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Your Morning Cuppa Carbon: Tracking Coffee From Farm To Cup

Even though coffee travels thousands of miles from farm to mug, a study found that the final step of brewing has the greatest impact on the carbon footprint.

espresso-machine

Photo: fredenslund (Flickr)

If you brew your espresso at home, take a tip from eco-conscious cafes and use a well insulated water kettle.

Of all the steps in the life cycle of your morning cuppa Joe — from farming to shipping to roasting to brewing — which do you think consumes the most energy?

The answer might change the way you approach your daily coffee ritual.

Around The World In A Cup Of Coffee

In 2010, Counter Culture Coffee (Durham, North Carolina) set out to track the complete carbon life cycle of a cup of coffee. The roaster collaborated with one of its customers, Peregrine Espresso (Washington D.C.), and one of its suppliers, Finca Mauritania (Santa Ana, El Salvador).

Collaborators started by tracking the carbon use at Finca Mauritania for one year. Project leaders Meredith Taylor, manager of Peregrine, and Kim Elena Bullock Ionescu, Coffee Buyer and Sustainability Manager for Counter Culture, then measured the energy consumed in transporting that coffee from El Salvador to New Jersey for import, to Durham for roasting, and to D.C. for brewing and consumption.

Where’s The Carbon?

What they found surprised them – 80 percent of the carbon footprint is made during the very last step in the cafe.

Much of the 9.82 lbs. of carbon used at the coffee shop comes from the energy-hungry process of heating water to brew coffee. This dwarfs the measly .005 lbs. used to transport the stuff from the farm, to the port, to the roasting facility, and then to the shop.

The same year, Canadian coffee shop Salt Spring Coffee did a life cycle analysis of their own coffee and came to a similar conclusion.

Please Brew Responsibly

Peter Giuliano, co-owner of Counter Culture Coffee, found the results shocking and counter-intuitive.

At first he believed coffee’s significant food mileage would be the largest source of carbon. But after he discovered just how much of an impact he as a consumer has on energy consumption, he changed his habits.

“It caused me to dialogue with the people that manufacture water heating devices to make them more efficient,” he says. “It also caused me to dialogue with the filter guys and say why are you making a filter we have to rinse with totally inefficient hot water?”

For home brewers, Giuliano suggests using a well insulated water kettle and only heating the amount of water you’ll need.

“By making people aware of this little factoid, it causes people to change their behavior,” he says, “which in this instance, will make a huge difference.”

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