A cup of coffee or rather a cup of tea? At Hedgehog Company we compared coffee and tea. We are not talking about a tasting, but about an LCA of course! In addition, we also compare two different types of breakfast. We’ve performed an LCA (life cycle assessment) on the environmental impact of breakfast with coffee and tea.
Download the full LCA report below.
We conducted an LCA and compared a 200 ml cup of coffee and 7 grams of roasted coffee to a cup of tea of 200 ml water and 2 grams of dried tea. The raw materials, production and transport are considered in this analysis. Kitchen processes, like boiling water, are included as well.
The impact is calculated through an LCA and expressed in 16 impact categories. This is done by making use of the Environmental Footprint (EF) method, the methodology developed for the Product Environmental Footprint of the European Union (the PEF). The PEF is developed to replace all the different LCA methodologies and will become the standard within the EU.The EU developed this method to overcome confusion around the correct impact assessment method and harmonize the LCA method in order to assess the environmental impact of products. In addition, the EF tackles the lack of uniform calculation rules for specific product groups.
The LCA shows that the environmental impact of tea is much lower than that of coffee. The impact on Climate change is 0.017 kg CO2-eq. per cup of tea, while it is 0.071 for coffee. The LCA thus shows that the impact on climate change is a factor 4 higher for a cup of coffee.
Only for two impact categories the impact of tea is higher: Water use and Land use. The water used for tea production and transport is around 180 liters, while coffee uses 110 liters of water. Although your preferred hot beverage contains only 200 ml, the total water used is much more. Coffee and tea plants use a lot of irrigation water to grow and produce beans and leaves.
Figure 1: Normalized impact of coffee and tea (EF indicators)
Figure 2: here the value of the highest impact per category is equated with 100%.
A cup of coffee or tea naturally tastes a lot better with a nice breakfast. We wondered what the environmental impact would be of one full breakfast. That’s why we decided to compare a traditional Full English breakfast with a Continental breakfast by conducting an LCA. The recipe for a traditional English breakfast is set. The recipes are shown in the overview below.
This recipe was put next to a Continental breakfast, known as the breakfast buffet you’d often find at hotels. This breakfast does not have a fixed recipe. That’s why we assume the most common ingredients and the same caloric value as the English breakfast. The ingredients are picked in a manner that both recipes contain around 800 kcal. That means you would get the same amount of energy from either breakfast. This way the comparison is as fair as possible, despite the completely different ingredients.
Not only raw materials, production and transport are considered. We also incorporate the preparation of the ingredients in the kitchen. This could be gas used by the furnace, electricity for the kettle, oven, etc.
For most categories the Full English breakfast has the highest impact. It emits 2.30 kg CO2-eq. while a Continental breakfast only emits 1.40 kg CO2-eq. But for Water use and Land use, the Continental breakfast is the more intensive. Partly caused by the apple, since in this category, fruit is the most intensive food group after meat. A lot of water is needed for the production of wheat for the bagel as well.
We get a better understanding of which ingredients contribute most to the environmental impact when we take a closer look. For the English breakfast, the sausage and black pudding have the biggest share in multiple impact categories. Meat products have a relatively high impact. The RIVM (Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) confirms this as well (de Valk et al., 2016, p.10).
The high environmental impact of animal products is caused by the large amounts of feed an animal eats to produce products like meat and dairy. Feed is made from soy, which needs land to be cultivated. A lot of deforestation is caused by the cultivation of soy (Milieu Centraal, n.d.). On top of this, manure is needed in order to produce agircultral products, which again emits laughing gas (N2O), phosphate, methane and ammonia. Methane is also released when the animals digest their feed. This largely explains why the impact of an English breakfast is higher than that of an Continental breakfast.
For the Continental breakfast, the biggest contributors turn out to be the bagel and the yogurt. Yogurt is also an animal product. The environmental impact of dairy is also higher than for example fruit and vegetables.
Figure 3: in this figure we can see the contribution per impact category for each Full English breakfast component. The total impact per category is always 100%
Figure 4: here we see the contribution per Continental breakfast component per impact category. The total impact per category is always 100%
Figure 5: Impact of production, transport and kitchen processes (continental breakfast)
Would you like to eat an English breakfast, but limit the impact on our planet? By replacing meat products with alternatives like tofu, vegetarian minced meat, or vegetarian burgers you can prevent 65% of the CO2 emissions. Especially in the production phase of these ingredients you can prevent environmental impact. When we split the impact in production, transport and kitchen processes, it becomes indeed apparent that the production phase has a huge contribution to the total impact. By eating meat alternatives a big share of this impact is prevented.
Figure 5 shows that the kitchen processes play a big part in several impact categories as well. Gas and electricity have a large impact because they use fossil resources. By cutting out natural gas from the preparation steps, you can prevent a part of the impact. An induction stove uses electricity and eliminates the use of gas. Or, even better: An induction stove (and other kitchen appliances) powered by a ‘green’ electricity mix.
By replacing a gas stove with an induction stove and green electricity you can prevent 58% of the impact in ‘Resource use, fossils’. It results in a big difference in other impact categories as well. You can save 30% of the CO2 emissions of an English breakfast, or 40% of a Continental breakfast.
All in all, the most environmentally friendly option is to prepare a Continental breakfast with an induction hob and green electricity.
 de Valk, E., Hollander, A., & Zijp, M. (2016). Milieubelasting van de voedselconsumptie in Nederland. 10. https://www.rivm.nl/bibliotheek/rapporten/2016-0074.pdf
 Milieu Centraal. (n.d.). Vlees en de impact op het klimaat. Milieu Centraal. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.milieucentraal.nl/eten-en-drinken/milieubewust-eten/vlees/