In Denmark, for many years, the primary market for sustainably grown coffee has been an organic certification. Lately, the sales of organic certified coffee have grown by more than 20% per year in a generally stagnant coffee market.
Amongst progressive and conscious foodies, organic certification has become the new standard. But in recent years, there’s been a search for the next step, as more and more people realise how the organic certification neither brings full sustainability nor the highest flavour experiences.
Basically, what organic certified coffee promises, is that the coffee is grown only with the aid of organic substances – no chemical fertilizers nor chemical pesticides can be used. While this comes off as a good thing for nature, it’s not really a sustainable solution in the long term. It’s merely a ban of methods, rather than a method for growing coffee sustainably.
In Denmark, the organic certified coffee is called Økologisk which directly translates to Ecological. This is a pity since it gives consumers the impression, that the coffee is not just grown without any chemical aids but in balance with nature in a sustainable way. Here are some basic facts on organic farming that states the delusion of organic farming being sustainable:
Organic certified coffee can be grown with the aid of copper spray, as long as it is the right solution of copper
Organic coffee can be grown as a monoculture with 100s of hectares of land with just one single species of plants
Organic farming creates polluted wastewater which can be led directly into the nearby rivers
These are all things one wouldn’t consider to be sustainable. That being said, we're not trying to diminish organic produce. Rather, this is an attempt to highlight the many nuances and downsides that can follow when a populistic demand affects the way a farmer traditionally grows coffee without any education on organic farming practices.
As a coffee roasting company, our primary contributions to sustainability is, first of all, to make sure that the farmers are paid decently for their hard work and secondly, to make sure that what we do at our own premises are contributing to sustainable development. In addition, we also want to act responsibly in relation to the sustainability of the primary production of coffee. Coffee farming.
In 2014, the owner of the Brazilian coffee farm, Daterra, Luis N. Pascoal, offered us to cooperatively run a piece of land at their farm. This would be a constellation based on our knowledge about sustainable coffee growing and theories of ecology and their practical expertise in coffee farming.
We agreed to make a long-term collaboration to explore how to grow coffee mainly on sustainable practices.
Luis selected a piece of land on his farm and named it Our Plot.
Our Plot has been defined from three main criteria; Quality, sustainability, and scalability. First, we need high quality to make the product relevant and interesting for consumers. Second, it has to be grown in a manner that improves the health of the earth. And finally, it only has real relevance if it can be scaled up to actually have an impact on a large scale.
From here, we needed some rules to fulfill the above-mentioned criteria.
Organic certification is seen as a baseline, but the aim has always been to explore more sustainable ways of growing coffee. From the outset, we worked with the following rules or guidelines for setting up the lot.
In collaboration with the people at Daterra, we have managed to grow the coffee at Our Plot based on these guidelines. It has been a long and educational process where we've been in close communication with Daterra's talented agronomist, João, all the steps of the way. We have waited years for the result, not knowing the outturn or if we would succeed in growing coffee in the uttermost sustainable approach possible.
This also made us, to say the least, extremely excited when we cupped it earlier this year at Daterra.
When visiting Daterra in June, glancing over the field at Our Plot, it was striking to see how much the Inga trees have grown. The Inga trees are carefully planted between the coffee trees and work as shade trees for the coffee meanwhile they attract more life in the form of insects and small animals.
This helps to increase the diversity and will bring more organic material to the area. A criterion the Inga trees fulfill is to minimize the need for 'man-made input' while helping the plants retain more water.
As you may have noticed the coffee is not certified organic at the moment, despite our effort to reduce the 'man-made input' to a minimum. It will be certified organic in the coming years when the trees have been growing for 3 years in the lot where they do not receive any chemical input.
This project, Our Plot, is just as much a way of learning into detail about sustainable coffee growing for us and Daterra, so we in the future hopefully can practice this in much higher scales.
We know how much organic compost there has gone into the field at Our Plot. At the moment we are waiting for a number that indicates how much NPK has been added through the organic compost. We will then compare that number to the NPK number we measure in the cherries.
The result will probably show a fairly high number. This is expected, as we are still starting the plot up, but as the Ingas grow and the plot develops there will be so much life and diversity that the input and output numbers will even out. In time, maybe the man-made input will fall below the output due to a self-sustaining system emerging.
The coffee plants have reacted differently to the environment the previous year.
The Bourbons are doing well and the Geisha is also finding its place in the environment, though not without having to fight a bit.
The Laurinas, on the other hand, are not holding up well. They have grown very little and approximately 20-30% of the crops have died. The ones that haven’t grown well probably have to be replaced since they won’t be able to compete for nutrition against the other plants.
All in all João Reis, the head agronomist at Daterra, is very pleased with the development of Our Plot.
A project like this continuously evaluated and what seems to be a set back can prove to be an advantage in a later stage. The plot will grow and change with time to get closer to meet the criteria we initially stated when initiating the sustainable project.
We will launch this harvest in two different stages. The first part of the harvest has been processed at their Masterpiece wet and dry mill.
The coffee has been semi-carbonic macerated for 48 hours under controlled temperatures to give it more complexity in terms of aromas as well as enhancing the acidity in terms of strength and characteristics.
This is a coffee we've waited years to share with you, and now the day has finally arrived. Let us know your thoughts on the project. We hope you enjoy the coffee.