I keep hearing about “shade-grown” coffee. Is this something new?
No. But, thankfully, it’s a matter of something old being new again.
Coffee is naturally a small, shade-loving shrub that up until about 40 years ago was always grown alongside other shade-loving agricultural crops under the canopy of the rainforest. Grown in the shade, coffee is easily cultivated without the need for chemical inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides), so it’s a crop well suited to be grown organically and in harmony with the natural environment.
With the development of trees that could tolerate the sun and thus produce higher yields, producers began clear-cutting rainforest areas, shifting coffee from being one of the lowest impact crops on the environment to one of the highest. Farms went from being shade- covered, biologically diverse operations with no or little use of agricultural chemicals, to single-culture enterprises requiring huge amounts of fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides. This full-sun, industrial-style method of coffee cultivation eradicates the winter homes of North American migratory birds by destroying habitat, as well as poisoning the environment.
Fortunately, many small growers continue to produce their coffee crops in the shade of the forest canopy. And, more and more growers who had previously abandoned their traditional methods are now realizing the destruction this has caused, and are today returning to the old ways. These traditional, conservation-minded farmers are the ones we seek out when sourcing our 100% shade-grown coffees.