, a quick Google search will help, as most businesses these days take advantage of the free advertising that a Google listing includes.

Once you’ve found a local coffee producer, then you should ask them which certifications they have, and from which organizations. If they don’t have a certificate that you recognize, chances are their coffee is not going to be organic or even necessarily ethically produced. Ask if they use genetically modified crops, how they fertilize their plants, and how committed they are to the environment. How they answer these questions will tell you a lot about the ethics of their company.

The Best Organic Coffee Brands of 2020

Here’s a list of organic coffee beans you may consider:

1. Death Wish Coffee – Strongest Organic Coffee

Death Wish Coffee

Specifications:

  • Origin: Blend – India and Peru
  • Roast: Dark
  • Tasting notes: Smooth, cherry, chocolate

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With each cup boasting twice the caffeine content of the average cup of coffee, Death Wish is a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans sourced mostly from India and Peru. It’s not for the faint of heart, or fragile of constitution. Despite the name though, it’s actually an eco-friendly brand. It is certified both Organic and Fair Trade. So, your heart may start beating faster, but you won’t be hastening the ecological apocalypse.

Since trying Death Wish Coffee several years ago, it is now the only coffee I can easily drink. Doesn’t matter how I fix it: black, bulletproof, cream, sugar, etc. I can choke down another type if I absolutely have to, but Death Wish is the only one I can drink black.

The extra caffeine kick doesn’t come at the cost of flavor, as it avoids becoming too acidic or bitter. In fact, it’s actually lower in acid content than your average coffee, too. It’s a dark roast that is smooth despite the Robusta beans being part of the mix. The Death Wish is bold and you’ll get notes of chocolate and cherry coming through.

Death Wish Coffee is available in a number of size options, as well as pre-ground, whole bean, or even in pods. They even have a subscription service that’s similar to these. This means you can buy the right amount for you for any type of coffee maker you want to use it with. It’s a great way to kick start your day without having to double up on the amount of coffee you’re drinking. If you want to get the best bang for your buck from your morning espresso, look no further.

Pros:

  • The world’s strongest coffee – twice as strong as the average cup
  • Low acidity
  • USDA Certified organic
  • Fairtrade
  • Available pre-ground, whole bean, or in pods

Cons:

  • Not suitable for people who are sensitive to caffeine
  • Avoid if you are pregnan

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2. Camano Island Coffee Roasters Organic – Sumatran Organic Coffee

Camano Island Coffee Roasters Organic

Specifications:

  • Origin: Single – Sumatra
  • Roast: Dark
  • Tasting notes: Rich, fruity, nutty, caramel

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Camano Island Coffee Roasters care about both the environment and the livelihoods of the people that make their coffee. That’s why everything they grow is not only organic, shade-grown, and Fairtrade, but also paid at the standard prices. Their coffee might cost a bit over the average price, but you can be sure that it is making a difference to the lives of the farmers growing it.

Sumatran coffee isn’t universally loved, but even if you’re not normally a fan this single-origin brew is worth a try. It’s robust and rich, with a complex repertoire of flavors, starting out fruity, with hints of nuts and a hint of caramel sweetness that makes it a great choice for after dinner. Even better for evening drinkers, it has a naturally low caffeine content, so instead of reaching for the decaf, give this one a try.

Camano Island’s Sumatra is also available in light and medium roasts, and in sizes from one to three pounds. They guarantee that your coffee will be sent to you within 48 hours of being roasted, so you can be sure it’s a fresh batch when it arrives.  Plus, the beans that go into the bag are certified Specialty Grade, which means they’re extra high quality.

Pros:

  • Naturally low caffeine content
  • Specialty Grade Top 1% Arabica Beans
  • USDA Certified Organic
  • Fairtrade
  • Shade Grown

Cons:

  • Not so great for a morning caffeine boost

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3. Volcanica Coffee Organic Range – Most Organic Varieties

Volcanica Coffee Organic Range

Specifications:

  • Origin: Single – Cameroon, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Sumatra, Peru
  • Roast: Medium
  • Tasting notes: Depend on the origin

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Volcanica are swiftly becoming synonymous with ethically sourced, high-quality coffee at reasonable prices. They even rare Jamaican Coffee Beans in their range. They visit farms before buying their produce, and they donate 1% of all their retail sales to charity.

