Coffee is a small tree or shrub that grows in the forest understory in its wild form, and traditionally was grown commercially under other trees that provided shade. The forest-like structure of shade coffee farms provides habitat for a great number of migratory and resident species.
At Thapa, our farmers produce shade-grown coffee to ensure that it will be high quality. All Himalayan Organic Arabica Bourbon Coffee is arabica, which grows well at higher altitudes and in cooler temperatures. The cooler temperatures from the altitude and shade slows the growth of the beans, and causes the beans to be more dense. Beans with higher density develop more flavor and acidity meaning they are of a higher quality and are better tasting. With the markets are more increasing demand for high quality coffee, our move of choosing shade-grown method that can be sold as specialty coffee can result in a greater income for the farmer although some of the land management practices are more labor intensive. Each year when the harvest season ends, the shade trees throughout the fields must be trimmed back to give the coffee plants more light. Cultivating coffee under the shade of trees benefits both the farmers and the environment.
In general, having more diversity of trees can increase bird population in the surrounding areas. A variety of fruit trees, and trees with epiphytes create more habitat for a greater diversity of bird species. Birds aid the growth of coffee by serving as natural predators for coffee pests.
Another effect of greater tree diversity is an increase in pollinating insects. While arabica coffee is a self-pollinating plant, the presence of pollinating insects like bees has been shown to increase production of coffee cherries. With shade cultivation, health of the soil is impacted positively as well. Growing other trees replenishes the soil by drawing up nutrients from deep in the earth. Then, leaves that fall from the trees mix with the topsoil and decompose, which returns nutrients back into the earth. Overall, Shade grown coffee is prooven that it has more beneficial to the environment because it mimics the natural way that wild coffee grows.
Coffee plants in the wild are part of a balanced ecosystem, so when we remove the complexity of that ecosystem we disrupt this balance. Thus, we believe this is greater sustainability with shade cultivated coffee for both the environment and the farmer.