The ecological cost of producing coffee is significant. While some farms are switching to more organic and/or biodynamic means of producing their crops, many farms still rely on pesticides and monocropping, both of which can have deleterious effects. And then there’s the issue of international freight. For most of the world’s coffee, it is not consumed in the same country it is grown, meaning millions of tons of coffee needs to make an international trip, generally by sea, to its destination, in ships that primarily rely on fossil fuels as locomotion.
New Dawn Traders think they have a solution, and it is one based in the past. The shipbroker based in Cornwall, UK has forgone engines almost entirely and is shipping coffee via sailboat.
As reported by Atlas Obscura, New Dawn Traders began in 2013 by Alex Geldenhuys as a more eco-conscious means of shipping good internationally, dubbing itself an “experimental sail cargo company.” Though they currently have no ships of their own—which will be changing soon—New Dawn charters two ships a year to travel from the UK to Portugal, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, and Colombia for anything from honey to wine to rice to olive oil. And of course coffee.
For one of their transatlantic shipments, New Dawn took to transporting coffee from Las Brisas in Tolima, Colombia. The De Gallant, the boat used to make the journey, took five months to travel the “estimated 7,000 nautical miles” to bring the coffee back to Cornwall. It is, Geldenhuys admits, a much longer transit time than traditional freight shipping, but it worth it for the team to ship goods “as close to carbon-neutral as can be.”
While sail cargo will never overtake traditional freight—and the true carbon neutrality of even this sort of shipment is hard to truly measure so long as there are people on board the ships with phones in their pockets—it is nonetheless an interesting means of tackling at least part of coffee’s carbon footprint problem. Whether or not it catches on more broadly will still take more buy-in; shipping to Cornwall by boat doesn’t make much sense if the cargo then has to find another means to make it to America or beyond. But still, soon enough your summertime coffee shandy could come with a jaunty sea shanty. Doesn’t that sound fun?