Shade Coffee Gets Even Better

Shade Coffee Gets Even Better

Katherine Tweed
Published: 01/13/2009

Coffee beans in hand

My shade grown cup of coffee tastes even more delicious today. A recent study that found shade coffee farms are not only good for birds, but also good for the genetic diversity of native tree species that grow amongst the coffee plants.

In the 1930s, farmers in Chiapas, Mexico often clear-cut and burned areas to set up their coffee crops. They planted coffee, but also tall canopy trees for shade. Along with fruit and legume trees, farmers have also let some understory trees populate the farms because they help with erosion.

The result is that Miconia affinis, one species of understory tree growing on farms, has more genetic diversity than its forest counterparts, according to a study published in the December 23 issue of Current Biology.

Researchers say the uptick in diversity on farms is probably because small birds like the chestnut-sided warbler disperse the seeds in the forest, while larger birds carry the seeds further amongst the farms.

A typical coffee farm is only in production for a century at most. During production, the shade coffee farms support local bird populations, but after the farm’s life cycle is complete, the building blocks for forest generation, thanks to strong genetic diversity amongst the trees, is already in place.

If you’re looking to switch to a shadier cup of joe, try Audubon’s blend, or search the Smithsonian for local retailers that carry native tree-(and bird!)-friendly blends.

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