Drink Responsibly: Coffee Sustainability Madders

A morning without a cup of coffee is difficult for many of us to imagine. According to a survey conducted by the National Coffee Association, 7 in 10 Americans drink coffee every week with 62% drinking coffee every day. These numbers continue to increase each year. Coffee is truly a beloved beverage but how often do we think about the plant it came from? Over half of all coffee plants are endangered due to environmental changes, and processing from fruit to cup requires hard work from many, often underpaid, farmers.

Coffee trees belong to the rubiaceae (or madder) family thriving in the Bean Belt, an industry name referring to an area of land located primarily between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Growing conditions are ideal for coffee there: 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit, high humidity, high altitude, and rich (sometimes volcanic) soil. Climate change, deforestation, disease, and pests have decreased the survivability of coffee in recent years. Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew scientists found 60% of wild coffee populations are endangered, and worse, estimated to live only another 10-20 years. Some of the rare populations may already be extinct. Preventing extinction of wild species is critical for farmed coffee development; selectively bred wild and farmed coffee keeps crops hardy and healthy.

Increased product demand creates additional pressure on coffee production. There are over 100 coffee species but only three are commonly consumed: Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica. The Specialized Coffee Association predicts that demand for these coffee species is expected to triple by 2050. Farmers often struggle to balance high quality and high yields. Additionally, these farmers are often underpaid, even lacking sufficient housing or good working conditions. Mitigation, aimed to reduce negative environmental impacts and improve working conditions for farmers, will increase the sustainability of coffee.

How can coffee lovers help?

Coffee lovers can help future generations of plants, and empower the farmers who grow them, by patronizing businesses and supporting research institutions that work to improve coffee sustainability around the world.


National Coffee Association. (2020, March 26). NCA Releases Atlas of American Coffee. 

Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. (2019, January 16). Kew Scientists Reveal that 60% of Wild Coffee Species are Threatened with Extinction, Causing Concern for the Future of Coffee Production.

The Specialized Coffee Association of America (n.d.) Research.

- Tori Cody