The Real Cost of a Cup of Joe

In New York City the average cost of a medium cup of coffee from your run of the mill corner deli is $1.00, at Dunkin Donuts it’s $1.60, and at the mega brand Starbucks it’s $1.99.

For coffee drinkers and non coffee drinkers alike that’s probably no shock. More than 80% of adults in the US drink coffee. There are literally millions of Americans that start their day with the dark brown liquid with and without cream and sugar, iced, or straight to the point as an expresso. Their daily fix is much less expensive than say, a nicotine addiction, but the real costs are felt way below the surface.

There are environmentalists the world over that contend that what has rapidly become the most common means of growing coffee beans will have incredibly costly impacts on our planet. Oh, and our people.

Traditionally, shade grown coffee is cultivated under a canopy of trees thereby creating shade. Unfortunately, a great deal of the world’s coffee is now being grown in direct sunlight rather than shade grown. 24% of coffee is currently shade grown compared to 43% less than 20 years ago in 1996.

Baristas all over would argue that the difference in taste of shade grown versus direct sunlight grown coffee is minimal at best. So why roast the coffee industry?

The problem is that farmers have been encouraged, and forced in some instances, to deforest their land to grow more direct sun coffee beans. The ripple effect created includes the loss of habitats for various forms of wildlife, soil erosion, and an increase in the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Moreover, direct sunlight means that the migrant workers who harvest the green beans must do so in just that–direct sunlight with minimal reprieve from the sun.

As Americans and, more and more frequently, as entrepreneurs how do we find balance? Imagine how many young developers survived on coffee (and snacks) on countless sleepless nights to produce truly life changing apps and platforms! With more time and exposure solving the world’s coffee problem without relying on the somewhat problematic liquid could be quite the conundrum for social entrepreneurs. Until the problem is solved there are a couple minor steps coffee consumers can take:

  • Begin drinking and/or requesting shade grown coffee
  • Continue to purchase fair trade coffee
  • Implore your local grocers and brewers to purchase direct trade- straight from the farmers that grow your beans
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Bakari Jones

With a passion for bridging entrepreneurship and community activism, I hope to leverage my project management, media/marketing, fundraising, and volunteer management skills to impact change through Campaign Consultation’s collaborative work environment. As a Project Specialist for Campaign Consultation, Inc., I primarily support planning efforts for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. Read more.

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