LAST UPDATED: October 2020
Some of us at Gimme are big coffee drinkers, so we recently went on a quest to find the cleanest possible organic coffee in toxin-free packaging. We quickly discovered that while organically grown coffee beans are widely available, they are, unfortunately, almost always roasted, packaged, and brewed in ways that can add all sorts of unwanted chemistry to the beans.
This means that by the time your organic coffee reaches your cup it would likely no longer qualify as “organic,” and definitely not as Good Stuff.
Toxins in Coffee Growing
Coffee is one of the most intensively sprayed crops in the world. This is because coffee is no longer grown in the shade (where the plant evolved and thrives). It is now grown in ways that allow for maximum production, but that requires the use of concerning amounts of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers.
This is not only bad for us as consumers but also quite detrimental to the people who live and work in coffee-producing areas.
Here are just three of the pesticides commonly used on coffee beans:
- Methyl Parathyion is one of the most vile pesticides ever created, and is toxic to a wide swath of all living things–including humans.
- Endosulfan is toxic to most animals and takes a very long time to break down in the soil.
- Chlorpyrifos has been banned for household use in the U.S. as it can cause detah and birth defects.
All of the above, and more, can show up in your morning brew.
The solution to this problem is pretty simple: buy only certified organic coffee beans.
Toxins in Coffee Roasting
Organic coffee beans are a great start to a healthier cup of Joe, but it is important that the roasting process be free from harmful chemistry, too.
Roasting equipment needs to be cleaned on a regular basis to avoid harmful solvents showing up in your cup.
Flavoring agents are commonly used immediately after the roasting process, sometimes to mask the taste and smell of old or bad beans. Flavored coffee should be avoided as they are synthetic and often contain preservatives that are definitely not Good Stuff!
The solution here is a little more complicated: Trying to find a roaster that is dedicated to the nontoxic process. (This is easier said than done—it took us a year to find one!)
The Worst Stuff: Coffee Pods
The environmental damage caused by coffee pods (AKA k-cups) can’t be overstated. In fact, their founder, John Sylvan, has said that he regrets inventing the pod!
Traditional coffee pods are neither biodegradable nor recyclable, and a whopping THIRD of American households have a k-cup brewer in their homes.
Equally concerning is the fact that coffee pods are made of plastic, and the hot water that passes through them increases the leaching of endocrine disruptors into your brew. While k-cups are free of BPA, they’ve tested positive for estrogenic activity.
To make matters worse, the top of coffee pods are usually made of aluminum, a heavy metal linked with a range of health problems.
Toxins in Coffee Bags & Packaging
Once the beans are roasted, they go into a bag. These bags almost always contain plastics and other toxins that can convey even more toxins to your beans.
Coffee bags have a lining of polypropylene to keep the coffee oils from making the bag unsightly. Simple brown paper bags may fool you. They almost certainly contain polypropylene plastic.
Polypropylene (PP), while relatively inert, is the single most abundant micro-plastic found in all the waters of the world (and in seafood…and in every one of us!).
The effects of micro-plastics from PP are only beginning to be understood. Studies have found that polypropylene particles may stimulate the immune system, but human studies are lacking.
Some coffee beans come in glassine bags. You may think this is better than plastic, glassine is essentially wood pulp, but is commonly bleached–with chlorine or other caustic substances that stay in the paper fibers and end up in your coffee cup.
We’ve solved this one for you! Until recently, there have been no alternatives to standard coffee bags, but we finally found a new, nontoxic, environmentally safe alternative. More on this below!
Toxins in Coffee Water
Brewing coffee starts with water. If you use typical municipal water you are adding chlorine, fluoride, and potentially substances like lead, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and others to you morning cup. Not only are these toxic, but they can also negatively effect the taste of your coffee.
The solution here is easy: We highly recommend using a robust water filtration system. Pitcher type filters are better than nothing, but true filtration essentially eliminates a very wide swath of biological agents and chemical toxins. Learn more about choosing a water filter here.
Toxins in Coffee Brewing Equipment
Water is a potent solvent that breaks down many substances. Hot water is an especially intense solvent, and it extracts substances far faster than cold water does.
Whether you like cold-brew or hot, pour-over, drip, espresso, French press, or a plug-in brewer, it is a good idea to avoid brewing equipment that is composed of certain plastics, metals, or coatings that could introduce unwanted substances into your cup.
More specifically, you’ll want to avoid coffee brewers with plastic parts that come into contact with water. Also, avoid aluminum, nonstick surfaces, and any low-fire ceramics.
The good news is that there are several great ways to brew without any toxins. We like stainless steel filtration rather than plastic, paper, or even cloth. Stainless steel is rugged, easy to clean, imparts no flavor, and lasts almost forever—making it an Earth- and wallet-friendly choice.
As for coffee dispensers, cups, and storage, we like stainless steel, glass, and most ceramics. Medical grade silicone seals are acceptable and better than plastics.
The solution here is to vet your coffee accessories carefully. We have a selection of Good-Stuff approved, plastic-free brewing, storage, and dispensing solutions here.
Toxins in Coffee Cups
You may have seen recent headlines that styrofoam cups can mess with your hormones, especially when the liquid inside of them is hot coffee! But even paper to-go coffee cups can be a problem, from the coating on the inside (polyethylene) to the glue at the seams–which partially dissolves when the coffee is poured into the cup. Moreover, wax-coated paper cups cannot be recycled because of their petroleum-derived paraffin coating.
Coffee lids made with #6 or #7 plastic likely contain BPA. The last few times I’ve ordered a to-go tea I’ve noticed the lid is printed with a #7, and of course you’ve got hot liquid passing through this on it’s way to your mouth.
Introducing Gimme Coffee, Not Chemicals
After a year of research and a lot of false starts, we are so excited to introduce our own brand, Gimme Coffee, Not Chemicals. Our coffee bags are certified nontoxic and 100% compostable. This means that our coffee is not only non-toxic but also a zero waste product.
Why We Think Gimme Coffee Is the Best Stuff:
- Certified organic coffee beans that are:
- Fresh roasted in a dedicated non-toxic roastery. Each bag has a roast date.
- Our packaging is certified nontoxic by an independent testing facility.
- This means that the bags, the valve, the labels, the ink, and even the adhesives are nontoxic and 100% compostable.
- The packagins is free of BPA, phthalates, fossil fuel by-products, and bleach.
- Please comment below with questions or comments about your own favorite coffees or brewers!
P.S. What if coffee is something that you love but it doesn’t love you back? Coffee is delicious and I love the ritual of it after breakfast, in the afternoon, or after dinner. But caffeine makes some people, my wife included, agitated and impatient, and it can disrupt sleep or cause indigestion. Suzanne recently discovered MUD/WTR, and it’s taken the place of her morning latte. It is healthy, soothing, warming, and gives a little lift without any of the side effects that she experiences with coffee.
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