The Best Cup of Coffee

by Rona Berg

PHOTOGRAPHY: Robin Jolin  |  STYLING: Olya Breton

Reap the health benefits, savor the flavor and protect rainforest birds, by saving their habitats, with your next cup of coffee

I am a coffee lover. I drink tea, and I enjoy it, but coffee has my heart. A great cup of coffee can sometimes even take my breath away. For me, shaking and grinding those glossy black beans, pouring an aromatic cup of dark roast, then sitting down in the morning to savor it, is one of life’s great pleasures.

Clearly, I’m not alone. Over 83 percent of American adults drink coffee, averaging three cups every day, or 587 million cups, according to a National Coffee Association survey. Specialty coffee sales are increasing by 20 percent per year and account for nearly eight percent of the $18 billion U.S. coffee market.

Americans are not only drinking more coffee, they’re drinking more expensive coffee. Between cold brew, gourmet, bottled, boxed or canned, there are now more choices than ever before. And, in recent years, science has been supporting my addiction, too. According to a Harvard University study, it’s safe to drink up to six cups daily (though I wouldn’t recommend it!) and research from UCLA suggests that drinking coffee regularly decreases the risk of heart disease or stroke. 

“For everything bad, there’s a million really exciting things, whether it’s someone who puts out a really great book, there’s a new movie...the sky is unbelievably golden, or you have the best cup of coffee you ever had in your life.”

—Patti Smith

It can also lower the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. But conventional coffee is among the most chemically treated foods in the world, with up to 250 pounds of pesticides per acre—not to mention synthetic fertilizers, fungicides and insecticides. After cotton and tobacco, coffee is the third most sprayed agricultural crop in the world. That’s why it’s such a good idea to drink USDA-certified organic coffee.

Here’s something else to think about. Coffee normally grows on bushes and shrubs in the shade. But in order to get a greater yield, some conventional coffee growers cut down acres of rainforest, remove the shade cover, then saturate coffee beans with chemicals to make them grow faster. This not only turns your cup of joe into a pesticide stew, it destroys rainforests in Central and South America. And loss of shade cover is contributing to the decline of bird species, which are losing their habitat.

“Many regions where coffee is grown are home to over 1,000 different bird species,” says Lily Mleczko, conservation biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Mleczko works with the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center and Birds and Beans Coffee (a purveyor) to bring Bird Friendly® Coffee, certified by the Smithsonian Institute, to zoos and aquariums. “Because of the diversity of food and resources in the region, there is an incredible number of niches that these species occupy. So if an area is going to be protected, one must consider the wide variety of habitats that birds occupy (some birds live mostly on the ground, some require hollowed out trees, some rely on swamp palms, etc.).”

Compared to more familiar designations like “certified shade-grown” coffee, which tends to be sprayed less thantraditional coffee, or “rainforest-friendly,” which helps protect the rainforests, Bird Friendly® Coffee sets the strictest standards for certification in the business, according to Mleczko. “This ensures there are multiple ‘layers’ of rainforest present and the diversity in plants that birds need. Without these, birds lose their habitat and all the things they need to survive (ie. food, water, shelter).”

By drinking the right coffee, java joes can help preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of tropical habitat and biodiversity, save birds, and support communities of people who can sell their coffee at gourmet prices and implement the best environmental practices in their small, family farms.Enveloping the senses, taking time to pause and sip slowly and knowing that you are helping to save the rainforests and the birds that live in them, is certainly something to be savored. s.si.edu/BuyBF or nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/bird-friendly-coffee

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