Doing our part in limiting climate change requires significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from our human activities. Wondering what’s one of the best ways you can impact your carbon footprint? Your food and beverage choices!
You may already be thinking – how eco-friendly is a daily cup of coffee? Is coffee or matcha tea better for the environment?
The short answer | Compared to coffee sustainability, research points to matcha tea often being a more sustainable beverage choice than coffee for the environment.
Specifically, high-quality Japanese matcha can be a very sustainable beverage of choice you can feel proud of making on a day to day basis. (Matcha maniacs, rejoice and grip that cup of matcha even tighter today!)
In the following article, we focus on how your choice of matcha green tea or coffee impacts the environment — and what exactly is the greenest and most eco-friendly way to enjoy your daily energy boost.
The main issues with coffee sustainability
You may have heard that coffee farming does have a profound negative impact on biodiversity — with some methods proving to be more destructive than others.
This is because the majority of coffee consumed around the world is produced on monoculture farms —which greatly reduces biodiversity, uses up a lot of water, and often leads to water pollution and contamination.
Wait, what is matcha tea?
We all know that matcha green tea has some very well-studied supportive health benefits due to its unique composition of bioactive compounds. For example, matcha contains anti-aging polyphenols, chronic disease, cancer-fighting antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing chlorophyll, and calming yet focusing l-theanine.
Matcha certainly deserves the title superfood, but how exactly does farming, production, shipping, and consumption impact the environment?
How does matcha and coffee impact the environment?
Matcha Water Footprint
Matcha green tea has a significantly lower water footprint than coffee – it's estimated that 8,856 liters of water are required to produce one kilogram of green tea. In comparison, roughly 19,000 liters is needed for the same amount of coffee. (2)
Let's put this in perspective by the cup or mug.
A cup of green tea vs. coffee water cost
According to a study from 2007, a standard cup of coffee with 7 grams of coffee in the Netherlands uses about 140 liters of water. This is taking into account the growing, harvesting, washing, roasting, and brewing.
On the other hand, green tea is much lower. 3 grams of green tea in the Netherlands used to prepare one cup was found to use about 34 liters of water for the growing, harvesting, processing, and preparing. (2)
Matcha Carbon Footprint vs Coffee Carbon Footprint
How do carbon emission for coffee vs. matcha powder compare?
Regarding carbon emissions produced when producing matcha, scientists have estimated 1.9 kilograms of carbon dioxide to every kilogram of green tea produced. This is quite a low carbon footprint, and when compared to coffee – which leads to 15.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every kilogram of coffee –matcha can be seen as a more eco-friendly choice. (4)
To put these numbers into a bit more context, it might be helpful to just review the definition of a carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (which includes carbon dioxide as well as methane) that are generated by actions — in this case to grow, harvest, and package green tea or coffee.
Local environmental destruction?
The most sustainable matcha tea is primarily grown in two regions of Japan – Uji in Kyoto and Nishio in the Aichi prefecture. If you are looking for matcha that is of the highest quality and you can feel good about its environmental footprint – we recommend making sure you know where your matcha is coming from and grown.
Traditional Japanese matcha farming is a very sustainable practice, and there is no known damage to soil, surrounding lands, water, animals, or air – though this can't be said of the matcha green tea that is grown outside of Japan and does not adhere by any stringent sustainable farming requirements or certifications. There have been reports of lower-quality matchas produced outside of Japan testing positive for pesticides and toxic chemicals.
Concerns with animals?
Matcha is a vegan product, though you should be wary of some matcha brands unnecessarily adding some powdered milk to their matcha products. The production of matcha does not require or put any animals in danger as long as no toxic chemicals or pesticides have been used.
If you buy non-GMO/Organic matcha, then you can rest assured that no pesticides were used that, in turn, may have harmed any wildlife or ecosystems through the soil, water, or air contamination.
Positive societal environmental impact:
The Camellia Synthesis plant, or green tea plant, is also one of the most influential cash crops in the world. Green tea plants play an essential role in the rural development of Japan and other tea-producing countries, helping to reduce poverty and boost food security in developing countries. They are also very resilient plants that can typically live for half a century or even longer.
Matcha is even greener without milk (for lattes, opt for oat milk):
In 2018, Oxford University published the most comprehensive analysis to date on the damage farming can do to our planet. The main takeaway from the study?
