What makes shade-grown coffee eco-friendly?

Q. My local coffee shop just started advertising some of its coffees as being shade-grown. Why exactly are these types of beans better for the environment? – Phil, MA

A. Imagine—if you dare—a life without coffee. What would be the best part of waking up? What would we waste $4 on each morning? How would we justify pouring mass amounts of acid into our stomachs, and how would we fit the words “foam”, “whip”, and “venti” into our daily routines? What would we put our Baileys in? What, for the love of all things holy, would unpaid interns do all day?

We’re all so desperate for a cup of joe that coffee is, get this, the “second most traded commodity in the international community after petroleum”—according to Laura Stec and Eugene Cordero, authors of Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming— with between 20 and 25 million farmers growing it around the world. That’s a lotta java, which is why every time a consumer (that’s you) chooses shade-grown coffee over conventional, it actually, really, seriously, truly does make a difference.

In a beanshell: Growing coffee in the sun instead of the shade means higher output for farmers, but it also means that acres upon acres of rainforest have to be cleared to let the sun shine in. Clearing rainforest is bad news for birds, in sort of the same way that it would be bad news for you if I tore your house down. And then all the other houses on your block, too. Also, clearing rainforest gives global warming a leg up, which, let’s be honest, it just doesn’t need. According to the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), 20-25% of greenhouse gas emissions can be blamed on our nasty habit of cutting down tropical forest.

So when you buy coffee or chocolate, look for labels that indicate your product was shade-grown. The Bird Friendly Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s seal and Rainforest Alliance seal are two you can especially trust; Stec and Cordero say that if you can't find one of those, your next best bet is to look for organic and fair trade products from Latin America, which are likely shade-grown as well.

Then reward yourself by making your unpaid intern brew it for you, and pouring in a shot or three of Baileys. Savink the rainforesht ish sooo dlicious.

-         Tobin Hack

Eco-inquiries, conundrums, snafus? Write to askplenty@plentymag.com.

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