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.