Posted in Kafevend Blog

There's a variety of buzzwords and phrases that get applied to all sorts of products in a bid to make them more marketable- our favourite drinks like tea or coffee are no exception. Some of those words and terms however are worth giving a second glance, as behind their use in marketing lies something worth spending your hard earned cash on. One of those terms is shade grown, and we intend to have a look at it in today's article.

Coffee originally came from Ethiopian forests, where it grew under the canopy of tall trees, surrounded by other species of plants. These original species would suffer under the full heat of the sun, and so until recently this method of production was the norm, with plantations of coffee trees incorporating space for taller trees to provide shade. It was also typical for smallholders to plant fruit trees and such to diversify their cash crops- if one failed or the price crashed, they could always fall back on others.

In the 1970s, there was a shift towards 'sun cultivation' of coffee. New coffee species were cultivated which could resist the sunlight, which meant that there was no need to waste space on shade-providing trees and farmers were able to gather up to three times the normal yield. This method, of course, is not without consequences. The land is heavily managed, using large amounts of polluting chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Soil erosion increases, and the lack of the usual plant matter carpeting the ground means less nutrients are going back into the soil. Water retention drops, and the heavy use of chemicals means that the run off can be toxic. The land clearance also leads to deforestation and loss of habitat, which in turn leads to a drop in biodiversity. Finally is the fact that as well as being unsustainable for the enviroment, it has a negative impact on the market too- over supply results in lower prices for farmers who then suffer from an over reliance on a single crop. A prime example of this practice can be seen in Vietnam's recent history- you can find out more about coffee in Vietnam here.

The benefits of shade grown coffee are numerous and interlinking, much like the negatives of sun cultivation. Leaving trees in place to provide shade means no deforestation. Other plants grow under the canopy as well, such as fruit trees, providing food and alternate crops to farmers. The more natural set-up also attracts wildlife, often birds and insects. These provide a form of natural pest control as they eat the pests. Leftover fragments of coffee beans are reused as fertilizer. The lack of chemicals used means that the water is kept clean, and it is in turn better retained by the plants and soil, which means less soil erosion. All in all, it sounds pretty good.

Another benefit is that shade grown coffee typically has a better taste, although processing and brewing will also have an effect. This really isn't the main reason to buy shade grown coffee though- by choosing it instead of the sun cultivated variety, you help to fund a more sustainable way of producing coffee, and can enjoy your morning cup of joe with a clear conscience!

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