Wow, just wow. I have just had my first sip of Teikei Coffee. My taste buds are dancing samba now. Bitter, sweet, creamy and a hint of nuts – for someone who usually drink oat milk with coffee taste a totally new experience. And suddenly I don’t even care about the lousy weather (“Schietwetter”) in August.

Together with Lotti I’m sitting in front of the Teikei Café in the cozy neighborhood Karoviertel. We met at a cleanup organized by Oclean at Park Fiction a few weeks ago (if you follow us on Instagram, you might got an impressions of my very first cleanup). Somehow we clicked immediately. That’s why I was all the more delighted when Lotti invited me to greenschnack over a cup of sustainable Teikei Coffee.

Not thinking quite straight

Lotti tells me about a video she saw: “I’m not sure whether everything he claims is scientifically correct, but just the idea is quite shocking. Without coffee, there would have been no enlightenment. Until coffee was introduced in Europe, virtually everyone was constantly drunk. It wasn’t safe to drink water. That’s why people drank mainly beer and wine. Without coffee we wouldn’t have sobered up and we wouldn’t have developed.”

At home, I find the video and do a quick fact check. Michael Polland is a journalist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He maybe exaggerates a bit, but in essence his claims are historically verifiable and plausible:

How coffee changed the course of history

Later I have to again think about how coffee changed the course of history. Without coffee, there would have been no enlightenment, no intellectual exchange, no revolutions, no economic progress. But that as well means that we’re destroying our planet while we’re actually sober. For Mother Earth it would have been better if we we’re still boozed every day.

The dark side of coffee

“Normal” coffee is anything but sustainable. Wages that keep people below the poverty line, child labor, deforestation, soil degradation, pesticides, immense water consumption – the list of negative side effects of coffee production is long.

And yet, who am I to ask you to give up your morning coffee? When the smell of a freshly brewed cup is everything you need to really wake up in the morning? Or to give up a coffee date at the local coffee shop? Coffee is liquid happiness – that can be enjoyed alone or shared with others.

How to sell the world’s most sustainable coffee?

Because we aren’t willing (or rather able?) to live without coffee, we should ask ourselves the question how we can reduce that long list of negative side effects. And that’s exactly what I’m discussing with Lotti. She talks about Teikei’s vision to produce and sell the most sustainable coffee in the world. Is that possible at all?

Sustainable production

The coffee plants from which Teikei gets the beans grow in Oaxaca, Mexico. They are cultivated in a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem following ecological principles. Scientists helps the farmers to grow their plants as naturally as possible.

Esteban harvesting coffee ©Erick Bolaños
Esteban harvesting coffee ©Erick Bolaños

To guarantee the livelihood of the coffee farmers Teikei Coffee is implementing a system that is very similar to community supported agriculture. Just on a global scale. Teikei pre-finances the coffee through consumer subscriptions. This means that the farmers do not get paid once a year based on the harvested quantity. Teikei’s farmers know in advance when they get paid and how much.

This why the risk of a bad harvest is divided among everyone. Being at the end of the supply chain our risk is rather low (in the worst case we just get less coffee for our money). But for the people in Mexico this opens a lot of doors. Lotti explains that one of their farmers could open a bank account for the first time in his life because he finally has a something like a steady income. And as well for the first time he actually saves money for emergencies.

Sustainable transport

Now the coffee needs to shipped as sustainably as possible. The Teikei team takes “shipping” quite literally: the coffee sails from Mexico to Germany. The vessel is called ‘Avontuur’ (which quite accurately means ‘adventure‘ in Dutch). Since unroasted coffee beans stay good for quite a long time, sailing is the ideal transport method. Compared to other ships sailing is relatively low in emissions and clean. Additionally, sailing ships are quite silent and don’t disturb underwater life as much as other ships.

Unloading sustainable Teikei coffee from sailing ship ©El Puente
Unloading the ‘Avontuur’ in Hamburg ©El Puente

Lotti is open to me about the fact that until now sailing seems to be the most sustainable option. But it’s not perfect yet. That’s mainly because of regulations and bureaucracy. The crew needs to change at least once per tour, so people need to fly in and out. “Sustainability is not a state, it’s a journey. If we find a more sustainable way, that’s the one we take.”

Sustainable packaging

Once the coffee finally arrives in Germany, it is roasted at a local roaster and packed. Lotti explains that the community leads the way. If you and other coffee lovers form a consumption community, you can decide if you want to get your coffee packed in bags or in a returnable bucket of 10 kilograms. That reduces packing waste while it increases the community feeling. Those communities have popped up all over Germany and Switzerland. You can as well start your own community.

You can as well buy Teikei Coffee at different zero waste shops. Even in smaller packages. We from Hamburg can simply get our coffee at the Teikei Café – both subscription-based or single packages. Good to know: To promote zero waste shopping you pay €3 extra for the packaging. So don’t forget to take a container 😉

Sustainable pricing

On the free market coffee prices are constantly changing. That’s why it is very difficult to say how much a coffee farmer actually earns. In the last years the world-market price varied between €1 and €4 per kilogram. Fairtrade farmers get a guaranteed price of only about €2.50 per kg. (In comparison, we pay €2.19 coffee tax per kg to the German state.)

The fluctuation of the anyway low coffee prices means for the farmers at the beginning of the supply chain mostly uncertainty and a life with the bare minimum. In contrast, Teikei pays €7 per kilogram coffee, independently of world-market prices. On their website, they make transparent how the price for 1 kg of Teikei Coffee is calculated (in German).

Sustainable consumption

Yeah, sustainable coffee isn’t cheap. One might find €30 per kilo too much. That’s because the “normal” price doesn’t take a lot of costs into account. €30 are a price from which everyone along the supply chain profits – not just we as consumers.

Lotti and I agree that we should see coffee again as what it really is: a luxury good. Although most people might disagree with me on this, coffee is not a staple food. Instead of mindlessly downing one vending machine coffee after the other from paper cups, we should value it more: by buying coffee from sustainable sources at a fair price for our daily self-care moments.

We used to have a coffee subscription from another Hamburg-based roaster. The coffee tastes good, the price is a little cheaper, but how the coffee is produced remains in the dark. That’s why we will switch to Teikei. We only still need to figure out the right dosage for your coffee machine. By the way, I drink black coffee now.

Teikei Coffee against collective hangover

I love it that there are people like the Teikei team rethinking the entire supply chain of coffee. Because coffee shouldn’t just make us us sober and productive, it should as well helps against our collective hangover that will eventually drive us and everything around us into extinction. If you now feel like having a good cup of sustainable coffee, you can try it at the Teikei Café.

A special thanks to Lotti who answered all my questions in that lousy weather that was anything but august-worthy.