The dish on earth-friendly caffeine
Q: I drink so much tea and coffee, I think it's time I go organic. But there are so many labels out there (fair trade, shade-grown, etc). What should I be looking for?
A: You're not the only one drinking pot after pot of the hot bevvies. As a nation, Canadians consume 260 million pounds of roasted coffee beans and over 2 billion litres of tea a year. That's a hell of a lot of liquid with some pretty heavy ecological ramifications: think mass deforestation to make way for monoculture tea and coffee plantations (what Global Exchange calls "sweatshops in the fields") and large amounts of chemical pesticides, herbicides and even dangerous DDT, long illegal in Canada. One French study found dozens of green teas from China and Japan to contain not just high levels of pesticides, but also of lead. Definitely not part of a balanced diet.
You can get your caffeine fix without endangering the earth. You just have to learn how to natigate all the mumbo-jumbo that comes with your jumbo latte. For instance, you can go for green, fair trade, organic, shade-grown, bird-friendly, even Rainforest Alliance Certified. With both coffee and tea, the term fair trade often indicates that more ecologically sensitive practices are in place, but it doesn't guarantee it's organic. Just Us ($8/300g at Ten Thousand Villages on Yonge or Danforth, and $7.89/lb at the Big Carrot on Danforth) as well as Level Ground ($12/lb at Ten Thousand Villages) are two of many organic fair trade coffees out there.
Shade-grown coffee is planted the traditional way, under the forest canopy, which attracts migratory birds (natural pest control). Sun-grown coffee attracts far fewer birds and leads to greater soil erosion and chemical fertilizer use (if non-organic). If you see the trademark Bird-Friendly on your coffee, it means that it's shade-grown and organic. Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee means shade-grown by family farmers. For a fair trade, organic, shade-grown bean, check out Kicking Horse (from $15.99/lb at the Big Carrot and Whole Foods) and Prince of Darkness ($15.99/lb at Noah's). If you're looking to shop and sip, Alternative Grounds on Roncesvalles and Moonbean Coffee Company on St. Andrew carry countless varieties of fair trade, organic, shade-grown coffee (starting from $11.99/lb), many of which are served up at their storefront cafés.
Note that the term green coffee doesn't mean it's inherently eco-friendly; it just means you roast it yourself. But many companies, like Merchants of Green Coffee on Matilda (www. merchantsofgreencoffee. com), offer up green beans with heart (aka fair trade, bird-friendly and organic). It's available for $13.99 from the Big Carrot or $12 from the company itself. The Green Beanery on Brunswick offers some organic, fair trade types, and all its beans come from small farmers. Priced from $3.61/lb (call 416-964-9223 ext 246, or see www.greenbeanery.ca to order).
FYI, when it comes to decaf, stick to Swiss water types. All others use chemical solvents to extract caffeine from the bean.
You can turn tea time into an ecologically enlightened experience as well, with fair trade organic teas. Look for brands like Nature's Cup (from $2.60 for 10 bags at Noah's), Choice (from $3.79/16 at Noah's and the Big Carrot) or Mystique ($5.99/16 at Whole Foods on Avenue Road).
Minimize your eco footprint by going the bulk route. Brew that oolong from organic, fair trade loose-leaf instead of bags. Metropolitan (available at Noah's from $3/100g) makes lots of interesting herbal and caffeinated options, including yerba maté. Moonbean also sells all sorts of loose-leaf teas in bulk from $6.50/100g. Plus, you can enjoy a cup right there at their café. Same goes for Alternative Grounds and the Red Tea Box on Queen West, whose teas are certified biodynamic (meaning they use organic methods plus cosmic energy to plant, harvest and prepare), from small, sustainable collective farms.
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