What is Shade-Grown Coffee?
If you have visited Bali Beans coffee plantation, you will notice that their coffee trees are growing haphazardly around the terrain, in amongst taller trees which provide them with shade. Although it would seem that this would only serve to make harvesting the beans more difficult, as Ayu explained to me, the benefits of growing coffee this way far outweigh any disadvantages.
Deforestation is one of the biggest environmental issues facing us today and trying to satisfy the demands for one of the most sought-after crops is sure to have its own environmental impact. In fact, the following article estimates that for every cup of coffee consumed, it is almost certain that one square inch of rainforest was destroyed.
So, depending on the extent of your coffee addiction, you can start to visualise the impact your seemingly innocuous habit could be having on your environment.
Organic vs Shade Grown Coffee
“But, I only drink organic, Fairtrade coffee!” you argue. Surely then you are not responsible for the brutal inch-by-inch deforestation committed by other, less-ethical coffee drinkers?
Although organic farming practices would certainly support shade-grown coffee, they do not guarantee it. Organic practices ensure certain limits on chemicals and pesticides used on the soil and on the plants themselves. Growing coffee under the natural shade of the forest aids farmers in using organic practices because the canopy provides natural fertiliser in the form of the leaves which are shed and decompose into the soil. Growing coffee under shade also discourages weed growth, reduces pathogen infection and protects the crop from frost, further reducing the need for chemical intervention.
This article lists the numerous advantages that the environment and local ecosystem benefit from using shade-grown practices.
So, although you can’t guarantee organic coffee is shade grown, by demanding shade grown coffee, you are forcing farmers into organic practices.
In terms of Fairtrade, as we have seen previously, Fairtrade does nothing to promote ethical or environmentally-friendly farming practices. In fact, under pressure to produce higher yields, farmers would be more likely to resort to non-organic practices.
Why is shade-grown coffee better for the consumer?
So we have seen why shade-grown coffee benefits the environment but does it also taste better? Unsurprisingly, when a crop is in natural sync with the environment, everyone benefits. Coffee grows better under natural shade because that’s how coffee wants to be grown; Arabica coffee has the highest yields under 35 to 65% shade!
The shade helps to increase the numbers of pollinators, which results in better fruit, plus it’s free to grow without the addition of harsh chemical fertilizers, allowing the coffee beans’ natural sugars to develop. These factors make for an exceptionally flavorful cup of coffee. In contrast, the harsh chemicals commonly used in full sun coffee plantations cause the plants to grow abnormally fast, causing a higher acidity, which then results in a bitter cup of coffee.
In addition to the taste benefits for the consumer, coffee’s antioxidant properties are also increased when grown naturally. So by growing coffee organically, health risks are dramatically decreased. The personal health benefits of organic coffee include:
- High in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, coffee boosts the immune system and guards against disease
- Free of pesticides and artificial fertilizers, can boost mental function, increase metabolism and improve mood
- Moderate amounts of caffeine can provide a natural energy boost
Coffee is rarely spoken about as a healthy drink: Jitteriness, headaches, indigestion or insomnia are often attributed to coffee and nutritionists and doctors routinely instruct patients with these symptoms to remove it from their diet. However, the differences between conventionally grown commodity coffee (which is one of the most chemically treated crops in the world) and organic, shade-grown, speciality coffee couldn’t be more different. So the message is simple – don’t drink less coffee, just drink better coffee!
Order your Bali Beans organic, shade-grown coffee here.