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Shade Grown Coffee Is For The Birds

shade grown coffeeSo, it’s a little play on words, ok? The thrust of this article is to show you how to get great tasting coffee that helps the birds, the small growers and the the planet at the same time.

I got an email from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that had a video with Amanda Rodenwald doing research in Central and South American coffee farms. In it, she talks about how migratory birds are losing their wintering refuges. These places are being destroyed to grow sun grown coffee. Colombia has lost 75% of its mountain forests! And birds are not the only ones affected by this either.

Short History of Coffee

Up until 1972, almost all coffee was harvested from shade-grown plants. That’s how they naturally occurred and the ecosystem was perfect for it. Shade trees dropped leaves which helped retain soil moisture and the birds took care of insects. These crops were grown with little to no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

In 1972, hybrid coffee plants were developed to produce more beans per plant, were easier to harvest and did best in direct sunlight. These plants also require high doses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This caused only the smaller, low-tech farms to preserve their shade trees because they could not afford the chemicals needed.

This caused most coffee producers to clear land for this new type of coffee crop. Of the 6 million acres of coffee growing lands, 60% have been stripped of shade trees since 1972. This has caused an estimated 20% decline in migratory bird populations in the last ten years.

Why Buy Shade-Grown Coffee?

Here are the main reasons to seriously consider buying shade-grown coffee:

  • Bird Habitat
  • Sustains Rainforests
  • Better Tasting and Healthier
  • Healthier Environment
  • Support Small Growers

Bird Habitat

Common birds like the Baltimore Orioles and Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks spend their winters in the most productive coffee growing countries. We are already seeing sharp population declines in these and many other birds who overwinter in these countries. To date, as many as 150 species of birds have been identified on shade-grown coffee farms.

Sustains Rainforests

Sun-grown coffee plantations suffer from soil depletion and increased erosion. Rainforest is stripped to provide growing area for sun coffee.

Better Tasting and Healthier

Shade-grown coffee beans are larger, less bitter and more complex in flavor compared to their sun-grown counterparts. Shade-grown coffee is normally grown organically.

Healthier Environment

Shade trees help filter carbon dioxide to reduce global warming. Also, their help with moisture retention reduces soil erosion.

Support Small Growers

The smaller growers are the ones who were left behind by the sun grown coffee movement. By purchasing shade grown coffee, you help the little guys prosper and keep quality coffee production alive.

How to Buy REAL Shade-Grown Coffee

There are two main ways to make sure your coffee is shade grown.

First, look for coffee plantations that state in their literature or on their website that they produce shade-grown coffee.

Second, the coffees that come from Southern Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala are almost certainly shade-grown. Coffee grown in Sumatra, Timor, New Guinea and Ethiopia are very likely shade-grown.

Third, look for the words “bird friendly”, “fair trade” or “certified organic.”


If you want the healthiest, tastiest, most sustainable and human-centered coffee in your cup, give serious thought to finding and buying shade-grown, fair trade coffee! Please leave me a comment below and tell me about your experience with shade-grown coffee!

Also, if you enjoyed this article and think it may help somebody make a better coffee decision, please share it using the buttons below.

A Couple Places to Find Shade-Grown Coffee



Thanks to Tatsiana Thomson from Brome Bird News for these sources!







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