Conventional coffee growing—that is, clear-cutting forests to grow coffee in full sun, and using pesticides—is a major factor behind plummeting bird populations. The good news: More and more people are brewing up organic coffee. Organically grown coffee plants do better in the shade, which means the coffee's grown without destroying those critical forest habitats.
Organic coffee is also grown without using toxic pesticides that kill birds and harm workers. (See 3 Ways Coffee Can Boost Your Health and Stop Global Warming for more about shade-grown coffee.)
But how does it taste? To find out, we selected 10 organic coffees, ranging from artisan specialty coffees to generic brands, for a taste test. To assist us, coffee connoisseurs Phil Proteau and Brian Ludviksen from Counter Culture Coffee served as brew masters. They brewed the coffee in French presses provided by Bodum for dozens of Rodale employees; 40 participants rated the organic coffee they tested. The coffee was kept in numbered brown paper bags, so neither the taste testers nor the brewers knew which brand was in the cups. Participants were asked to score a sample of each coffee from 1 to 10 in the following categories: aroma, flavor, body, and aftertaste.
Rodale.com Organic Coffee Taste Test Winners
Overall Winners 1. Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value 2. Equal Exchange 3. Allegro 4. Jim's Organic Coffee 5. Pura Vida
Aroma 1. Equal Exchange 2. Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value 3. Jim's Organic Coffee 4. Birds & Beans 5. Coda
Flavor 1. Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value 2. Pura Vida 3. Allegro 4. Equal Exchange 5. Birds & Beans
Body 1. Allegro 2. Equal Exchange 3. Jim's Organic Coffee 4. Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value 5. Pura Vida
Aftertaste 1. Pura Vida 2. Jim's Organic Coffee 3. Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value 4. Green Mountain Coffee 5. Equal Exchange
#1:Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value
Coffee tested: Island Blend, heavy and robust, with mild acidity and a slightly earthy, spicy flavor
Tasting highlights: A straight-up crowd pleaser for a general taste-testing audience; testers called it "nice, sweet, and fruity" and "toasted"
Noteworthy: Apparently, you don't have to sacrifice good taste for affordability. This blend, which is carried under Whole Food Market's generic 365 label, costs about $11 for 24 ounces, half the cost of many others tested, and it ranked No. 1 overall and in the flavor category, also placing in the top five in the remaining categories of aroma, body, and aftertaste. Talk about bang for your buck. (Note, however, that this coffee did not tout Fair Trade certification.)
#2: Equal Exchange
Coffee tested: Organic Las Colinas, El Salvador, a medium roast featuring a sweet, nutty, floral flavor with an orange aftertaste.
Tasting highlights: Although taste testers didn't offer many write-in descriptions, they rated this Equal Exchange selection very well. It was a favorite among Rodale taste testers, finishing second overall and in the body category, first in aroma, fourth in flavor, and fifth in aftertaste.
Noteworthy: Equal Exchange isn't just about taste, it's about rebuilding the food system to provide healthier food and drink and working conditions for farmers. It supports small farmer co-ops and sustainable-farming measures and techniques, although not all of its coffee is certified organic at this time. The Rodale Café exclusively brews Equal Exchange coffee.
Coffee tested: Whole Foods Blend, a light and dark roasts blend featuring a spicy, sweet, and smoky flavor
Tasting highlights: Ranked first in body and third overall and in the flavor category, with some taste testers calling it a "very clean and traditional" coffee.
Noteworthy: Whole Foods Market now owns Allegro Coffee, so in addition to offering local and specialty coffees in its stores, it also offers bulk beans and many packaged coffees from Allegro.
#4: Jim's Organic Coffee
Coffee tested: Sweet Love, a dark, full-bodied blend with a smoky taste
Tasting highlights: Rating fourth overall, this blend consistently found itself on top 5 lists, including No. 3 in both the aroma and body categories, and second in aftertaste. Rodale taste testers noted its full body and smoky flavor. One acknowledged that it "took a few sips before I really liked it."
