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The truth about coffee and water July 29th, 2014

The Facts:

Making coffee does not only require the amount of water that is used to brew a pot. Water is used to wash, process and transport the beans, to produce and transport the milk that is used, to process any sugar that might be used (if it is not raw sugar can), and to make the cup, lid and cup sleeve you use for to-go coffees. All of this water use adds up very quickly. According to a variety of sources (listed below), it takes the following amounts of water to make all of the elements of our coffee beverages:

  • Coffee: 37 gallons of water per cup
  • Milk: 35 gallons of water per 8 oz cup
  • Sugar: 6.5 gallons of water to process 8 oz of sugar
  • Cup, lid and sleeve: 1.5 gallons

On many coffee farms, especially large ones, workers are paid the equivalent of sweatshop wages. Many farmers even have to employ the help of their children at young ages in order to meet harvest quotas. Coffee farmers are also often never receive the health coverage that they are owed.

So… What can I do?

What does this all mean for your coffee consumption habits? We realize that it is unlikely that you will give up your morning java, but you can change your behavior to minimize water waste. Outlined below are some simple actions you can take to reduce the amount of water used for your coffee consumption:

  1. Buy a reusable cup or thermos for your coffee. Although 1.5 gallons of water for a disposable cup doesn’t seem like much, if you use a disposable cup every day of the work week for the entire year, you will be using 390 gallons of water a year. Starbucks sells reusable coffee cups for just $1.
  2. Switch to tea. According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes about 4X less water to produce tea than it does to produce coffee. Many teas are caffeinated, and therefore can still give you that boost you need in the morning. Plus, tea has the added benefit of providing vitamins and antioxidants that improve human health.
  3. Only make as much coffee as you will drink. Every time you throw away half a pot of coffee, you are wasting not only that pot but also all of the resources that went in to growing, processing and transporting the beans to make that pot of coffee.
  4. Cut back on milk/cream use, and consider switching to soy or almond milk. Milk production is extremely water intensive. It takes a lot of water to grow the grain that is used to feed cattle, and it takes even more water to keep those cattle hydrated. Then milk needs to be processed and pasteurized, a process that also uses a lot of water. Soy and almond milk also use water to produce, but the water footprint of these two products is less than that of regular milk.
  5. Buy Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance Certified. Fairtrade products come from farmers who are treated fairly and compensated properly. Fair Trade USA is a non-profit organization that helps farmers in developing countries implement sustainable practices and positively contribute to their community. The Rainforest Alliance works with farmers to help them increase natural biodiversity on their farms and practice sustainable farming. They also help ensure that farmers are treated and paid fairly.


11 surprising facts that will change your water usage

Fair Trade USA

The Global Exchange: Coffee FAQs

How to think about your grande latte on a finite planet

International Coffee Organization

Orange County Water District: Water Facts

Siemens Water Footprint Q&A

USEPA Water Trivia Facts

The water footprint of soy products

Water Footprint Network


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