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What is Shade Grown Coffee?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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Shade grown coffee is produced from coffee plants that have been grown under the shade of rain forest trees, rather than in large conventional coffee plantations on cleared land. There are a number of reasons to seek out this type of coffee in preference to conventional coffee, and a growing number of coffee producers are offering it in response to consumer demand. Most parts of the United States are supplied by companies that grow shade grown coffee as well as conventional varieties, and it is also readily available in Europe.

Many shade grown coffee promotional campaigns focus on the benefit to birds, particularly songbirds. By growing coffee in the shade of the rain forest, the farmer also provides habitat to animals. Rain forests around the world are being rapidly depleted, thanks to a push to clear land for agriculture. Many species are feeling the pressure, and scientists are concerned about the rate at which species and rain forest are disappearing. Coffee grown under trees promotes the retention of natural rain forests, providing a place for animals to live.

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Flavor is also at issue. Shade grown coffee tastes different from conventionally grown coffee. The beans mature more slowly, building up more sugars, along with complex flavors, before they are harvested. Coffee does not actually like to be grown in full sun conditions, so this variety harnesses the natural flavor of coffee. For people who want preserve traditions and historic ways of life, shade grown coffee encourages farmers to use the practices they had been using for hundreds of years.

There are also environmental benefits. By growing shade grown coffee in existing rain forests, farmers can harness the natural mulching and fertilizing that happens as trees and plants shed leaves and fruit, covering the forest floor in a rich layer of nutritious material. In many cases, this type of coffee is organic, produced without pesticides and herbicides. The coffee also flourishes in a polyculture environment, encouraging farmers to plant diverse trees, shrubs, and plants along with coffee.

Other tropical plants can also be produced in a shady environment. The commercial success of shade grown coffee has led producers to start growing shade grown cacao as well, for example. It is hoped by conservationists that increasing awareness of food production issues will lead more consumers to actively seek out shade grown rain forest products. Several companies offer independent certification and labeling for producers, so that consumers can be confident in their purchases.

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