Drink Bird Friendly Coffee & Save Wildlife



Is your coffee for the birds? We recently covered what it really means when your coffee has a “certified fair trade” label. It turns out that may not be the only label you encounter in the coffee aisle. Certified organic and fair trade have entered our collective consciousness as coffee-related terms, but they represent only the beginning of the environmentally and socially responsible possibilities. The green folks over at the TreeHugger website recently reported on coffee that is {ahem}: fair trade, organic, shade grown, Café Femenino, packaged in reusable mason jars and delivered on a bicycle.


Just What is Bird-Friendly Coffee?

The labels can be confusing, and consumers are understandably concerned about the legitimacy of these terms. No one wants to pay extra for a cup of “greenwashing” or its social equivalent. So for those of us who struggle to remember our reusable mugs, we decided to take a closer look at the dimensions of a kinder, greener cup of coffee. In this installment, we will explore the meaning of “bird friendly.”

Non-Angry Birds

bird friendly coffeeWe started right at the certification source, which is this case is the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. The official Bird Friendly® seal represents two separate certifications—organic and shade-grown. To up the ante a bit, approximately 50% of the coffee grown under the bird friendly banner also enjoys the coveted “triple-certification” status: organic, shade-grown and fair trade.

There is a long list of benefits associated with organic shade-grown coffee, but to sum them up: coffee that is grown without pesticides and under the cover of local shade trees makes for happy migratory birds.


Shade-Grown Coffee: Better for Everyone

As it turns out, our cup of conventional coffee is the product of deforestation. Clearing the land makes it easier and more efficient to manage a coffee plantation and it is a standard agricultural practice in the coffee business. Shade-grown certification presents both a simple and a complex alternative to this traditional practice. In theory, it is as easy to understand as its name implies: shade-grown plantations preserve the overhead canopy of shade trees. In practice, the complexity of this certification includes criteria for canopy height, foliage cover, diversity of woody species, total floristic diversity, structural diversity…and the list goes on.


One More Time?

That long list of scientific criteria can be translated back again to a simple take-home message—diversity in the vegetation supports wildlife diversity. The shade of the overhead canopy and the nearby companion plantings of tropical species provide habitat for local and migratory birds.

pelican birds mating

OK, But What Does Bird Friendly Coffee Taste Like?

The scientists at the Smithsonian are apparently not ones to shy away from unpleasant truths, and they remind us that acres of tropical forest are lost in the time it takes to drink a single cup of coffee. To make this truth more palatable, they offer us the benefit of flavor. Coffee that is shade-grown ripens more slowly, allowing it time to develop a more complex flavor profile.

Another benefit, for the skeptics among us, is that there is no compromise in the standard—if the Bird Friendly® seal is on a package, the contents are 100% certified. If you are now on a mission to find one of those packages, the search tool at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center can help.

As with any other product, caveat emptor—buyer beware. A shade-grown label without an accompanying certification (and an understanding of the certifier and their process) offers no guarantee as to the eco-friendliness of the contents.

Is shade-grown coffee in your future? Let us know in the comments below.

Main photo: Ville Misaki

Content photo: Su Neko


Robyn is a freelance writer, editor and a serious foodie. A native of Seattle, she has found a new home in Northern California where she splits her time about equally between hiking in the redwoods and typing in local coffee shops. In addition to writing for CoffeeKrave, Robyn is currently working on a project to produce a short animated documentary—"Clipped and Tucked"—about her adventures in cooking recipes from antique cookbooks.

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