The researchers found that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of the world's protein, animals also use up most of our farmlands — roughly 83% of all farmland —and produces 60% of agriculture’s total greenhouse gas emissions. (5)
Avoiding meat and dairy is one of the most significant way individuals can reduce their impact on the earth's health.
So what is there to deduct from this study when it comes to drinking matcha?
The easiest way to make the most sustainable cup of matcha is to avoid milk all together and having a traditional Japanese cup of matcha tea. The same goes for if you are a coffee drinker who loves a cappuccino or latte.
Of course, if you do find yourself to be a latte lover, then we suggest an alternative to dairy milk — since it has such a high water and carbon footprint.
Making the switch to alternative milks from dairy milk can be a real factor in lowering your everyday CO2 emissions. The proliferation of alternative milks leads to a question of —which is the most sustainable alternative milk?
What is the most sustainable milk to use for a matcha latte?
Almond milk is currently the most popular alternative milk, though it’s not at the top of our list for being eco-friendly. Researchers have found just ONE single almond requires around 12 liters of water to produce — which is a lot — but is does emit a low amout of carbon dioxide — a 200 milliliter cup of almond milk emits 0.14 kilograms of CO2. (3)
Oat milk is our sustainable matcha latte milk of choice. To produce one liter of oat milk, you need 48 liters of water — which is a lot lower than the water required for dairy, soy, and almond milks. It’s also quite low in CO2 emissions, at 0.18 kilograms for a 200 mililiter cup. (3)
Soy milk is another sustainable dairy milk alternative to use in a matcha latte. It requires around 297 liters of water to produce on liter of soy — and a 200 milliliter cup of soy milk emits roughly 0.195 kilograms of CO2. (3)
Matcha is more sustainable than regular green tea:
When you compare matcha to green tea's environmental footprint, matcha is the more environmentally friendly choice— largely due to the fact that matcha production utilizes the whole leaf — so there is less waste -- and because sustainably matcha powder does not require tea bags and extra packaging.
Furthermore, the farming practices for matcha tea are very strict in Japan and adhere to high sustainable standards.
More interested in the differences between matcha and green tea? Check out our whole article outlining the differences between matcha vs. green tea.
Where can you find the best sustainable, eco-friendly Japanese-grown matcha?
At Matcha.com, we fully support and admire our farming cooperatives' and families' vigilance around environmental stewardship. Practicing sustainable farming techniques is deeply woven into Japanese tea tradition. We are committed to keeping the tradition of matcha tea alive, understood, and celebrated globally.
We are constantly working to maintain the highest standards for producing and manufacturing the best-quality and sustainable Japanese matcha. Our matcha and other teas routinely undergo independent lab testing by some of the world's leading experts in food safety regulations.
If you are interested in buying matcha in bulk form, you can also visit our bulk site!
The Bottom line: Matcha is more sustainable than your cup of coffee – it's time to make the switch.
There's nothing quite like the daily ritual of enjoying matcha green tea. If you are a bonafide caffeine connoisseur but maybe you haven't fared too well on coffee – experiencing jitters and unproductive anxious energy – then you've probably found matcha to be your caffeine of choice.
Matcha green tea is highly caffeinated, enjoyable in latte form (Dr. Weil opts for maple syrup as his sweetener), and has a wonderfully vibrant, almost iridescent green color that evokes joy with every sip. You can also feel good about your environmental footprint when you drink your matcha.
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DISLCAIMER: These statements in this blog post have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. It's essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any dietary or lifestyle changes
- Chacko, S. M., Thambi, P. T., Kuttan, R., & Nishigaki, I. (2010). Beneficial effects of green tea: A literature review. Chinese Medicine, 5(1), 13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1749-8546-5-13
- Chapagain, A., & Hoekstra, A. (2007). The water footprint of coffee and tea consumption in the Netherlands. Ecological Economics, 64(1), 109–118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2007.02.022
- Fulton, J., Norton, M., & Shilling, F. (2019). Water-indexed benefits and impacts of California almonds. Ecological Indicators, 96, 711–717. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.12.063
- Xu, Q., Hu, K., Wang, X., Wang, D., & Knudsen, M. T. (2019). Carbon footprint and primary energy demand of organic tea in China using a life cycle assessment approach. Journal of Cleaner Production, 233, 782–792. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.06.136