What is Shade Grown coffee?
At Heine Brothers’, all of our coffees are Fair Trade, Organic, and Shade Grown. Most likely, you are more familiar with the first two terms – fair trade and organic – than you are with the third. Shade grown coffee is, in fact, exactly what it sounds like: coffee that is grown in the shade of taller trees. Growing coffee in this way has many benefits including the protection of local water supplies, the preservation of the natural ecosystems, and its great taste. Shade grown coffee also benefits song birds that use the coffee plant as a natural habitat, reduce the need for fertilizers and herbicides, and promote biodiversification.
Traditionally, the best arabica coffee has been grown high in the mountains on small farms under the shade of taller trees. These taller trees prevent erosion on the steep slopes where coffee is grown and they protect the coffee trees from intense sun and high winds. The farmers use the crops from these trees (bananas, coconuts) as a source of extra income and the wood from these trees as firewood.
Sun Grown vs. Shade Grown
So, what exactly is the difference between shade grown and the conventional, sun grown coffees? Good question. A few decades ago the United States pushed for the cultivation of new hybrids of sun-grown coffee, particularly in South and Central America, this coffee was grown in full sun and it yielded twice as many coffee beans per crop. Higher yields would mean more money for poor farmers, so it seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately, this sun grown coffee needed pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers to grow. This destroyed the soil over time, as well as the natural habitats of local birds, insects, and reptiles.
The canopy of shade under which our coffees are grown is an important ingredient in both preserving the land and environment of coffee growing regions, and in growing a great-tasting bean. Because shaded coffee is slower to ripen and yields fewer beans per plant, it often provides a more complex taste and is more flavorful than its sun grown counterparts. So sip away! And while you’re loving that beautiful shade grown taste, remember that your cup has helped to preserve a traditional way of farming and the diverse ecosystems of countries like Rwanda, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.