A few decades ago almost all coffee came from shade grown coffee plants. It was the traditional, natural way to grow coffee.
The canopy of larger trees protects the coffee from too much direct sunlight, limits soil erosion and provides an essential habitat for migrating birds.
In addition to shading the coffee plants, the shade trees also provide farmers with firewood when it comes time to thin the canopy.
This balanced ecosystem results in healthier plants and less reliance on agrochemicals.
Shade grown coffee may taste better, and be better for the environment, but there are more profitable ways to farm coffee.
Many argue that coffee grown under a partial, natural canopy tastes better. The shade of the trees slows down the growth of the plants, which results in the production of more sugars and chemicals responsible for the perceived acidity in coffee.
But while shade grown coffee may taste better, in the eyes of big investors, it’s an inefficient way to produce coffee.
Coffee plants grown out in the open, under full sun, grow faster and produce coffee earlier. This is known as Technified coffee. It’s an unnatural habitat for the coffee plant, which is why this practice depends on the liberal application of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
But...it makes more money for the big farmers and their investors.
”Shade grown” is part of the triple-certification of coffee
If you want to buy coffee that fully supports sustainable agricultural practices, brings family farmers a fair income, and also protects them against contact with harmful chemicals, buy coffee that is triple certified.
That is to say...it is grown organically, it is shade grown, and is part of a Fair Trade agreement.
This triple certification ensures that each cup of coffee you enjoy at home is supporting social justice and sustainable farm practices in the country where the coffee was grown.
As individuals we may sometimes think we are powerless to make changes in the world. Well, when you choose triple-certified coffee you are making a positive impact.
As for those migratory birds...their numbers have been falling dramatically over the last two decades, as more and more coffee growing has become Technified, and the shade trees have been cut down.
That’s one more reason to buy shade grown coffee.
About the author: Nick Usborne, aka Coffee Detective, is a writer and long-time coffee enthusiast. Read more…