Sunday, December 7, 2008

Green Coffee Beans

I love when I find a way to achieve several objectives with one action. This week I figured out just such an action I could be taking.

Coffee is one purchase that I will probably continue to make even when I've gone 99% local. Yet, I'm aware of the issues surrounding conventionally-grown coffee: pesticide residue on the coffee beans, environmental damage from clearcutting and monoculture production, loss of habitat for songbirds and other wildlife, and exploitation of plantation workers.

Fair-trade, organic and shade grown coffees have become increasingly available in recent years, yet for me they've remained out of my price range. This is a common problem, I believe, for many of us wishing to do the right thing--affordability. It leaves us with an awful dilemma: continue doing what we ourselves find morally objectionable, give up something we enjoy, or find some way to fit the morally responsible choice into our lives by making other sacrifices.

Fortunately in the case of coffee beans I've found a win-win solution. I discovered that whole green (unroasted) coffee beans are extremely economical, even the certified fair trade organic, shade grown varieties. The only trade-off is that I have to roast the beans myself, which actually sounds fun to me. Toss them in a cast iron skillet, watch them roast before my very eyes, and breathe in the heady aroma. I can control exactly how dark I want the roast to be for each batch I make, and by roasting small batches I'm guaranteed the freshest coffee possible. In their green state, coffee beans keep indefinitely (but lose quality very quickly once roasted). That means I can buy in bulk--enjoying further savings--and have a large stockpile on hand.

If I buy 20 pounds at a time--which is about a 20-month supply for me--the price is comparable to the cheapest conventionally grown, pesticide-laden stuff on the shelves of every supermarket. I've found some fair trade organic, shade grown varieties that work out to $3.70 per pound, and most are around $4.10 per pound. Obviously, if you buy in smaller allotments you'll pay a bit more, but it's still a great deal considering what you're getting.

And have you noticed lately that all of the supermarket coffees are now being packaged in plastic containers instead of steel cans? I find that a very annoying development. But if I buy in bulk I will no longer be supporting such wasteful packaging practices.

See, one little action and I'm changing the world. (Well, just a little bit.)

Here are a few websites that sell green coffee beans. They're just to get you started--you'll want to do your own search too. Be aware, these are not all fair trade, organic and shade grown. Read carefully--there are a lot of conventional beans in the mix and then some that are fair-trade, but not shade grown, etc.

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