Strawberries... I love them, and at this point do everything I can to only consume those that are grown organically. Why? Well, apart from the fact that organic farming is the surest way to farm sustainably (from what I read), I really don't want to ingest the yucky chemical fertilizers and pesticides that the soft berry-flesh absorbs over its lifespan. Since a strawberry has an extremely absorbent thin skin, the chances of me avoiding such chemicals even after a good veggie washing are minimal.
But what about organic coffee? Is the same concern still there?
When it comes to deciding whether or not to consume coffee, we simply cannot approach the organic certification the same way we do a strawberry.
First of all, only coffee that is certified organic is allowed to be labeled "organic" in the USA. Kenneth Davids recently wrote the following on his coffee review website:
"Across the coffee world there are entire regions of small-holding coffee producers who are “de facto” organic: They simply can’t afford chemicals for their little plots of coffee trees."
Truth is, if you walk into a Cincinnati coffee shop (like say Carabello Coffee) and buy top of the line specialty coffee that is artisan roasted and produced by a single farmer, then you are probably drinking something that is "de facto" organic. In other words, the farmer didn't have the thousands of dollars to plunk down so he could put a label on his coffee (for something it already was anyway - organic). He'd rather feed his family.
That being said, it is true that coffee certified as organic fetches a higher price, which has made pursuing the certification - even for farmers already farming organically - an attractive proposition.
Another consideration is the processing, roasting and brewing that the coffee "bean" undergoes once it is extracted from the pulp of its cherry. Again, Kenneth Davids:
"For the consumer, organic coffee may not offer quite the dramatic health advantage that many organic fruits and vegetables do – after all, in coffee production the soft, exterior part of the coffee fruit most exposed to chemical contamination is discarded, the dried seeds are then subject to high temperatures during roasting, driving off volatiles, after which we infuse the dried and roasted seeds in water before throwing them out and drinking the water... someone who drinks conventionally grown coffee appears to be taking at most a very slight, perhaps only hypothetical, risk of consuming traces of potentially harmful chemical residues."
After standing besides an artisan coffee roaster applying 500 degrees of heat for 14 minutes to beans as they roast, I'm pretty convinced that, there's not much left of the junky chemical stuff - especially after it absorbs the near boiling-temperature water for another four minutes before I drink it.
Final consideration for me... quality control.
One of the unfortunate by-products of the organic movement is the false notion that something grown organically is superior in quality to something that is grown conventionally. When it comes to coffee, most of the major factors that determine quality (processing, sorting out of defects, transportation, roasting, brewing technique) nearly all occur after the berry has been picked. And so, the fact that the berry was grown organically really doesn't have all that much to do withthe eventual quality we experience in our cup of coffee.
These days, most of the best coffees are coming from farmers who are meticulous about every step of the processing of their coffee. And since much of the organically produced coffee available to us comes from cooperatives that are made up of many members who all pool their coffee, the quality of these coffees often suffers due to a lack of consistent quality control among all the producing farmers. Davids argues that,
"If only five farmers out of a group of fifty in a cooperative bring in stinky, fermented beans, for example, the overall quality for the entire group of fifty will be compromised."
So, where does all of that leave me? To be honest, when I make a cup of artisan roasted coffee I want it to be the best tasting cup of coffee I can brew. After all, that's why I drink it. The taste is the supreme, driving factor. When I can find great tasting, certified organic coffee, I'm all for it. But, when the best cup I can find is from today's version of Juan Valdez, who, chances are grew it organically sans the pricey certification, I'm going with Juan, baby!
On our list we have both certified organics and then the de facto variety, so, drink with confidence and peace of mind, regardless of where you stand. As for the strawberries... that's another story.