Noteworthy: Only organic coffee is on the menu at Jim's, a 100 percent organic roaster. That's convenient because some other companies offer both organic and conventional, which can be confusing for the consumer.
#5: Pura Vida
Coffee tested: Café Kilimanjaro, a full-bodied African blend
Tasting highlights: Rated first in aftertaste, second in flavor, and fifth in body and overall results—an overall strong showing. Taste testers called it a "bright, clean, traditional coffee," "smooth," and "nutty."
Noteworthy: With organic- and Fair Trade–certified brews, Pura Vida goes beyond these important issues with its "Create Good" philosophy, which builds stronger communities by instituting health and educational resources for communities where the coffee is harvested.
#6: Birds & Beans
Coffee tested: Chestnut-sided Warbler, a rich and clean medium roast
Tasting highlights: Ranked fourth in aroma and fifth in flavor out of the 11 coffees tasted. Some testers picked up "notes of chocolate and berries," while others called it "smooth" and "mild."
Noteworthy: Birds & Beans prides itself on being the only company that exclusively sells Bird Friendly Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center–certified coffee. This certification means the coffee is 100 percent shade grown and certified organic. "It is the only certification developed by ecologists that has specific requirements regarding shade and other habitat elements that help preserve biodiversity," says Craves. Birds & Beans is also Fair Trade Certified.
Coffee tested: Honduran Las Capucas, an unusually sweet, full-bodied coffee with apricotlike acidity
Tasting highlights: Ranked fifth in aroma, with some taste testers noting sweetness, and others finding it a tad weak
Noteworthy: Also certified organic and Fair Trade, Coda coffee has implemented some pretty interesting eco-measures at its Colorado warehouse. The delivery vans run on biodiesel, the company composts, and it uses a recirculating coffee roaster, which cuts its gas usage in half.
#8: Green Mountain Coffee
Coffee tested: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, a sweet, light-roasted coffee with tones of lemon
Tasting highlights: Ranked fourth in aftertaste, with taste testers detecting "molasses," "fruity" flavors, and a "good aroma." One person thought it smelled like bread.
Noteworthy: Green Mountain Coffee is widely available, making it a convenient pick. If the brand is offered in your workplace or college or the stores you frequent, why not ask them to carry organic blends if they don't already? About 600 McDonald's franchises in the Northeast offer Newman's Own Organic Green Mountain Coffee, a testament that fast food doesn't always have to be unhealthy or environmentally destructive.
#9: Caffe Sanora
Coffee tested: Breakfast Blend Natural Antioxidant Coffee
Tasting highlights: This coffee was not especially popular with the majority of our taste testers, with some noting it featured a paint scent. One participant noted it tasted "tealike" and "grassy."
Noteworthy: The coffee is roasted with a patented process that is marketed as retaining more antioxidants (coffees in general are high in antioxidants), which perhaps created a taste that most coffee drinkers are not used to.
#10: Counter Culture Coffee
Coffee tested: Koke, a seasonal selection featuring tasting notes of tangerine, lemon blossom, jasmine, and honeysuckle
Tasting highlights: Smelling this coffee was like smelling flowers, for some testers. Others found it to smell "nutty," while some taste testers said it featured a "creamy" body or a strong earthy taste.
Noteworthy: Counter Culture Coffee prides itself on its Direct Trade initiative, which guarantees at least a 19 percent floor price when compared to Fair Trade Certified. One of the founders of the company, the late Fred Houk, was an avid birder and environmentalist, and was dubbed the first person to introduce shade-grown coffee to the commercial market.
#11: The Ringer
Coffee tested: A generic store brand (nonorganic) ringer! Could the tasters tell the difference?
Tasting highlights: Yes, yes they could. Testers thought this cheap store brand was "gross," featured a "burnt popcorn flavor," and an "off taste." It tested near the bottom of the barrel in every category.
Noteworthy: You get what you pay for. We paid about $3 for this ground coffee, and as far as this taste test is concerned, participants almost unanimously found that organic tastes better.
Published on: August 15, 2014