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Coffee in a cup surrounded by leaves - Can you drink coffee and still be vegan banner image

With the growing awareness of the effects our diets have on both our wellbeing and the environment, more and more people are choosing to lead a vegan lifestyle. And with benefits such as increased nutritional value and fewer saturated fats, meaning a reduction in the risk of diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, it’s no wonder that so many people are turning their backs on a traditional meat-based diet. However, there is one burning question that will be on your mind when you decide to take the step into veganism: Is coffee vegan? How does embarking on a vegan lifestyle impact on your coffee drinking habits? If you’re anything like myself, you will rely on your morning caffeine kick to get your day started. Here are a few things to consider when fitting coffee into your vegan lifestyle.

The Ethical Considerations Of Drinking Coffee

To live a vegan lifestyle all animal products and by-products are off limits, that includes dairy products such as milk, eggs, honey and even things like leather and wool. Veganism is more than merely a diet choice for a lot of people, it is a lifestyle choice and a set of values they decide to live by. As coffee beans are a plant by-product then surely it can be assumed that a good strong black coffee to get you going in the morning is still on the cards? True, however, there are some considerations to take into account. The way in which some beans are cultivated and grown may conflict with vegan ethical values and philosophy.

Traditionally coffee plants grew under a canopy of sun-filtering shade trees which helped to retain soil quality through the mulching of fallen leaves and provided a habitat for many bird species and other animals. In turn, the birds provided a natural pest control without the need for chemical intervention. However, in 1972 a new hybrid species of coffee plant emerged that could grow in direct sun, developed quicker, and produced a higher yield than its shade-grown predecessor. Additionally, being able to grow out in the direct sunlight meant that these new species were easier to harvest.

It soon became the most common way to grow coffee with most beans today being grown in this way. However, this new breed requires intensive use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, as it does not benefit from the protection and nutrients provided by the canopy. This growing practice leads to soil erosion, toxic water runoff and soil nutrient depletion. More significantly it led to vast areas of unsustainable deforestation which resulted in a 20% decline in the population of migratory birds and a loss of biodiversity.

The negative impact of sun-grown coffee may conflict with many vegan values regarding the protection of wildlife and the environment, so it may be important to ensure your coffee is sourced in a responsible way. There are many certifications you can look out for to make sure your coffee is grown in a way that conserves the rainforest and the habitat it provides. The Bird Friendly certification is the most comprehensive certification awarded only to completely shade-grown coffee with strict requirements that must be fully met before the certification is awarded. This is the highest certification in terms of environmental and wildlife protection but you may find sourcing Bird Friendly coffee beans a bit of a challenge.

Equally, Rainforest Alliance coffee beans also aim to conserve wildlife, safeguard soils, protect waterways and increase the livelihood for the farmers and their families. Rainforest Alliance certified coffee is much more readily available and can be easily found in numerous bars, cafes, and restaurants. McDonald’s, Costa and Café Nero all use Rainforest Alliance certified coffee beans so you can be more reassured about the impact of it has on the earth.

Organic certification is another one to look out for, with organic coffee beans being grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides resulting in less of an impact on the surrounding wildlife and environment. Underdog Coffee’s Tromso is an artisan dark roast coffee that is both organic and Fairtrade, so you know that what you're getting has been ethically grown and sourced.

There are many ways in which you can still enjoy sustainably sourced coffee within a vegan diet, as long as your willing to put just a little extra time into researching how the coffee beans have been grown.

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Veganism is more than merely a diet choice for a lot of people, it is a lifestyle choice and a set of values they decide to live by.

What Is The Best Non-Dairy Milk For Coffee?

So now we know that coffee can be vegan, it is time to consider how you drink it. Black coffee is an acquired taste and many people prefer adding milk to take the bitter edge off of their caffeine kick. However, which dairy-free milk alternative is best for you?

Soya milk is a popular choice because of its creaminess and neutral taste that does not taint the coffee flavour. It is particularly popular in coffee shops due to its ability to create milk foam for coffee specialities meaning you can still get your latte or cappuccino when you’re out and about. However, soya milk can curdle when it reacts with the heat and acidity of the coffee, which is why we recommend heating the milk prior to adding it in order to overcome this.

Almond milk is another widely used alternative especially as it comes in both sweetened and unsweetened varieties to meet different tastes and preferences. However, unlike soy milk, it’s not so good for creating milk foam due to its tendency to separate. Also, like soy milk, the heat and acidity of the coffee can cause the Almond milk to curdle.

Rice milk is beginning to grow in popularity due to its neutral taste but the light texture of the milk can result in a rather watery coffee. There are many other options to try - such as coconut milk and oat milk, so why not experiment with different alternatives until you discover which best suits you and your morning brew.

Check out this blog on milk-alternatives from The Food Rush for a more in-depth breakdown of the different milk options and their verdicts on each.

Rice milk is beginning to grow in popularity due to its neutral taste.

So… Can Vegans Drink Coffee?

In short, yes! By using non-dairy alternatives such as soya milk or almond milk, and by checking the source of your beans for their eco (and ethical) credentials, there’s no reason to give up coffee if you’re thinking of trying a vegan lifestyle.

For more help and tips, the Vegan Society has tonnes of resources for people thinking of trying to go vegan.

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