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Can Vegans Drink Coffee? A Vegan RDN Spills The Brew

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Is coffee vegan?

In general, yes. But, are vegans destined to only drink black coffee?

Is instant coffee vegan?

And is coffee actually healthy? Lets discuss these questions and more in this Registered Dietitian Nutritionist written article!

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for medical or dietary advice. Always talk to your doctor about any health concerns, if you want to make major dietary changes, or take a supplement. See our Disclaimers for more details.

Can Vegans Drink Coffee?

In general yes!

Vegans do not consume any animal products, and coffee in itself is derived from specific flowering plants of the coffea genus.

Here’s the Merriam-Webster definition of coffee:

1. a: a beverage made by percolation, infusion, or decoction from the roasted and ground seeds of a coffee plant

b: any several old world tropical plants (genus Coffea and especially C. arabica and C. canephora) of the madder family that are widely cultivated in warm regions for their seeds from which coffee is prepared

c: coffee seeds especially roasted and often ground
-compare ARABICA, ROBUSTA

d: a dehydrated product made from brewed coffee
//instant coffee
also: a beverage made from this

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/coffee

Based on that definition, it’s hard to argue that instant, and regular (as well as decaf coffee) beans and grounds aren’t vegan- with at least a couple exceptions:

1. Kopi Luwak

Commonly referred to as the worlds most expensive coffee, this type involves the use of animals.

Kopi Luwak coffee uses an mammal called the Asian palm civet to eat coffee cherries. The resulting defecated product is then sold at a high price, with one source suggesting about $100 to $600 a pound.

Accordingly, for this industry to be successful, the civets must be captured and force fed the coffee cherries.

There have even been reports of civets showing signs of zoochosis (different behaviors noted in captive animals).

You can learn more about cruelty on civet farms in a PETA article/video here.

In Summary: Kopi Luwak- not vegan.

2. Black Ivory Coffee

This is another very expensive coffee that involves the use of an animal. This time- Thai elephants.

Much like in the civet case, the elephants are fed the coffee cherries and then the deposits are used to make a product.

This process has received less infamous media attention, yet, animals are still used to produce a product.

I encourage you to research and learn more about Black Ivory Coffee and come to your own conclusion: as a vegan, would you consume it or not?

Alright, now that we established that most plain coffee is vegan, what about the broad definition of a beverage made from the coffee plant?

What beverages made with coffee aren’t vegan?

Lets tackle that next by considering what popular coffee drinks vegans avoid (when traditionally prepared).

Popular Coffee Drinks Vegans Avoid

Lets face it, many of us don’t enjoy drinking coffee “black” (aka: nothing else added).

And if you are going for a vegan coffee Starbucks (or other coffee shop) run, you’re almost guaranteed to be faced with many options for specialty coffee drinks and add-ins.

So what’s a vegan to do?

Well, they will typically avoid the following popular coffee drinks because they are traditionally made with animal products (namely, dairy milk or derivates of it):

  • Cafe au lait (half coffee, half hot milk)
  • Cappuccino (espresso with steamed milk foam)
  • Cafe Mocha or Mochaccino (expresso, steamed milk, chocolate)
  • Flat White (milky, smooth espresso based drink)
  • Macchiato (espresso with a small amount of steamed or frothed milk)
  • Latte (espresso, steamed milk)

Important note: you could veganize these drinks at the shop or via your own vegan coffee recipe by swapping a plant based milk (ie: soy, almond, etc) instead of dairy milk.

However, these drinks are most commonly made with dairy milk, and some coffee shops do not have alternatives (although many more are catching on).

Clearly the addition or exclusion of dairy is what typically makes or breaks coffee for a vegan lifestyle, but its also important to note another potential problem for vegans: Honey as a sweetener.

Honey is animal derived and thus, non vegan. Many places offer honey as coffee sweetener, but you could substitute a vegan sweetener, such as maple syrup, instead.

If you are wondering, well, what can vegans order at their coffee shop?

Answers coming up in the next section, so keep reading!

What Can Vegans Drink?

There are many vegan friendly coffee drinks!

Firstly, the ever popular brewed coffee only consists of plants and water, so vegans can feel pretty comfortable sticking with that option.

Here is a list of several popular drinks that traditionally do not include animal derived ingredients (note: not a comprehensive list):

  • Americano (espresso, hot water)
  • Cold Brew Coffee (coffee made chilled)
  • Iced Coffee (cold brew plus ice (although sometimes milk is used, of which, you may be able to substitute a vegan alternative ))
  • Espresso
  • Red Eye (brewed coffee with espresso)
Venn diagram showing what vegan drinks are vegan, may be vegan, aren't vegan.

If you’re thinking, well, all of these options are lacking the creaminess factor! Can’t vegans add a smidge of cream to boost the flavor?

Yes, you could veganize creamer drinks like a latte, or go simply add a vegan “milk” or creamer.

