Organic Coffee Roasting in Brooklyn
Variety Coffee has a simple mission: provide customers with the freshest, highest quality coffee possible. The Brooklyn based coffee roster and chain of cafes does this by sourcing coffee beans from around the world, focusing on acquiring beans that reflect growing seasons of different coffee producing regions.
“A fairly significant share of the green [unroasted] coffee we source on a yearly basis is certified organic,” Patrick Grzelewski said.
Grzelewski’s extensive experience with organic roasting requirements means he has a deep respect for coffee growers who obtain and maintain organic certification. “It was important for us to be able to celebrate [organic growers] achievement and develop our own program of seasonal organic offerings.”
Challenges of Organic Coffee Certification
Variety Coffee is well aware of the certification challenges that organic coffee growers face.
The organic certification process can be challenging for any operator. Transitioning from conventional production methods to organic production takes up to three years, and the process can present financial challenges for operators who aren’t yet able to command premium organic prices for their uncertified products.
Grzelewski argues that for some of their suppliers—particularly those located in Latin America and Africa—local realities compound these challenges and create insurmountable barriers to organic certification.
Challenges facing Latin American operators, in particular, are well documented. “Even among the conventional coffees we source, many are produced with fully organic practices,” Grzelewski said.
Many of the region’s smallest operators are unable to afford the synthetic inputs prohibited by organic regulations, and many employ additional organic farming practices, like cover cropping. Despite their adherence to organic standards, many operators are unable to obtain organic certification because they lack records proving their operations compliance.
“[Growers] lack the infrastructure or resources to maintain certification,” Grzelewski said. He added, “Getting certified is no small feat and not to be taken for granted. It’s important to look beyond a logo on a box. There is a nuance and complexity to the viability of organic production depending on the context.”
Organic Coffee Production
Variety Coffee faced their own challenges when they decided to become an organically certified coffee roaster.
“Pursuing certification put a spotlight on the limitations of our production facility,” Grzelewski said.
Processing—particularly for those that operate both conventionally and organically—requires space. And space in Brooklyn and the rest of New York City is challenging to come by.
“[Certification] was a great catalyst to taking a hard look at our systems and implement better cleaning practices, record keeping, employee training programs, and organization,” Grzelewski said.
Variety Coffee found that updates to FDA regulations aided their adoption of organic processing practices. The 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which sought to prevent food borne illnesses before they began, requires many of the same cleaning and recordkeeping practices that USDA organic regulations require.
Grzelewski noted that producers can take advantage of the overlapping requirements. “For small businesses without a robust program to address the new requirements of FSMA, [the certification] process can serve as an opportunity to addresses inefficiencies from a compliance standpoint in addition to obtaining a certification that adds value to their products.”
Are you a producer or processor who has transitioned to organic with OCIA International?
This post is part of a series featuring OCIA International certified organic operators from Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and the United States. Are you an OCIA operator interested in being featured? E-mail us at email@example.com for more information.
Every operator’s path to organic is different. Read more from our “Operator Spotlight” series to learn about the different paths to organic certification.
- Bessette Creek Farm: Through traditional organic farming methods like the use of cover crops and crop rotation, Bessette Creek Farm improved the quality of their soil, reduced their water usage, and now better retains moisture in their soil even during the driest months of the year.
- Askegaard Organic Farm: For Mark and his family, transitioning their conventional family farm to an organic farm just made sense. Organic practices–focused on creating sustainable environments and providing consumers with transparency–aligned with their values.
- Allan Kettle: In the mid-1990s, Allan Kettle decided to organically certify his Alberta farm. For Allan, the decision to pursue organic certification was easy. Allan’s father, who operated the farm before him, had never used synthetic fertilizers or sprays. Allan continued those practices when he took over the farm.
- Edelman Certified Organic Farm: Brad Edelman’s passion is sustainable agriculture. The Kansas based farmer has made it his life’s work to farm sustainably and help others make the transition to sustainable practices.
Learn more about organic agriculture, certification, and OCIA International.
- Should you transition to Organic?: The decision to transition a conventional operation to organic is deeply personal. Organic certification requires resources, like time and money, and perseverance in the face of the challenges that you will inevitably encounter along the way. Is transitioning to organic the right step for your operation?
- Organic Certification Process: All operators seeking initial organic certification must complete a similar six step process regardless of which certification agency they partner with. The certification process can feel intimidating at first, but knowing what to expect can help alleviate much of the stress you might initially feel.
- Organic System Plan: Everyone seeking organic certification–whether applying for the first time or the seventeenth time–must submit an updated Organic System Plan (OSP). But what is an OSP? And more importantly, how will it help you?
- Healthy Soil: Cultivating healthy soil requires establishing ecological balance and increasing biological diversity. But how can you establish healthy soil on your farm?
- Why Certify with OCIA?: Choosing an organic certification agency is one of the most important points in an operator’s certification process. Let us tell you why OCIA is the right choice for you.