I love iced coffee, but I hate spending $4 on a plastic cup of coffee I could make at home with a milk frother and a good grocery store-bought brew. I’ve tried just about every brand of iced coffee at my local Meijer, and Chameleon’s cold brew concentrates are by far the tastiest. I decided it was time to discover the sustainability and processes behind this product, and discover if it’s worth to keep buying.
After doing some research, I unfortunately only rate Chameleon’s cold brew a .25. This rating may seem harsh, especially in comparison with some of its sections, but a product made from sustainable ingredients that uses harmful practices is still unsustainable, and the “sustainable” logo on their bottle does not deserve its place.
Chameleon’s cold brew concentrates are delightfully simple. The black cold brew is made up of organic coffee beans, water, and nothing else. This brew has no added sugars or chemicals. For reference, their other flavored cold brew concentrates are made up of organic coffee, water, and organic natural flavors. While that is extremely vague third item, it at least doesn’t include any particularly unhealthy or traditionally poorly-sourced materials.
Organic certifications aren’t always the most impactful for each product, but in the case of coffee it’s certainly a good label to have. Because coffee beans are exposed to so much sunlight, the plants’ immune system is weakened, so non-organic coffee production ends up using up to 200 different types of pesticides as protection. Some of these chemicals could be toxic to the farmers directly harvesting coffee, the consumer drinking the beverage, and biodiversity of its surrounding ecosystems.
Finally, what first drew me to Chameleon was that it was packaged in a glass bottle. While glass is heavier than plastic—thus resulting in more carbon emissions through transportation—it’s a product that can easily be reused or recycled.
I rate this category a 1.5. There is nothing particularly harmful about this product, but also nothing stellar. There are simply so few ingredients involved that using unsustainable products would be simply out of laziness.
Chameleon provides very little information on how their products are made. On one hand, that’s because there just isn’t that much to talk about: the coffee beans are ground and steeped until they’ve reached the perfect brew. Their website does detail that their beans are sourced from five different locations in Guatemala, Peru, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Colombia, but there is no information about where their coffee is actually steeped, the energy intensity of that process, or where their bottles are made.
I rate this section a 0, simply because I have nothing to say.
Chameleon boasts their “Chameleon Coffee Partner Program” in Guatemala on their website, advertising how they’ve helped 400 families of coffee farmers in their supply chain. This assistance comes through increasing coffee yields, farm renovation, and teaching them organic methods. While it’s good for Chameleon to help their farmers, it still feels like they’re simply helping these families to do more of what they already do. There’s no evidence that they are providing financial assistance or education opportunities that could help improve their lifestyles. Coffee-producing regions in South America tend to be impoverished and vulnerable to foreign coffee market trends. I feel like Chameleon could be doing more.
One strength I will highlight is that they are supporting three women-owned coffee plantations in Myanmar and Indonesia. They don’t go too in detail about any of these partnerships, but have committed to buying some of their earliest harvests.
But beyond their support for women, things start to get messy. And I mean really messy. As I was researching Chameleon’s cold brew concentrates, I accidentally clicked the “Careers” tab as opposed to “Search,” and I was brought to Nestlé‘s website. Chameleon’s packaging boasts sustainable labels and certifications, yet nowhere on their product or website do they include that they are owned by Nestlé, which is arguably one of the most unsustainable food corporations to exist. Nestlé is notorious for exploitative water extraction, child labor, massive levels of pollution, and other unjust practices that almost always target underdeveloped nations. Chameleon Coffee cannot be sustainable if they are a part of such a careless and unethical corporation. That the brand hides its association with Nestlé too is even more upsetting. The “sustainable” emblem on their bottle is an outright lie. This brand is greenwashing at its finest.
I rate this section a 0, and would give it negative planets if I could. Not only are they owned by one of the least ethical food companies, the way in which Nestlé is being hidden feels like they are lying to their customers.