With 11 different single origin coffees from 9 different regions to choose from, they have a coffee for almost every palate. All of them are medium roast coffees, so if you’re looking for something lighter or darker, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Though if a particular country’s coffee is your favorite, chances are you’ll find an organic Volcanica version that might just be the perfect ethical replacement.

You can be sure that you’re getting the best flavor possible too, as the beans are roasted in small batches when you order them, and are available in whole bean coffee or pre-ground.

Pros:

  • 11 different single origin coffees to choose from
  • USDA Certified organic
  • Fairtrade
  • South American coffees are Rainforest Alliance Certified
  • Roasted when you order

Cons:

  • No light or dark roast options

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4. Cafe Don Pablo Subtle Earth Organic Gourmet Coffee – Good Value for Money

Cafe Don Pablo Subtle Earth Organic Gourmet Coffee

Specifications:

  • Origin: Honduras
  • Roast: Medium-dark
  • Tasting notes: Rich dark chocolate, milk chocolate, caramel, cocoa, honey

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Don Pablo coffee is another brand that puts a high value on ethically grown and environmentally friendly coffee. They stick to high altitude, shade-grown beans, and thanks to their small, family-owned and operated company they are able to establish personal relationships with their growers. That’s why they created their own Sharing Certified program, which they describe as an even more effective version of the Fairtrade Standard.

The coffee itself is rich and velvety on the tongue, with a sweet chocolate profile that moves from dark chocolate to milk chocolate, with hints of caramel, honey, and cocoa. Yes, that’s three different types of chocolate flavors! It’s sweet, low in acid, and best served black.

Don Pablo’s Subtle Earth is roasted to order in small batches to ensure the freshness of your beans. It is available in Light, Dark, and Full City Dark roasts, as well as a water-processed Decaf variety. Pre-ground, whole bean, or even in pods, this is organic coffee provides a depth of flavor without breaking the bank.

Pros:

  • Shade-grown
  • USDA Certified organic
  • Sharing Certified
  • Roasted to order in small batches
  • Low acid content
  • Also available Decaf
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Some quality issues with recent batches

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5. Kicking Horse Coffee Smart Ass – Our Favorite Medium Roast Option

Kicking Horse Coffee Smart Ass

Specifications:

  • Origin: Blend – Africa, Central America, South America
  • Roast: Medium
  • Tasting notes: Red currant, sugar cane, milk chocolate, honey, berries

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Kicking Horse is a light-hearted Canadian coffee brand, but don’t be fooled. The company takes its commitment to social responsibility seriously and produces some excellent blends without compromising on sustainable growing practices. It has all the certifications you’d expect from a company that cares about the environment, and it’s even ensured that its coffees are Kosher.

The Smart Ass is just one of the available varieties of organic coffee, and it’s the one we’ve featured for a reason. It’s a delicious breakfast blend, with a sweet palate of berries and red currants, with hints of sugarcane and milk chocolate. As Kicking Horse Coffee themselves put it, it’s “cheeky, bright, and precocious.” Like an overly-inquisitive five-year-old, it certainly makes for an interesting morning!

Kicking Horse Coffee’s Smart Ass is only available as whole bean coffee, so you’ll need to invest in a grinder of your own to enjoy this coffee. However, freshly ground is the best way to go to get the most from your beans anyway, so look at it as them allowing you to have the best possible flavor from your drink. It’s good for all sorts of coffee-making methods, from a finely-ground espresso to a coarse French press, and even comes out great for making cold brew.

Pros:

  • Delicious medium roast
  • USDA Certified organic
  • Fairtrade
  • Kosher

Cons:

  • Not available pre-ground

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6. Sleepy Monk Coffee Ethiopian – Our Favorite Single-Origin Ethiopian Coffee

Ethiopian

Specifications:

  • Origin: Single – Ethiopia
  • Roast: Medium
  • Tasting notes: Chocolate, blueberry, earthy

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Sleepy Monk Coffee is a small, beachside coffee house in Cannon Beach, Oregon that prides itself on ensuring that all of the coffee beans on the menu are organically certified, as well as tasting great.

Did you know that Ethiopia is the ancestral home of the coffee plant?

