☕ Coffee Journey - Sun vs Shade grown Coffee

Welcome back to my coffee themed A - Z  / ultimate blog challenge. Today we're talking about sun vs shade grown coffee. 

Chances are you aren't even aware that both planting options exist. Since the differences entail considerable effects, I think it's important you know about them - and potentially rethink (or confirm) your coffee choices.

Globally about 60% of the coffee land is managed under diverse / partial shade, and 40% under full-sun conditions. 

Let's start with the sun grown coffee:

It is suitable for mass production. Once you clear the land from any trees other than coffee plants. That way your coffee will grow very fast, leaving you with a considerable amount to sell. 

Sounds good, right?

There are several downsides though.

  • First of all the coffee plant gets stressed by the constant exposure to sun. and the beans grow smaller and have less flavor, partly due to the soil not being able tot maintain its nutrient density.
  • Farmers may need to water the coffee plants. 
  • With no canopy cover or biodiversity around the crops, the coffee plants have no protection from pests. This creates a reliance on chemical pesticides that get into the soil and water in the area, which causes health concerns for plants, humans and animals.
  • Sun-grown coffee are typically productive for less than 15 years, while shade-grown coffee trees may yield fruit for 30 years.

If you're wondering if you've ever consumed sun-grown coffee, check the packaging. If it says Robusta (we talked about the difference between Arabica and Robusta here), the beans have grown in the sun. This varietal has been trained to grow in the sun and therefore has likely been treated with harsh chemicals and contributed to deforestation.

And we all know who suffers from it... We've been hearing about deforestation in connection with palm oil, but it is also true for coffee plantations.

Photo by Carel van Vugt on Unsplash

Let's turn our interest to the subject of shade-grown coffee, starting with the continued focus on biodiversity. Shade-grown operations continue planting trees and ground cover to ensure the coffee plants are getting the amount of shade they need. This also reduces pests and keeps the top soil full of nutrients, in part due to leaves decomposing and insect life thriving.

When grown in the shade, the coffee is able to grow at a natural pace and because it is not being overloaded with sun, the beans get bigger and have a richer, more balanced flavor profile than sun-grown coffee. With the increased coverage, the soil does not get washed away from rain as easily and the complex roots below ground reduce erosion.

So apart from the environmental benefits like providing important habitat for wildlife such as migratory birds (this is why shade-grown coffee is also called "bird-friendly coffee"), enriching the soil and strengthening the root systems, capturing and retaining rainfall, which lowers the temperatures for the heat-sensitive coffee trees) there are also a lot of good things happening for the people who live and work there:

  • The other trees (such as tall banana trees or oaks) yield fruit and wood, which means additional sources of income for the farmers.
  • Since shade-grown coffee generally requires less chemicals, the farmer's production costs are lower.
  • The farmers productivity is further increased thanks to the longer lifespan of the shaded trees.
  • The coffee quality is way greater, leading to higher prices on the market.

Source: Dean's Beans

Generally, when you’re looking at coffee, if you buy Arabica beans they will have been naturally grown in the shade as these beans cannot grow in the sun. These beans are typically more expensive because they are higher quality; however, they are tasty enough to actually drink without additives due to their unbeatable flavor.

Coincidence has it that today is Earth Day. So what better opportunity to purchase a nice shade-grown coffee from Arabica beans than this? You know where to get them ;-)

Thanks for reading, and thanks for caring!


  1. Wow I never knew the difference. Shade grown coffee seems to be the environmental friendly option in that case. will but some arabica beans today :)

    Dropping by from a to z "The Pensive"

  2. this is a very interesting read to someone like me that absolutely loves coffee! THANKS YOU for sharing :)

  3. Had no idea about this despite having consumed coffee for over three decades

  4. I hadn't heard of Robusta coffee until I started reading your posts. I had heard about Arabica beans before though. There is so much to know about coffee!

  5. I don't drink coffee but enjoy all your shar d knowledge. I never knew there was a difference in growing in the sun or shade.

  6. I didn't know about the difference. I'll have to go and check my coffee...

    Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge My Languishing TBR: S

  7. Did not know the difference either. Seems like shade is the way to go!

    Janet’s Smiles

  8. I hadn't even known that shade grown coffee was a thing. But it makes sense.

  9. Happy Earth Day! Very interesting post Tamara. I've certainly seen the term "bird-friendly" in coffee marketing, but I had no idea that meant shade-grown.

  10. I too was unaware of this difference and it made a great Earth Day post Tara - so much so that I have given it a big shout out in my T post today - https://how-would-you-know.com/2022/04/tofu-tomatoes-and-type-2-diabetes.html

  11. This is another insightful post from you girl for a coffee lover like me. My question is -- how do I know whether these branded coffees like Nescafe, and Bru are sun grown or shade-grown?


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