Washed vs Natural Coffee - Water Waste

I'm likely dating myself by admitting that the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word 'coffee' is the 80s Folgers jingle, "The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup!" and using their tin cans for stilts. We've come a long way though since the 80s when it comes to the coffee world. As Folgers was jingling away, the Starbuck concept was coming to fruition and coffee as we know it now, took off.
Smelling Sustainable Coffee
We spend lots of time talking about Pumpkin Spice lattes, purchasing high priced specialty bags, and taking more meetings at coffee shops than we can count; but what we're rarely discussing is the water issue that comes with the standard American "washed coffee". That's why we sat down with our friends at Bivouac Coffee to dive into sustainability in the coffee industry and what we as consumers should be considering when enjoying a cup of joe.


Kara: Rene, how did you first learn about the sustainability issues in coffee?

Rene: While traveling in Costa Rica, we experienced the quality of ‘natural process’ coffee. That led to researching why naturals are different, and how dry processing positively impacts the environment. We were shocked to find out that most coffee in the US is washed, a process that uses an enormous amount of drinking water as well as results in toxic waste, often not properly disposed of. 

Kara: Wait, what's 'natural process' coffee? 

Rene: Well, first I should probably explain 'washed coffee'. Most of the coffee sourced in the U.S. is 'washed', which is where groundwater is used to remove the coffee seed from its external cherry. The amount of water used to do this is about 7.9 Liters of water usage per 12oz cup, or 4.4 days of drinking water for one adult human. 

The concerns don't just end at the water used,  but includes the water contamination from toxic chemicals released in the washing process. Studies show that the pollution load of this water is 30-40x that of the sewage under New York City. Unfortunately, due to a lack of infrastructure, this wastewater is frequently released back into the land and rivers near the processing site.

The 'natural' process is where the coffee is sundried with the external cherry still intact.

Kara: Wow, I don't think most individuals know about the process difference. What are other “myths” per say about sustainable coffee?

Rene: Consumers often are too focused on labels, such as organic or fair trade. Overall these are great indicators of sustainable practice, but small organic farmers often do not have the means to pay for these certifications. Asking more questions about your coffee sourcing can support more small organic local farmers.

Kara: I 100% agree we always need to ask more questions when it comes to our consumer products. What should a consumer look for or ask about to know they are getting quality sustainable coffee?

Rene: Looking for high quality roasters that focus on a small-batch process can be a good starting point. Ask your roaster how their beans have been processed.

Kara: Are there any added health benefits to drinking coffee that is sourced naturally?

Rene: Yes - naturals are very smooth, non-acidic and easy on your gut. We also find the caffeine effect to be more gradual. This is great when working out or traveling, meaning less bathroom breaks when on the road or on the trail..

Kara: Bivouac was founded back in 2017 and I read on your website that you are the first US-based coffee company to exclusively roast environmentally friendly, naturally processed coffees, from adventurous origins around the world. What is your vision for Bivouac?

Rene: Correct and we would like to be the number one coffee roaster that exclusively sources, roasts and sells naturals, inspiring people to drink better coffee and bringing natural process coffee to the everyday coffee-drinking consumer. We are also a Public Benefit Corporation, making us legally obligated to operate with the highest environmental and social standards possible. 

What excites TCM even more about Bivouac is their packing initiatives. All coffee is currently packaged in compostable bags and they recently implemented a refill program at their coffee shop in Evergreen, Colorado. The Conscious Merchant hopes to continue our collaborations with Bivouac to expand their refill practices and expand access to their coffee and mission. 

Stop in one of our stores to purchase some Bivouac coffee or check out their subscription service and coffee shop on their website