Why You Should Buy Shade Grown Coffee

Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee every day. Chances are it’s how you started yours. But have you ever stopped and thought about where your coffee is coming from? Or whether there are environmental impacts associated with it?


Coffee cherries from shade grown farm.

It is important to educate yourself about where the coffee you brew each day is grown and under what conditions. Is it from a sustainable source? More likely than not the coffee you drank this morning came from a highly intensified mono culture plantation seen in the image below.


Example of sun cultivated coffee farm


Bean Breakdown

There are two different types of coffee plants which produce variations in beans. The robusta plant can grow at high temperatures under full sun exposure and is considered very tolerant with high producing yields. This is the type of coffee that is grown to make instant coffee or for brands such as Folgers. The arabica plant is better suited in slightly cooler temperatures and exhibits an improved quality as far as taste goes. Typical methods of production requires planting of the trees in conjunction with existing vegetation under moderate to heavy shade.

Sun Cultivated

The sun cultivation process for coffee begins with the clearing of once forested land to create rows of crops in order to maximize yield. There are many reasons why sun cultivation is harmful to the environment.

  • Deforestation
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Degradation of land through soil and water contamination
  • Heavy chemical usage

Impacts of deforestation from coffee production

Shade Grown Coffee

In contrast, shade grown coffee provides many benefits to the environment.

  • Provides habitat to biodiversity
  • Reduced impact on the environment
  • Ecosystem services
  • Allows native vegetation to exist
  • Little to no chemical use
  • Beneficial for curbing environmental shifts from climate change

Example of a shade grown coffee farm

Not only do shade grown farms help improve the land’s quality, but shying away from purchasing sun grown coffee helps work toward the goal of eliminating unjust and inequitable wage and labor conditions associated with sun cultivation coffee production.


Coffee picker collecting cherries on shade grown farm


So why should you buy shade grown coffee? Not only does it taste better, but also so that you can sit back and enjoy your cup, or two, knowing that your coffee was produced within a sustainable food system.

Now you might be wondering how to determine what defines a coffee as sustainable. An easy way to know if you’re buying from a sustainable source is to search for a certification label. Certification labels are useful when shopping for green products because the seal ensures that a variety of environmental, social, and economic criteria were met in the production process, all the way from the bean to bag.

Common coffee certifications include FairTrade, Rainforest Alliance, Smithsonian Bird Friendly,  and the 4C Association.



To learn more about specific certifications click here to see what you can do to be a more conscious coffee consumer.










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2 responses to “Why You Should Buy Shade Grown Coffee

  1. amyquandt

    Did you read anything comparing how expensive shade grown versus sun grown coffee is? Is one cheaper than the other to produce, or for consumers to buy?


    • sszabian

      Great question! Sun grown coffee tends to always be cheaper than shade cultivation due to the high quantity produced within one harvest period. Shade grown coffees are grown in smaller quantities which allows for the beans to develop a wider taste profile resulting in a higher quality bean and a higher price.
      For consumers, shade grown coffee will be more expensive. For farmers, sun cultivation will be cheaper to produce.


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