Climate Action

Coffee has a Latte Problems

Yesterday was officially National Coffee Day and America runs on coffee. About 50% of the American population (around 150 million Americans) drink coffee every day. And that’s just your average cup of black coffee— the number of Pumpkin Spice Lattes alone would add hundreds of thousands of people.

Why does it matter if we drink so much coffee?

Health effects aside, coffee is a major resource with a significant environmental impact. Coffee is the most important agricultural product that is traded worldwide, but most people do not know how much water and land it takes to produce their daily cup of morning joe. It is said to take 37 gallons of water to grow coffee beans and process them into the equivalent of one cup of coffee.

The average American uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day. That makes the amount of water used to make coffee a lot smaller. Adding in factors such as each person drinking several cups of coffee per day— let’s say two per person for argument’s sake—you are looking at around 11 billion gallons of water used per day, just in America alone.

In addition to water usage, the technique used to grow coffee today has switched from using land under the shade of canopy trees, to land in direct sunlight, which is said to increase production. In the 1970s, agronomists started to believe that growing coffee in direct sunlight would increase photosynthesis, prevent disease and allow for greater density of coffee shrub planting. Growing large amounts of coffee in large fields of direct sunlight allows it to be packaged and sold in bulk. The downside is that the quality of the coffee is not as good.

How do we create these large, open direct sunlight fields?

As with any other large scale agriculture or farming effort, we cut down trees and apply more pesticides and fertilizers. Although this is negative for the environment, it is extremely beneficial for the coffee production market.

Coffee is great, and it will always be a part of our culture. The next cup of coffee you drink, make sure to take your time and enjoy it because it takes a lot more than adding milk and sugar to make a single cup.

William Pappas, Intern

Image by David Dewitt