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Bird Friendly and Shade Grown Coffee

Benefits of Shade Grown Coffee

Shade grown coffee benefits song birds who use the coffee plant as a natural habitat, reduces the need for fertilizers and herbicides, and promotes biodiversification.  Unfortunately, the production of a shade grown coffee estate is almost 1/3 that of a non-shaded coffee farm.  Therefore, there is an alarming trend towards technification or the planting of new hybrids in organized fields to maximize profits.  Approximately 150 bird species live on farms of shade grown coffee, whereas non-shaded coffee supports s few as 20-50 species.  Between 1980 and 1994 the songbird populations have steadily decreased.  There are 70% fewer Tennessee Warbles, 30% fewer Baltimore Orioles, and 50% less Cape May Warbles due in part to technification.  However, these numbers and the causes for the decrease in bird populations have been debated heavily.  Until it is decided that growing shade grown, bird friendly coffee is economically feasible, the trend towards technification will continue.

Beyond the benefit that shade can provide to migratory birds, shade grown coffee often tastes better. The shade has a similar effect on coffee as growing coffee at high altitudes. Both of these factors slow down the growth of a coffee which results in the production of more sugars and chemicals responsible for the perceived acidity in coffee.

There are several types of shade grown coffee: 

  • Rustic (rusticano): Coffee trees are planted in an existing forest with few changes to the native plants.  
  • Traditional polyculture (policultura tradicional): This method is more deliberate than the rustic method.  It consists of integrating other plants such as fruits, vegetables, etc within the coffee farm.  This allows the farmer to diversity crops while maintaining the beneficial conditions of shade grown coffee.  
  • Commercial polyculture (policultura comercial): similar to traditional polyculture, but with more coffee and less shade trees.  This type of shade allows higher production, but also requires the use of some pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Reduced or specialized shade (sombra especializada): uses a single canopy to provide shade.  Typically from Inga, Erythrina, Gliricidia, or Grevillea.
  • Full-sun or unshaded monoculture (monocultura sin sombre): this coffee is grown without shade trees.  Production is higher, but fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are often used.  This type of coffee will continue to grow in popularity until consumers agree to pay more for organic shade grown coffee. 
  • (Source: Coffee Contact)

Criteria for Shade Grown Coffee from the Rainforest Alliance: English (*.pdf) or Spanish (*.pdf)


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