Shade Grown Coffee Benefits

Specialty coffee comes from the top 20 percent highest quality Arabica coffee grown and harvested from select coffee growing regions around the world. Shade grown coffee is cultivated primarily for the specialty, gourmet coffee markets.

There are many benefits derived from shade grown coffee practices. For example,

1. Sustainable agricultural practices in harmony with nature.

2. Farming methods that support biodiversity.

3. Prioritization of soil health as a priority.

4. A committed focus to responsible land management.

Forested coffee farms are bio-rich buffer zones for plants, flowers and wildlife that are at risk as a result of deforestation and poor land management.

Shade coffee acts as a refuge for wildlife diversity. Healthy and increasing bird populations, for example, act as natural insect control in coffee plantations. The ecosystem service that birds provide is worth much money to the coffee trade in relation to the total crop value. For consumers, shade grown coffee, particularly when it is certified, means the beans and resulting brew in the cup are free of chemicals and man-made fertilizers. That is a good thing!

The question is: how do you prevent or repair habitats to make them species-friendly, sustainable and healthy ecosystems? This is a challenging question that many specialty coffee certification programs address through local, national and international organizations. For our purposes, let’s focus on the plants, flowers and wildlife that grow well with coffee and help establish permanent healthy coffee habitats.

Shade coffee tree planting:

It takes years for coffee seedlings to mature into producing coffee trees. About two to four years after planting, Arabica produces small, white and very fragrant flowers. Coffee flowers smell as sweet as jasmine flowers. The flowers last only a few days. When coffee flowers open on sunny days, this results in more berries than when they open on cloudy days.

Shade grown coffee, cultivated under tree canopy that shields the plants from direct sun, helps to produce the right number of berries. This is important because coffee plants that produce too many berries will yield an inferior harvest. Pruning the trees is one way to control this problem. However, shade growing is a more natural and less expensive way to prevent the problem in the first place.

Tree canopy:

This is the uppermost layer in the forest habitat. The canopy has many different types of tree species of varying heights, branch height, tree architecture and leaf size. These trees provide shade for coffee plants. They are home for birds, bats and many other natural organisms beneficial to the habitat.

Examples of tree canopy species include: Laurel (Cordia Alliodora), a harvestable timber tree, grayish white to grayish brown, with a cylindrical trunk and growing as high as 131 feet. Erythrina Poeppigiana, is a large tree, growing to 114 feet in height and 7 feet in diameter, with a spreading crown, branchless below 32 to 65 feet, grayish brown or grey bark with thorn-like protuberances. Gliricidia is a fast growing medium, multi-purpose legume sized tree, 30 to 60 feet high that provides medicinal and insect repellent qualities. Inga Edulis is very popular due to its rapid growth. Balsa is a fast growing tree with very lightweight and soft wood.


This is a group of plants that grow on other plants, usually trees, instead of growing in the ground. Orchids, ferns, bromeliads, and lichen are epiphytes. They do not take resources directly from the plant on which they live.

Neotropical migratory birds that breed in Canada and the USA during the summer and spend winters in the Americas or the Caribbean islands, favor epiphytes for nesting, water, and food. Neotropical birds include, for example, All Black-capped Vireos and Lucy’s Warblers, some Painted Buntings, Northern Parulas, and Gray Catbirds.

Coffee plantations with more epiphytes have more canopy cover and more arthropod insects such as grasshoppers, butterflies, ants, beetles, and others. Is this good? Yes, arthropod insects are beneficial for the environment and are an important food source for the birds.

What about drinking a cup of delicious Guatemalan Antigua or Panama Boquete Specialty Coffee?

Other articles you might like:

Organic Coffee Vs. Regular Coffee
Organic Coffee Benefits
Organic Coffee Disadvantages

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