We’re following on from last week’s blog, digging into the differences between shade and sun grown coffee. Why does it matter? What are the real differences and implications for taste, quality and sustainability?
Keep on the Shady Side
Since the discovery of coffee in the 11th century, crops have generally been grown under a wide variety of shady trees and plants. Canopies protect plants from the sun and create a haven for plants to thrive side-by-side with native plants and animals. Birds are particularly important in this process as they act as pest controllers; in fact research has suggested that without our feathery friends there would be a 70% increase in Coffee Berry Borer beetle and another study found that there would be 30-64% more caterpillars.
Fun fact, there are actually three ways to grow shade-grown coffee:
Rustic: where crops are planted in established habitats with natural plants
Traditional Polyculture: plants are integrated into existing forests along with fruit/vegetable crops to supplement farmers’ incomes
Commercial Polyculture: Native plants are replaced with coffee plants, often growing under taller trees to provide shade.
Diverse shade grown coffee makes up 25% of the world’s coffee crops with 35% in part shade/sun and 40% in full sun. The environmental benefits for shade grown coffee is crucial when we think about the future of coffee. How?
1. Less pesticides leaching into soil and waterways
2. Erosion is reduced, protecting the quality of soil
3. Foliage from surrounding trees and plants act as a natural fertiliser
4. Remove carbon from the atmosphere
5. Reduce temperatures by retaining rainfall, ensuring the longevity & health of plants.
Coffee was never meant to be grown in full sun, however 20% of the world’s coffee beans use this method creating the good old Robusta bean. Thanks to an increase in demand, some farmers have embraced this way of farming as sun-grown crops have a greater yield, although the lifespan of crops is usually a lot less than their shady cousins.
The environmental impact of sun-grown coffee is considerable, leading to…
- deforestation – clearing native plants/trees to make room for high yield, fast growing coffee plants
- an increase in fertilisers – with no natural leaves etc to provide nutrients, farmers must resort to nitrogen fuelled fertilisers
- more herbicides – more weeds mean more chemicals to keep them at bay
- poor soil conditions – exposed to sun, heat, chemicals and erosion from downpours, this soil also leaches chemicals into nearby waterways causing pollution
- an increase in plant turnover – sun grown crops only last 15 years, while shade grown survive for 30 years
The only real benefit of sun-grown coffee plants is their higher yield. More coffee to meet the growing global demand. But this has resulted in a lower quality bean, more bitterness, less flavour varieties. This is why we use Arabica, shade-grown coffee at Sacred Grounds.
Taste & See
To taste the difference, why not try one of our Fairtrade Organic Single Origins:
- Australia – displays characters of spiced berry, sweet caramel and chocolate.
- East Timor – A sweet spicy cup with notes of cloves, leather, tobacco and pepper; a bright orange acidity and a silky body leading a long malt, burnt toffee and walnut finish.
- Ethiopia Limu – Citrus lime acidity, notes of stone fruit with a hint of spice
- Ethiopia Yirgaheffe – Very clean, sweet, delicate floral notes, light lemony aromatics
- Nicaragua – Chocolate, sweet aroma, citrus tones, honeyed, bright medium acidity, well rounded cup.
- Papua New Guinea – Chocolate, nutty flavour with a slightly fruity finish of cherry undertones and hints of vanilla. Balanced and smooth aftertaste.
- Peru – Displays herbaceous overtones with a soft chocolate finish
- Sumatra Gayo – Delicate aroma of blackcurrant, followed by hints of dark cocoa and soft spice. Bright tangy acidity.