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What is shade grown and bird friendly coffee?

over 2 years ago by Xander M
Tags: organic, coffee facts
2 responses
Participant over 2 years ago
by Ryan F., Chief Coffee Schemer
We get our coffee from about 25 different Seattle roasters and they source their beans from farmers all over the world. Bird friendly is a special certification for organic, shade grown coffees and requires inspection from an independent third party. The vast majority of our coffees are sourced from micro lots. When coffee is grown in a micro-lot, the crops aren't taking up hundreds of acres worth of space and taking away from the bird nesting areas. Imagine a small crop isolated on a mountainside. Not much of an environmental impact. As for the organic side of the bird friendly certification, in order for a coffee roaster to list their coffee as "organic" everything from source to the finished product has to be organic (more on organic coffee). That means that a roaster can't even roast organic beans in the same roaster as non-organic beans (it's very labor intensive to clean a roaster) so many roasters use organic beans but can't say their coffees are organic because the roasting machines they use also roast non-organic beans. Also, organic certifications are very expensive so only very profitable farms are able to afford the certification which rules out most micro-lot farms even though they raise their crops by organic standards. So to summarize all this info, our coffees are not certified as bird friendly, but since they are sourced from small lots, they are indeed bird friendly and very low to no environmental impact. Shade grown, bird friendly, and organic designations require a formal certification which many large commercial lots pay for to help them sell their coffees at a premium. Just because a small farm isn’t certified doesn’t mean it has a negative impact on the ecosystem, or is of less quality. In fact, owners of small lots produce some of the best coffees in the world and prioritize environmental friendly best practices to ensure their harvests can support their families and surrounding communities. Bean Box roasters pay a premium to maintain long-term relationships with these farms. Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns and I'll be happy to help!
Participant over 2 years ago
by Matthew B., Chief Coffee Wrangler
The term "shade grown" is a heavily marketed term meant to conjure up positive feelings about the way certain coffees are grown. To grow coffee at scale, large farms have had to breed ever more hardy plants, and part of optimizing yield is to grow coffee as a monoculture (think fields as far as they eye can see filled only with low-growing coffee shrubs). Unlike plant development in the wild, monocultures cause real problems for other species living in the ecosystem, who rely on the physical and chemical variety of flora for their habitats (everything from sources of food, to places to nest, to cover from predators). So the idea that farms will manage their monocultures in the direction of more biodiversity is a Good Thing, that's helpful for, among other creates, birds, who need certain conditions to nest.

All of that said, there are a few catches. First off, in many places, especially smaller farms, coffee is by definition grown in a more biodiverse context, with the "shade" of other plant specifies a natural part of the landscape. This is part of why we prefer working with roasters who work directly with smaller-scale farms, and purchase high quality micro lots. But there's another aspect to the marketing angle that's seeped into conventional wisdom: the term suggests, insidiously, that growing coffee in the shade somehow results in better coffee. That suggestion is just for the birds (pun intended), and coffee labelled "shade grown" literally says nothing about the nature of the product you're buying, except to the extent it might describe either intentional or accidental features of the farm.

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