Is Coffee Creamer Vegan?

One source suggests that about 65% of Americans who drink coffee prefer to add some cream.

Look at the coffee creamer market, and you are sure to find a plethora of options! But there’s one problem vegans:

Most of them include diary. The most obvious one being half and half.

If you are scanning the shelves for a flavored coffee creamer, most of them contain dairy, however, there are also many options that are completely vegan!

How do you know what’s what? Well, a label that says “vegan” is most likely vegan, but you may want to give the ingredients list a check too.

Here’s a list of commonly found coffee creamer ingredients that are not vegan (FYI: not a comprehensive list):

  • Milk
  • Heavy cream
  • Buttermilk
  • Whey
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Casein
  • Mono and diglycerides (may or may not be vegan)

One more thing, don’t be fooled by a coffee creamer labeled as “non dairy” or “lactose free!” This does not automatically mean vegan, as they might contain milk derivatives.

Can vegans drink milk? Not dairy milk (cow derived). However, there is a creamy alternative to the dairy milk found in most coffee creamers.

Vegan Coffee Creamers

Vegan milk alternatives are often the base of a coffee creamer that aligns with a vegan lifestyle.

They may include the following (FYI: the term “milk” in the following list is not referring to dairy milk):

  • Almond milk
  • Oat milk
  • Soy milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Macadamia milk
  • Hemp milk

Some think oat milk is the way to go for the creamiest texture, while others like the flavor of coconut milk, and so on.

One thing most of us can agree on? There are so many options (and recipes to find online)!

Here some brands that carry vegan coffee creamers (FYI: not a comprehensive list):

One important caveat: Don’t expect your vegan creamer to contain the same nutrients as dairy! Learn more about replacing dairy with nutritionally sound alternatives in our post: Dairy-Free For Beginners.

Venn Diagram showing which coffee creamer ingredients are vegan, may or may not be, and which aren't vegan.

Other Issues Vegan Coffee Drinkers May Consider

Many ethical vegans also consider the environmental and social impact of their food choices.

Also, some vegans may have additional diet restrictions or avoid coffee for health reasons.

Lets explore each point next.

Environmental Impact

Coffee production is a popular commodity, and production takes a toll on the environment in a few ways.

For one, pesticides may be heavily used in the production of conventionally grown coffee. Over use of pesticides can spell trouble for the contaminating water, ecosystems, and lives of those living in the area.

Secondly, as one of the worlds most widely consumed beverages, more and more forest must be cleared to keep up with the demand. You can read more about the damaging effects of the demand for coffee and deforestation in this article here.

Lastly, the amount of water used to make coffee may be more than you think. One estimate from fao.org suggests 1 cup of coffee uses about 140 liters (about 592 cups) of water. Wow!

Are there some practices that have less of an environmental impact like, shade grown and organic coffee?

Perhaps, but this is a niche market and there may not be as many incentives for workers in this area. Read more about this and more sustainable coffee options via Food Empowerment Project’s article here.

Condition of Coffee Production Workers

There have been many reports of slavery on coffee plantations. Furthermore, just because a label is certified as fair trade does not make it so.

Unjust practices that have been reported in the conventional coffee industry include child labor, lack of safety gear, and unlivable wages.

Health

Some health conscious vegans may give coffee a second thought. A certain amount of coffee has been associated with some health benefits according to some studies. However, there are still limitations to these associations.

Firstly, caffeine is a stimulant, and can be quite addictive.

Furthermore, those with certain conditions may want to avoid or limit their coffee intake, including (but not limited to) those with anxiety, insomnia and elevated blood pressure.

Caffeine may have a big role in many of the negative outcomes associated with coffee. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you if you any health conditions or concerns.

And lastly, drinking coffee with iron rich foods may inhibit iron absorption. Some vegans may find it difficult to obtain enough iron in the first place, so keep this one in mind!

Raw Vegan Diet

As far as we understand, raw vegans do not eat food cooked at high temperatures. Therefore, they would probably not consume coffee due to the high heat commonly used for roasting coffee beans.

In Summary: Can Vegans Have Coffee?

Most coffee grounds and beans are vegan, so yes.

Do vegans drink coffee? Well, that question gets a bit more complicated. Some may avoid conventionally produced coffee due to its negative impact on the environment and coffee plantation workers.

Coffee is not an essential beverage, and may have some consequences for certain individuals with health conditions. So some health conscious vegans may avoid it.

In short: vegans may want to give their coffee choices second thoughts, but for a fully plant based diet coffee is generally not animal derived, and therefore vegan.

Are you going to think about your brew differently now? Or is the coffee coffee life still going to be a part of your routine? Are you a black coffee vegan drinker or prefer adding sugar, creamer, etc? We’d love to hear your thoughts! So be sure to leave a comment below.
And while you’re here, why not poke around on the blog? We discuss other questions like, Is Chocolate Vegan? and Is Oatmeal Vegan?

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