Shade vs Sun Grown Coffee

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.

Environmental Hero

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.

Sun-Drenched Plantations

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.

More from Sacred Grounds:

Going WILD with Kombucha

If you’ve never tried this fabulous bevvy then I tell you, it’s a MUST! Not only does it taste the goods but it’s also incredibly healthy – like superwoman/man/batman/hero healthy! But what does it have to do with coffee, you might ask… well our friends at Wild Kombucha by Ballsy actually use Sacred Grounds coffee in one of their mighty brews!

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It’s Organic Awareness Month!

How organic-aware are you? Do you often choose organic products over their alternatives or does it depend on what you’re buying? Let’s face it, we all get stuck in shopping habits, buying the same brands over and over again without giving the organic aisle a second glance. But once you compare organic varieties to the mainstream versions, you’ll never think twice about your choice again.

Organic Coffee vs Non-Organic

Take coffee for example! Did you know that the coffee plant is one of the most chemically drenched crops around? This impacts everything from the soil, the local water supply, the beans themselves and the taste of the coffee. Think of how much coffee we consume every day… why put chemicals into your body if you don’t have to? Organic coffee has been proven to taste better as beans absorbed flavours from the environment around them and no one wants to drink coffee that tastes like fly spray!

Trust Issues

The ‘organic’ label has been misused by some organisations who simply add it to their packaging with very little to no accountability. The great thing about the Australian Organic ‘bud’ logo, however, is that it indicates that the organic product you’re buying can be trusted. Products that display this label go through a strict certification process and ongoing checks. Every organisation involved in the processes of a wide variety of products is tracked and analysed so that nothing falls through the cracks. There are many ‘hoops’ to jump through just to get the bud on the packaging so you as a consumer can rest assured that what it’s claiming is what you’re getting.

Organic Awareness Month Events

Throughout September the organic industry is going into hyper-drive, celebrating everything organic from meat to coffee, chips to wine! Australian Organic is challenging all of us to buy one extra organic product a week, to buy something certified organic to wear – to mix it up, to break out of our ‘easy’ habits and make a positive impact on our own health and our environment. Head to their Facebook page for more info on events, clients and products to kick-start your own Organic Awareness month.

Go Organic and WIN!

Choosing organic products is a win for everyone, but during September you can WIN some really amazing products and experiences. Head over to Australian Organic on Instagram (@australianorganic) to see which prizes are up for grabs. Each week of September, there’s a different prize on offer and this week it’s a gem! Australian Organic are giving away a fabbo Organic Gift pack with loads of amazing goodies. Check them out!

Which product will you switch over to organic this week? 

More from Sacred Grounds:

Planet Ark – why recycle coffee grounds?

I don’t know about you, but when I think of used coffee grounds (you know, late at night when I’m trying to get to sleep), the last thing that enters my mind is that they could be harmful to the environment. To me, coffee grounds seem lovely and natural, especially our lovely organic kind! But you’d be surprised how much waste is created thanks to our coffee drinking habit.

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Origin of the month: Australia

I’m not biased or anything but Australia one of the BEST countries in the world! Variety is our middle name – we do a lot of things really well and one of those happens to be growing coffee! While we source a lot of our single origin coffee from Fairtrade farms around the world, we can’t forget our very own coffee farmers, growing some of the best single origins on the planet.

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Why low carbon coffee matters


You’ve probably heard about low carbon this and that in the media, through advertising and such and it sounds like a good thing for the earth and basically for everyone. But what, precisely, is low carbon when it comes to practical day-to-day living? How do we reduce our footprint? Here’s some info that may shed some light on the subject…

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