How Your Coffee Can Make A Difference


We are a coffee addicted nation. We drink it to get moving in the morning, as a mid morning push through, after lunch, and a mid afternoon pick me up just to get us through the day. In the latest National Coffee Association Study, 63% of Americans drink coffee daily with about 80% drinking it at least once per week.

Over 200 million American coffee drinkers per day!

In fact, the USA is the largest coffee consuming nation. 

With all that purchasing power, we are making an impact on the coffee industry. And NOT in a good way! 

Originally, coffee plants only grew in the shade of trees, today known as “shade-grown” coffee. They thrive in forest canopies and support native wildlife. These plants take 3-5 years to start producing and that only happens with the right amount of rain, sunshine, shade, and climate.   


Shade grown coffee

However in the 1970’s, new hybrid sun tolerant coffee shrubs were developed to grow in the sun. They were designed so that more plants could be planted per hectare and they ripen much faster and produce higher yields.  This means clearing out trees for coffee crops and an increased use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides for the coffee plants due to them not being able to adapt to their new sunny environment. The Coffee berry borer (hypothenemus hamper) is a fan of sun-grown coffee and rapidly attacks these plants which is part of the reason for the use in pesticides. This is Mother Natures response to something that is not natural. Shade grown coffee is naturally fertilized by the dead leaves decomposing in the soil. Whereas sun grown coffee relies on added fertilizers.


Cleared land for sun grown coffee

In the 1970s and 80s, as part of the general shift to ‘technified agriculture’ during the so-called Green Revolution, the US Agency for International Development and other groups gave $80 million dollars for plantations in Central America to replace traditional shade grown farming techniques with ‘sun cultivation’ techniques in order to increase yields..[1]

Remember, we are the #1 consumer of coffee, and the U.S. wanted to keep yields high so that the cost of imported coffee is low.

Coffee is a tropical shrub that grows… you got it… in the tropics! More specifically along the equator between the tropics of cancer and capricorn. This is the same thriving environment for the rainforest. Start putting the puzzle pieces together and you can quickly see how detrimental sun grown coffee is to the environment. Canopies of trees in the rain forests are cut down to support sun-grown coffee and copious amounts of chemicals are sprayed. This equates to rapidly devastated rainforests due to clear cuttingenvironmental pollution, reduction in wildlife habitats (which means a rapid reduction in wildlife), and an unbalanced ecosystem.

The forest-like structure of shade coffee farms provides habitat for a great number of migratory and resident birds, reptiles, ants, butterflies, bats, plants and other organisms. Of all agricultural land uses, shade-grown coffee is most likely the crop that supports the highest diversity of migratory birds, native flora and fauna.[2] In all of the studies a clear spectrum of  species richness emerged ranging from high species diversity in “rustic” shaded polycultures to extremely low species diversity in unshaded monocultures.[3]

In order for sun grown coffee to thrive, rain forests are being cleared out and polluted!

An estimated 11 million hectares (over 42,000 square miles) of the world’s farmland are dedicated to coffee cultivation. Less than 25% of that is shade grown coffee. We are devastating the rainforests and more of the environment is being destroyed each year for sun-grown coffee plantations. As the #1 consumer of coffee in the world we have the opportunity to make a HUGE impact on our ecosystem. By purchasing sun-grown coffee, you are saying “ok” to environmental loss and devastation. We have an opportunity to make a difference through our buying power. As more people purchase shade grown coffee, the demand increases which means more sun grown coffee plantations will be forced to convert back to shade grown. The first thing we have to do is educate ourselves. If you have read this far, consider yourself informed. Now, go tell others and spread the importance of purchasing shade grown coffee.


bird-friendly-logoNot all shade grown coffee is created equal! You can learn more about the different types here. Unfortunately, at this time, “shade-grown coffee” can be whatever the seller says it is, which is why it is important to understand the certifications. The Bird Friendly coffee certification program, administered by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) has pioneered much of the research regarding the connection between birds, coffee and farming communities to understand the importance of setting standards for healthy forests. Their standards are targeted specifically at shade management and preserving biodiversity; their certification is called “Bird-Friendly” (this is a trademarked term and should always carry the Smithsonian seal to the left). More on their criteria here

racRainforest Alliance Certified, is a certification program administered by the Rainforest Alliance, which has developed sustainable product certifications for coffee and many other products. They are a non-profit group with partners around the world to address the needs of farmers and meet the demands of consumers. Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee must meet rigorous criteria, including less water pollution, less soil erosion, reduced threats to the environment and human health along with other criteria that focus on sustainability and conservation.


When purchasing coffee, look for these seals of approval to ensure you are purchasing certified shade grown coffee.


Organically grown coffee is not necessarily shade-grown, but it usually is. This is because the trees of the canopy provide several necessities to the organic coffee farm, among them leaf litter (which acts as a fertilizer), resident wildlife species that control pests, and the retention of moisture. If you are buying organic, you are most likely buying shade-grown but to be sure, look for the above shade-grown certifications or simply research your coffee brand.

Shade-Grown Coffee Brands

For a full list of Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee click on this link.

List of online SMBC Shade-Grown Certified Coffee.

Here are some of the more popular ones around here.

cafe britt

Cafe Britt Coffee

allegro coffee

Allegro Coffee

jims coffee

Jims Organic Coffee








Some Coffee Facts For You:

  • Coffee is really a fruit. Coffee branches form jasmine-like blossoms that give way to coffee cherries that are red and round.
  • Brazil is the largest supplier of coffee with Columbia following second.
  • Americans consume more than a third of total coffee grown in the world.
  • Coffee is grown in more than 50 countries and 30 of those countries produce more than 5 million tons per year.
  • Coffee is second in trade in the world only to oil, in dollars traded.
  • Hawaii is the only place in the U.S. where coffee is grown.





[2] Rice, Robert (2010). “The Ecological Benefits of Shade-Grown Coffee: The Case for Going Bird Friendly®.”

[3] “Birds do Better in ‘Agroforests’ than on Farms.”ScienceDaily. 2012.


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