Shade grown coffee is high altitude Arabica coffee that is grown under the canopy of larger plants and trees of the rainforest. The coffee bush is actually a shade-loving plant that thrives in this micro-ecosystem and produces slightly larger, more flavorful beans than sun grown coffee. Shade grown coffee tends to grow slower in its natural rainforest habitat which creates a much richer, balanced coffee flavor. The shade grown coffee farmers respect the rainforest ecosystem and all that it encompasses. That is why they maintain the highest environmental standards when growing, picking, and processing their coffee beans.
Sun grown coffee has really only been around since the mid 1970’s and it has proven to be an unsustainable micro-ecosystem that requires constant fertilization and the consistent use of pesticides. This is very good for the producers of fertilizers and pesticides but very bad for the farmers and the environment. Sun grown coffee is a hybrid plant that was “invented” in a misguided attempt to make coffee farming easier and more like wheat farming in Kansas, as an example. The idea back then was that if you mow down the rainforest and plant coffee bushes in nice neat rows, it would be easier to maintain and easier to harvest. I guess, in reality it is easier to walk up to a coffee bush and dump fertilizer on it or walk up to a coffee bush and spray it with pesticides and in fairness it is easier to walk up to a coffee bush and harvest it. But, one has to ask, what is price of that type of efficiency? Pollution, erosion, flooding, sickness, lower quality products, and the list goes on. It is true that larger coffee chains need more coffee, more often, and therefore need their coffee plants to produce coffee beans faster. The have found a way to grow lower-quality coffee beans but it has taken a toll on the rainforest and continues to be a controversial issue for the educated coffee consumer.
First off, we recommend that you do your research on your ‘favorite’ coffee supplier. Ask them if their coffee business supports the rainforest habitat and if they say yes, ask them how. Find out where they get their coffee beans, specifically the name of the coffee farms, coffee importers, or coffee cooperation they use to determine if their coffee beans are shade grown. Many large coffee comclomerants have realized that the eco-conscientious consumer is demanding Fair Trade, Shade Grown, and Organic coffee but that does not mean ALL of their coffee is all of those things. The trick they play is to offer selected coffee roasts that align with your ethical requirements but then use the crappy, sun grown, terrible for the environment, yet good for their bottom line coffee beans 90% of the time. If you want to support the rainforest, dig deeper!