Written by Natalya Stanko
|Thursday, 11 November 2010|
Tea and Coffee
Tea is grown in monocultures, which result in habitat and biodiversity loss. In India, for example, tea growing has replaced grasslands, marshes, and forests, displacing elephants, tigers, and other wildlife. Tea plants increase erosion and compact the soil, reducing its oxygen levels. Since wood is the most common fuel used to dry leaves, tea production also causes localized deforestation. In Sri Lanka, each kilogram of tea requires at least 1.5 kilograms of wood. Agrochemical use further destroys the environment—in India, tea plantations that spray chemicals have lost up to 70% of soil biota.5 Of course, consumers can prevent chemical use by buying organic tea.
Coffee, which is also primarily grown in monocultures, impacts the environment in many of the same ways, including habitat loss, soil degradation, and pesticide use. BUT… coffee production is improving! Instead of growing coffee in full-sun monocultures, some are now producing it under natural canopies such that many native trees and plants can grow alongside the coffee. Studies in Colombia and Mexico indicate that these shade-grown coffee plantations support ten times more bird species than full-sun coffee.6 So, if you’re a bird or tree lover, you might choose coffee over tea.
However, if you’re worried about our global freshwater supply, you should switch to tea. It takes 37 gallons of water to produce one cup of joe, but only 9 gallons to make a cup of tea.7 That’s mostly because coffee berries go through a great deal of processing before consumption. On the other hand, if you’re counting your food miles (and thus shunning fossil fuels) you should give up both beverages. Your tea and coffee burned a lot of miles to get to you. Most tea grows in China and India,8 and most coffee is produced in Brazil and Colombia.9 But that’s not where most caffeinated beverages are consumed. Europe (especially the Nordic countries), the United States, and Canada10 consume the most coffee per capita, and the Brits drink the most tea.11 If you’re from the United States, you won’t find tea or coffee grown domestically—except if you’re from Hawaii, which produces both,12 or South Carolina, which grows American Classic Tea.13
If you’re a caffeine addict and aspiring gardener like me, all this might inspire you to beat the system by growing your own coffee or tea. But that also presents a problem. Coffee trees need steady temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, rich soil, rain, and moderate sunshine.14 Tea can withstand more variation in temperature and grows best at high altitudes.15 In the northern hemisphere, it’s hard to grow either, though you’re more likely to succeed with tea.
Bottom line: Neither tea nor coffee is environmentally friendly. Thinking of kicking the caffeine habit? Then consider a locally grown alternative to fill up your morning mug, like a hot infusion of dandelion, lemon, or spicy mint! However, if you’re a fellow coffee addict who’s reluctant to quit, read on to find out how to make your hot beverage of choice at least a little greener…
Eco-friendly Tea and Coffee Consumption guidelines:
After water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world.22 There are six varieties of tea: white, yellow, green oolong, black, and pu-erh, all of which are made from the same species of plant. Herbal tea infusions—like chamomile and mint—are not made from the tea plant and do not contain caffeine.
With about double the caffeine in a cup of tea,23 a mug of coffee is an instant pick-me-up!
4 Escohotado, Antonio; Symington, Ken, A Brief History of Drugs: From the Stone Age to the
Stoned Age. Park Street Press, 1999.
15 Rolfe, Jim; Cave, Yvonne, Camellias: A Practical Gardening Guide. Timber Press, 2003.
22 Macfarlane, Alan; Macfarlane, Iris, The Empire of Tea. The Overlook Press, 2004, p. 32.
24 See: http://www.keurig.com/keurig_CoProfile.pdf
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|Last Updated ( Thursday, 19 April 2012 )|