Coffee versus Tea

G Magazine

Which should you choose when reaching for a cuppa?

Tea and coffee on a serving tray

Battle of the beverages.

Credit: Louise Lister

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As you're standing in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, have you ever wondered if your choice of beverage has an impact on the environment?

Biodiversity, pollution and (un)Fair Trade

Coffee was traditionally grown in tropical regions, under the shade of trees. However, since the 1970s, many farmers have planted new high yielding sun- loving varieties, creating monocultures.

Environmentalists are critical of this approach because it results in forest clearing, which is causing massive biodiversity loss.

Tea is grown largely in Asia, with India being the world's largest producer. As with coffee, WWF report that converting natural areas into tea plantations is a major concern for plant and animal life.

Both tea and coffee farming also come in for criticism for using increasing amounts of fertilisers and pesticides, which destroy soil fertility, pollute rivers and can harm workers.

Free trade agreements have also meant that coffee growers don't get a fair price for their beans, and tea plantation workers are poorly paid, according to international aid agency Oxfam.

Water mark

According to Dutch researchers, for a single cup of coffee, growing the beans, processing them and making the cuppa at home requires 140 litres of water.

That's fourteen buckets of water for just one coffee!

This is eight times more water than what is needed to make a cup of tea.

An energy boost

The processing of both tea leaves and coffee cherries (of which coffee beans are the seeds) is energy intense, involving all manner of steaming, drying, heating and firing, with production facilities equipped with a range of automated machinery.

According to the Global Environment Facility, 30 per cent of India's tea production costs go towards energy, with 0.5 kWh of electricity needed to produce one kilogram of final product.

While similar figures for coffee are unavailable, we know about 0.3 kWh is needed to produce one kilogram of raw coffee beans, prior to the bulk of commercial processing.

Considering the steaming, drying, roasting and sorting ahead for the green beans, we presume tea will ultimately trump coffee in the energy stakes.

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