What Is Shade Grown Coffee?

If you are looking for great coffee and coffee farming that helps the environment, look for shade grown coffee. What is shade grown coffee? The quick answer is that shade grown coffee is grown under the forest canopy and not in full sun. Why is that important? Shade grown organic coffee is how coffee was originally grown.

Natural coffee strains grow best in partial or total shade. In fact, many plants dry out and die if planted in full sun. Thus coffee has traditionally been grown under a canopy of trees. This method of planting on hillsides helps prevent erosion as is still seen in regions of Colombia, Panama, and other parts of the world where coffee is grown on steep slopes. However, new sun tolerant coffee strains were introduced over the last two generations. These plants thrive in full sunlight and are capable of producing up to three times as many coffee beans as traditional coffee plants in a shaded environment. Unfortunately, in order to boost production rates growers use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides to protect the monoculture of coffee that they plant. By taking coffee out of its more normal habitat growers subject it to the same risks as other field crops and orchards in which individual infective pests can enter and destroy a crop.

The ideal habitat for growing natural coffee in the shade is in a forest in the mountains in the tropics. In these habitats there are typically up to forty different species of trees on traditional, organic coffee plantations. This mixture of trees helps maintain soil quality and provides habitat for numerous smaller plants as well as animals and birds. A mature plantation producing shade grown organic coffee is a mature ecosystem that is virtually self-sustaining. It does not require insecticides as birds and other animals living in the coffee forest consume the pests. It does not require large amount of synthetic fertilizers as the natural products of plant decomposition slowly leach into the soil to fertilize new plants and do not poison downstream water or the water table.

What is shade grown coffee? It is the ideal product of a sustainable habitat, free of impurities and most commonly an excellent coffee.

Shade Grown Coffee and the Birds

Shade grown coffee is good for the environment because the coffee farmer leaves the trees and other plants alone. And, because the tree canopy is left intact, shade grown coffee is good for the birds. In our article about coffee for the birds we noted that preserving the rain forest canopy means preserving bird habitat and that the best certification if you want to save the birds is from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has a Bird Friendly Coffee page on their web site.

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has developed the only 100% organic and shade-grown coffee certification available: Bird Friendly.

That’s right-no other bag guarantees that every bean is produced organically and under high-quality shade. Our seal of approval ensures tropical “agroforests” are preserved and migratory birds find a healthy haven when they travel from your backyard to those faraway farms producing the beans you so enjoy every morning.

The point is that USDA certified and other certifications do not guarantee that the forest habitat was preserved while the Bird Friend Coffee certification does.

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