Only the highest quality Ethiopian beans exhibit blueberry notes when you drink them, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in Sleepy Monk’s medium roast.

Sleepy Monk’s Ethiopian is a robust drink with an earthy aspect. The blueberry combines with hints of chocolate and a smooth, earthy finish to comprise a single-origin Ethiopian coffee that’s hard to beat. Its complex and nuanced flavor profile makes this a must-try, especially if you’re a Third Wave coffee drinker. They also have a range of different coffees from other sources, from light to French roast.

Pros:

  • USDA Certified organic
  • Roasted to order in small batches
  • Available in a wide range of pre-ground sizes as well as whole bean

Cons:

  • No information on the sustainability of their suppliers

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7. Blue Bottle Giant Steps – Our Favorite Medium-Dark Blend

Blue Bottle Coffee Giant Steps

Specifications:

  • Origin: Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, and Uganda
  • Roast: Medium-dark
  • Tasting notes: Cocoa, toasted marshmallow, graham cracker

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Blue Bottle Coffee is well-known, but don’t let that keep you from trying this. Beginning in San Francisco, California (the United States’ most-caffeinated city), Blue Bottle soon expanded to cafes around the world.

They ship from their roastery in Oakland, California, and promise that each order is shipped no more than 24 hours after roasting. They also perform weekly cuppings on every bean that comes in – in the case of blends like the Giant Steps, both in the individual beans and in the eventual combination. All the beans used in Giant Steps – from Sumatra, Uganda, and Papua New Guinea – are certified organic by CCOF, a USDA-accredited certification agency based in Santa Cruz, California. Plus, all roasting equipment is certified organic, so you don’t have to worry about residual contamination in the roaster.

This coffee demonstrates why blends can be great, if they’re made by people with a great love for fabulous coffee. Over a deep cocoa base, Giant Steps blossoms with vanilla and caramel notes of toasted marshmallow and the whole-grain flavor of graham crackers. If this sounds a little too much like ‘smores for you, don’t worry – these beans work beautifully in French press, and even pour over and Moka pot.

And yes, jazz fans: it’s named for the John Coltrane classic (5), which combines smoothness, pyrotechnics, and layers of sound. Just like this coffee does with flavor.

Pros:

  • CCOF certified organic
  • Roasted in certified organic roasting machines
  • Weekly quality-control taste testing
  • Shipping time maximum 24 hours after roasting

Cons:

  • Only available in whole bean

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Organic Coffee Beans and Brands – Our Verdict

Not only are organically grown coffees better for the planet, but they are also easily some of the best tasting options on the market. Thankfully, you don’t have to compromise your morals to get a delicious espresso. While we love the incredible punch of Death Wish Coffee, there are so many other great options out there that deserve to be tasted. In all honesty, if you can’t find one that is perfect for you, you might not be trying hard enough.

FAQs

Organic coffee is indeed better for your health.  It has a number of health benefits which are boosted by their more natural production methods. These include:

Rich in antioxidants and micronutrients

Naturally lower acidity is better for people with sensitive stomachs and reduces damage to tooth enamel

Organic decaf also uses a process that avoids the harmful chemicals sometimes used to strip caffeine from coffee

The certification process varies depending on the organization providing its seal of approval. It usually involves a lengthy series of analyses and reviews to ensure that the product meets the standards.  In many countries, falsely claiming that a product is organic can carry a large fine for each offense. They also are subject to frequent checks, and certifications need to be renewed regularly, usually between one to three years.

References
  1. Organic Production and Handling Standards, USDA. (2002, October). Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/OrganicProductionandHandlingStandards.pdf
  2. About B Corps. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://bcorporation.net/about-b-corps
  3. Ecological Benefits of Shade-grown Coffee. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/ecological-benefits-shade-grown-coffee
  4. Rodewald, A. (2017, April 30). ‘Shade-grown’ coffee has a surprising environmental benefit. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/shade-grown-coffee-has-a-surprising-environmental-benefit-2017-4
  5. Jones, J (2018, November 13). Jazz Deconstructed: What Makes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” So Groundbreaking and Radical? Retrieved from http://www.openculture.com/2018/11/jazz-deconstructed-makes-john-coltranes-giant-steps-groundbreaking-radical.html
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