So for a while I've been wondering what shade grown coffee means. I see it everywhere and assumed it had something to do with worker conditions - like maybe workers were being forced to work in the hot sun. I didn't know, don't laugh at me! :) It was just my best guess since most shade grown products are also labelled fair trade. I research soooooo many things online and this just wasn't at the top of my list. Well, I finally got around to researching it so I thought I'd share my findings here.
Traditionally, coffee was always shade grown. It grows best that way and naturally doesn't need any fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. The large rainforest trees protect the plants from direct sunlight and also mulch the ground with fallen leaves to retain moisture and nutrients. Since rainforests are home to tons of animals, they act as a natural pesticide. This process also keeps the soil full of nutrients so the coffee beans are much healthier and produce a healthier product. Sadly, shade-grown coffee only represents about 1% of the US market for coffee beans.
Sun grown coffees were invented (hybrid plant) because they are easier to produce. The smaller plants produce way more coffee beans and are easier to harvest. Unfortunately they are best produced in direct sunlight. This means large amounts of clear-cut land is needed. There are no large trees dropping foliage to mulch the ground so the soil dries out (soil nutrient depletion and erosion). No birds to eat the bugs so heavy amounts of pesticides are needed - so heavy in fact that next to tobacco, sun-grown coffee is sprayed with more chemicals than any other product consumed. Fertilizers are then needed because all of the nutrients have been zapped from the dried out, unsustainable soil.
While sustainable farming is absolutely important and I wholeheartedly believe it is the best way to farm (note: biodynamic is the best type of sustainable farming)... my main goal is health. My health and the health of my family. I wanna know what's in it for me. *wink*
I had no idea coffee was that heavily sprayed and so vastly depleted of nutrients. According to an article I read, coffees from Columbia, Brazil and Costa Rica are more likely to be sun-grown. Coffee from Sumatra, southern Mexico, Guatemala and Ethiopia (the list is huge) are mostly shade-grown. And of course it's always easier to just look for the shade-grown label rather than trying to figure out which country it's from. And a quick side-note: the whole sun/shade grown thing is also true for cocoa beans.
I hope you all found this interesting!