Can vegans drink coffee? Generally speaking, yes – black coffees are vegan.
However, there are a few exceptions, and what you put in your coffee could make it less than vegan friendly.
We’ll go over these topics and more in this dietitian written article!
Disclaimer: This article is only providing information and 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.
This post was originally published on 1/21/22. The updated date is listed above.
Is Coffee 100% Plant Based?
Most coffee is 100% plant based-in other words, it is typically vegan friendly.
Coffee beans/grounds are derived from specific flowering plants of the coffea genus(1).
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 coffeeSource: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/coffee
also: a beverage made from this”
Based on that definition, it’s hard to argue that instant coffee and regular (as well as decaf) beans and grounds aren’t vegan- with at least a couple exceptions:
Coffee That is Not Vegan friendly
1. Kopi Luwak
Commonly referred to as the world’s most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak (or civet coffee) involves the use of animals.
Specifically, it uses an mammal called the Asian palm civet to eat coffee cherries(2). The resulting defecated product is then sold at a high price, with one source suggesting about $100 to $600 a pound(3).
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 this PETA article/video.
In Summary: Kopi Luwak- not vegan.
2. Black Ivory Coffee (Maybe?)
Black Ivory coffee is another very expensive coffee that involves the use of an animal. This time- Thai elephants.
These elephants are fed the coffee cherries and then the deposits are used to make a product. The Black Ivory Company states that some of the purchase money supports the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation as well as those who care for the elephants(4).
So while this one is more controversial, because elephants used, vegans might avoid them.
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?
3. Popular Coffee Drinks Vegans Avoid
Lets face it, many of us don’t enjoy drinking coffee “black” (aka: nothing else added- which is usually vegan).
If you are going for a Starbucks (or other coffee shop) run, you’re almost guaranteed to be faced with too many options for specialty coffee drinks and add-ins.
Take this list with you because the following drinks are examples of coffee that is not traditionally vegan:
- 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)
As you probably guessed, these drinks often have dairy milk or derivates of it.
Luckily, vegan options are on the rise!
Many shops now include plant based milk, like soy, almond, or oat “milk.”
If you have the option, you could ask to swap the dairy for a vegan options.
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.
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 ))
- Red Eye (brewed coffee with espresso)
Is Coffee Creamer Vegan?
One source suggests that about 65% of Americans who drink coffee prefer to add some a sweetener or cream to coffee(5).
Most creamers include diary with the most obvious probably being half and half!
If you are scanning the grocery 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 few examples of commonly found non vegan coffee creamer ingredients:
- Heavy cream
- Sodium Caseinate
- 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.
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:
- Almond milk
- Oat milk
- Soy milk
- Cashew milk
- Coconut milk
- Macadamia milk
- Hemp milk
- Flax milk
There seems to be a great variance of opinion amongst vegans regarding which plant based milk tastes best in coffee.
I’ve heard a lot of buzz around oat with a more smooth texture.
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):
- Almond Breeze
- Califia Farms
- Nut Pods
- So Delicious
- Coffee Mate
- Planet Oat
- Whole Foods
- Good and Gather (Target Brand)
Other Issues Vegan Coffee Drinkers May Consider
When it comes to coffee, some ethical vegans might also consider:
- Coffee’s environmental footprint
- Conditions of the people who produce coffee
- Dietary restrictions
Lets explore each point next.
Unfortunately, such a popular beverage takes a toll on the environment in several 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(6).
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.
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.
Bottom line: Coffee’s environmental impact is quite large compared to several other beverages. For these reasons, some vegans may reduce, avoid, or pick more environmentally friendly beverages.
Condition of Coffee Production Workers
Human rights issues may come with your coffee.
There have been many reports of slavery on coffee plantations.
It has also been argued that certifications like Fairtrade may not be enough to tackle issues systematic issues like labor exploitation. (7).
For these reasons, vegans (and of course, anyone) concerned about these issues may avoid/reduce consumption, or choose more ethically produced coffee.
Those with certain health concerns may avoid coffee whether vegan or not.
Coffee t does contain some beneficial antioxidants. And some research suggests coffee may have some health benefits at around 3 cups per day for certain non-pregnant adults (8). However, you do not need to drink coffee to be healthy or get antioxidants!
We still have much to learn about coffee and the benefits/risks, and you should definitely talk to your doctor if there is any reason you should avoid it.
For example (FYI- this is not a comprehensive list of examples), coffee may make anxiety worse for those who already have anxiety(9), insomnia or difficulty sleeping(10), and those with high blood pressure(11).
Those who are pregnant may want to avoid coffee all together. ACOG ( the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) suggests caffeine consumption less than 200 milligrams per day, is not a leading factor in miscarriage or preterm birth, however, we need more research. Coffee may also have a negative effect on growth of the unborn baby(12).
Of course, talk to your own doctor/obstetrician about your own situation, especially if you have any health conditions or are pregnant. Remember: you do not need to drink coffee in order to be healthy.
Raw Vegan Diet
As far as I 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 Drink Coffee?
With a few exceptions, most coffee grounds and beans are vegan. Typically it’s what is added to coffee that makes it non-vegan (ie: dairy, honey).
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 health consequences for certain individuals with medical conditions or who are pregnant, so talk to your doctor about whether you should avoid or limit it.
I hope this article was helpful! If you have any questions or comments, be sure to leave them below.
And while you’re here, why not poke around on the blog? We discuss other questions like, Can A Vegan Eat Bread? and Is Oatmeal Vegan?
If you want ot keep up new posts, sign up for our e-mail subscribers list ✌❤