The Whole Shade Deal: Discovering Shade-Grown Coffee

September 19, 2010



When was the last time you tried a new brew? With Columbus Day approaching on October 12, it would be a good time to find a new favorite. Columbus Day reminds us about the excitement in searching out new worlds.
Shade-Grown coffee: Rainbow Lorikeets on coffee cupAs we reflect on that day hundreds of years ago, we recall an Italian serving as an Admiral for Spain who happened upon American shores. Searching for a trade route to the East, Christopher Columbus found out about the West. And thus was immortalized the oft-repeated tale of searching for something and finding something else completely different but better!


Are you searching for a better coffee? Perhaps you have been looking for a more healthful brew, or one that was more “green”.  You may be thinking organic. ROASTe has lots of organic choices, but why stop there?


Maybe it’s time you “discovered” Shade-Grown Coffee.  Consider its benefits.


The shade-grown issue is relatively new.  Forty years ago, most of the coffee North Americans drank was grown in the shade, in rainforests. Then “progress” was attempted when farmers figured out they could boost production by clear-cutting the trees and letting in the sun. They developed sun tolerant coffee varieties whose yields were higher, but it meant millions of acres of rainforest were destroyed. Sun varieties also required more fertilizer and more frequent replacement of plants. Droughts could be killers.


Now coffee farmers, and consumers, are re-discovering the importance of shade-grown coffee. Coffee thrives in the shade, as do the trees that shade the coffee plants. Coffee and trees work together to improve many aspects of the ecosystem.


Forests help pollination. Studies have found that when you have a greater diversity of native bees, you actually have more yield from your coffee bushes. These pollinators also facilitate or promote the reproduction of native trees. So these habitats are more easily reforested.


Forests attract birds. Migratory birds flock to the forests - coffee and cacao make good migrant habitats for such species. Of the more than 150 species of songbirds that migrate to the American tropics each year - including orioles, tanagers, warblers, and thrushes - many use the certified forest-like farms as their habitat during their months spent there. These farms also support important resident birds such as Toucans, Becards, Wood Creepers and Parrots.


What’s so great about the birds? Like bees, they pollinate flowers. They also disperse seeds and feast on insects. In studies of birds and coffee, research has shown that they consume a wide variety of insects, some of them coffee pests. In Jamaica, in fact, three migratory birds (the Black-throated Blue Warbler, American Redstart and Prairie Warbler) were identified as major predators of the dreaded Coffee Berry Borer, enemy number one of coffee.


Up to forty species of trees have been found in the shade-grown coffee growing areas – trees which provide wood or fruit and other benefits to the farmers.  Trees mean reduced use of fungicides and chemical fertilizer. Shade trees protect the undergrowth coffee plants from rain and sun, help maintain soil quality, reduce the need for weeding, reduce erosion because of their deep roots, and aid in pest control. Organic matter from the shade trees also provides a natural mulch with needed nitrogen and other nutrients, thus reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. If the trees produce flower or fruit they provide food for the birds.


As if that’s not enough, many roasters claim that shade-grown coffee has a better taste than that grown in the sun. Shade increases the sugar content so necessary for carmelization, and shade-coffee beans ripen more slowly, resulting in a richer flavor.


Once the need for chemicals is reduced, the working environment becomes a safer place for farmers and other people involved in bringing us our food. Downstream, residents of communities have less pollution to manage in drinking water sources. Coffee plantations are often critical refuges, protecting forest species whose habitats continue to shrink. Besides birds, members of mammal, amphibian and reptile families are attracted to the coffee forests.


Because of these many factors and others, there is growing demand from consumers for shade-grown coffees. ROASTe has varieties from Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Panama, Hawaii, Colombia, and Kenya.


So in honor of Columbus Day, be daring and adventurous and help the environment: discover shade-grown coffee from ROASTe!





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