Coffee is a shade-loving shrub and naturally occurring varieties can only be cultivated under a canopy of shade trees. Until 25 years ago, “shade-grown coffee” was the only way coffee was cultivated. Full-sun hybrid coffee trees produced higher yields for coffee farmers and allowed for the creation of huge plantations. The increased yields of full-sun coffee, however, come at the expense of the environment, of the flavor of the coffee itself, and of migratory bird populations, which have been decimated in the last 25 years.
The more shade-grown coffee is demanded by consumers, the more economic incentive there is for farmers to replant shade trees and slow the destruction caused by full-sun coffee. By purchasing shade-grown coffee, you send a message to coffee farmers that there is economic viability in returning to traditional methods of coffee cultivation. You also send a message to coffee retailers that you are willing to pay a little more for a superior product that is much less damaging to the environment and to migratory birds.
In addition to purchasing shade-grown coffee, you want to be sure that the coffee also be “organic-certified” and “fair-trade-certified.” In other words, you want to purchase “triple-certified coffee.” This certification ensures that no chemicals were used during production, that the farmers were paid a living wage for their crop, and that it is shade-grown.