When thinking of coffee beans and the environment they grow in, most people automatically think of sprawling, commercial coffee crop plantations in the middle of nowhere. They may believe sunlight is the main nutrient for all types of coffee. However, different coffee crops share different growth and harvesting procedures. The two main types of coffee growth: shade grown (organic coffee) and direct sunlight (traditional coffee) are on the opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to production.
In the past, all coffee was shade grown and bore some resemblance to organic coffee. Most kinds of coffee refuse to sprout majestically under direct sunlight and thrive best under sun blocking trees. Shade grown coffee benefited from fallen leaves which help to mulch the soil to retain moisture. In addition, shade trees provide homes for birds, which act as pest control. With few fertilizers and pesticides used as recently as 30 years ago, coffee was a hallmark of healthy production.
In the 1970’s, new hybrids of coffee crop began to sprout. Farmers began to learn new ways of producing more coffee beans, slowing down the harvesting rate, and use direct sunlight to raise crops. In order to make room for non-organic coffee, many farmers even chopped down their trees to create plantation room. In the United States, approximately 2 million acres of lands dedicated to organic and non-organic coffee had its shade trees removed. The only farmers who spared their shade trees for organic coffee were the ones too poor to afford fertilizers and pesticides needed for production.
With the transition from organic coffee to “sun coffee” growing coffee began to sacrifice the environment. Soil erosion and nutrient depletion became the norm as more chemical fertilizers were sprayed onto the ground. In addition, producers were adamant at removing rainforest land in the search for non-organic coffee soil. Today, there are only a few countries that are making the switch to producing full time organic coffee, including Ethiopia, Panama, Mexico, and El Salvador. Bigger countries like Costa Rica and Brazil continue to be mainly non-organic coffee producers. All in all, organic coffee has derived its history from the spoiled environment its non-organic counterpart specializes in creating.