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Buying Organic Coffee and Tea


A woman works at an organic coffee farm in Rwanda, which helps her support her family. (Photo courtesy of the Thanksgiving Coffee Company)

Dr. Ginger Lea Southall, a chiropractor based in Singer Island, Florida, and former director of Donald Trump's Spa at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, has never had a cup of coffee in her life.

"I don't like the aroma," she confesses, acknowledging that she's definitely in the minority. "But the average American adult drinks more than 10 pounds of Joe in a year's time. With the ease of being able to grab a cup on practically every street corner in the world-and the innate, quick 'pick-me-up' effect-it's no wonder it is an $18 billion industry."

The National Wildlife Federation confirms that America is "the largest coffee-consuming nation on the planet," procuring more than 25% of the world's supply each year. But taste isn't the only issue for Dr. Southall, whose main concern is the colossal popularity of nonorganic coffee-and Americans' ignorance as to where it comes from and how it's grown.

"Coffee crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides and fertilizers-toxic chemicals shown to produce a myriad of adverse health effects, from cancers to nervous system disorders to reproductive problems," she tells "In addition, most coffee is imported from foreign countries that allow the use of many chemicals banned here in the U.S., setting you up for the potential for even more carcinogenic or mutagenic conditions."

The global economy dictates the quality of imported coffee. When crop production exceeds demand, there's usually an influx of cheap coffee from countries like Vietnam and Brazil, which use pesticides that kill indigenous wildlife. International self-sustaining farmers who grow organic coffee on small, shaded, wildlife-friendly and pesticide-free land often cannot compete in this marketplace, and their businesses fold-victims of unfair trade practices. They are consequently forced into poverty, unable to pay for food, clothing, their children's education and health care. That's why more eco-conscious companies in the United States are making a "fair trade" commitment to support the smaller growers, encouraging customers to spend just a little bit more to enjoy a far superior product.


The Thanksgiving Coffee Company, based in Fort Bragg, California, has been creating organic, shade-grown and environmentally sustainable coffees since 1972. The company buys beans from all over the world, with flavors ranging from Fatima's Hope, a light roast from a coffee cooperative in Jinotega, Nicaragua, to Mayan Breakfast Blend, a Guatemalan bevy of blueberry, red grapefruit and raw almond flavors.

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From the Organic Authority Files

"Our vision is simple: Create partnerships that help farmers become self-reliant, pay a fair price for excellent coffee, and develop new models for protecting the environment," says CEO Paul Katzeff.

Tea Time

The same farming issues that affect coffee apply to the tea market, but the problem is generally less severe. Nonetheless, traditional black teas-and even some herbal teas-are frequently grown with pesticides and chemicals that erode soil and pose health risks.

Consumer demand for organic tea has fueled its production, and new varieties seem to be introduced every day. One company on the cutting edge is Novato, California-based The Republic of Tea, which prides itself on educating consumers and being first to enter the marketplace with new offerings from around the world-all made from full-leaf tea (not cut leaves or the tea "dust" the company says its competitors often sell). Whole leaves reign supreme because they retain their essential oils, producing a more flavorful cup.


Green teas from Asia help protect against oral, lung, colon and other cancers. They are an excellent source of polyphenols, which act as antioxidants to help reduce cholesterol levels and coronary-disease risks. Much like black tea, green tea improves digestion and boosts the immune system. It is also an excellent source of vitamin K. The delicacy of a cup of white tea is matched only by its extraordinary health benefits-said to be greater than those associated with green tea. The rarest of all teas, white tea also has the most antioxidants, helps reduce cholesterol, promotes heart health, lowers blood pressure, reduces the buildup of dental plaque and won't stain teeth. The Republic of Tea offers white tea in flavors ranging from honeydew melon and orange blossom to Asian jasmine and pineapple guava. Red tea comes to us from South Africa-the product of an herb known as Rooibos. It, too, is replete with polyphenols and flavonoids, plant pigments that fortify the immune system and increase longevity. Red tea's digestive properties can aid with infant colic, cramps, nausea, vomiting, heartburn and ulcers. The Republic of Tea markets half a dozen varieties, including Botswana Blossom Red Tea (hints of citrus, apple, almonds, vanilla and rose petals), Safari Sunset Red Tea (redolent of cinnamon, orange and cloves) and Good Hope Vanilla Red Tea, which boasts a creamy vanilla flavor. Chai, a tea beverage first enjoyed centuries ago, originates from India, Nepal and Tibet. Tea is brewed with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and peppercorns-often topped off with a bit of milk and honey. It improves digestion, and its spices sweeten the breath.

Let the Buyer Beware

"If you do choose to drink coffee-or tea, for that matter-I strongly advise you to choose only those that are certified as organically grown," Dr. Southall urges. "Only then will you be avoiding the significant health risks inherent to nonorganic brands."

New Product Alert


Steaz Green Tea Soda, produced by the Healthy Beverage Company of Newtown, Pennsylvania, is the first USDA-certified organic, sparkling green tea. Flavors include root beer, cola, raspberry, orange, key lime and lemon dew (pictured here), and each is fortified with vitamins A and C. One 12-ounce bottle of Steaz is equivalent to a 6-ounce cup of green tea.

"Steaz is a revolutionary way for all to reap the antioxidant benefits of green tea-a unique alternative to mainstream soda," says Eric Schnell, company president.

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