Do you like Coffee?

by Collin Dunn, Corvallis, OR, USA


By Collin Dunn
Coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world (oil is the most-traded), and, as with anything with such a prominent place in the global marketplace, there are myriad green issues from growth and harvest to roasting and distribution. We’ll look at the importance of just one of these issues today (and come back for the rest later): shade-grown coffee.

“Shade-grown,” as the name implies, is reserved for those coffee bushes that grow under a canopy of taller trees and other foliage. So what? Well, coffee grows in three main locales-Central and South America, Indonesia, and Africa-around the globe; all are near the equator, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. As it happens, many of the world’s rich, dense rainforests also reside there, making them ideal places to grow the bean.

Coffee, like most plants, grows most quickly in the sun, and therein lies the predicament: To grow coffee on an industrial scale, rainforests-and the rich biodiversity and enormous range of habitat they provide-most often get the short end of the stick. But it doesn’t have to be that way.Shade-grown coffee, then, not only promotes ecosystem health-and, according to some connoisseurs, produces a fuller, richer, more mature flavor-but it also helps keep rainforests and their astonishing biodiversity intact. (Big coffee producers don’t like this so much, since their crop grows more slowly and it’s more difficult to manage and harvest.) When you buy shade-grown, you’re helping maintain this system, and end the cycle of clear-cutting and monoculture that can accompany large-scale coffee agriculture.

How to find it? The Smithsonian National Zoological Park tracks its availability by state (as well as provides more excellent information on shade-grown coffee), as does the Audubon Shade-Grown Coffee Club. Your best bet may be to hit up your favorite local roaster or brew master to see what they already have on their shelves. If they don’t have it, find the manager of the store and make a request.

Tip: Find a source of green beans and roast your own at home. Plus, remember that your garden is a great place to recycle the grounds. Hit up TreeHugger’s How to Green Your Coffee and Tea for more buzz-inducing, in-depth info.

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