Why Would You Buy Shade Grown Coffee?

The most common arguments for shade grown coffee are the ecological benefits. But there is more to why you would buy shade grown coffee. Let’s start with ecological benefits of shade grown coffee as reported by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

By reviewing more than 50 studies on shade-grown coffee farms in regions ranging from Central and South America to Indonesia over the past 15 years, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) can now make the case that shade-grown coffee production is the next best thing to a natural forest, and put to rest any arguments about the sustainability of a sun-coffee system.

In study after study, habitat on shade-grown coffee farms outshone sun-grown coffee farms with increased numbers and species of birds as well as and improved bird habitat, soil protection/erosion control, carbon sequestration, natural pest control and improved pollination. While sun-grown systems can have higher yields, the shaded farms easily outperform them in sustainability measurements with the trees providing an array of ecological services that offer both direct and indirect “income/payback” to farmers and the environment.

The “hidden yield” in the shade vs. sun comparison is that of the non-coffee products and opportunities coming from the shaded system. In addition to ecotourism on several shade coffee farms, firewood, fruits, building materials and medicinal plants are all resources harvested to varying degrees by shade coffee farmers and used and/or sold by farmers.

Shade grown coffee is coffee grown the natural way that coffee evolved. Although sun grown coffee out produces shade grown coffee in the short run, it is shade grown coffee and the preserved ecosystem that it entails that wins in the end.

The Taste of Shade Grown Coffee

As noted in a Grounds for Change article, shade grown coffee simply tastes better than the sun grown variety.

Experts agree that the flavor of shade grown coffee is superior to that of full-sun coffee and that it is significantly less bitter. Shade grown coffee shrubs mature more slowly and produce fewer coffee cherries so the flavor is more concentrated and mellowed in the resulting harvest.

If your goal is to buy the most flavorful coffee buy shade grown.

Coffee for the Birds

A few months ago we wrote about coffee for the birds. If you are going to preserve habitat for local and migratory birds you need to go with shade grown coffee.

Many birds that spend their summers in the USA spend their winters in Mexico, Central America and even South America. They live in mountain forests in these regions, the same places that coffee is grown. As sun-tolerant varieties of coffee have been developed, coffee farmers have cut down upland tropical forests and planted coffee. They may have planted the occasional plantain to help prevent wholesale soil erosion but have removed the habitat for local and migratory birds. The question is, if you want to limit your coffee purchases to growers who maintain bird-friendly habitats how do you proceed?

Good choices include Rainforest Alliance, USDA Certified, shade grown, Fair Trade and sustainable. In the end it turns out that the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has the strictest certification followed by Rainforest Alliance for coffee farming that is kindest to the birds.

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