Where to get certified shade-grown sustainable coffee

by JulieCraves on March 11, 2006

Version 4. My list of responsible roasters currently resides in the footer of the site. The list rotates when the page refreshes. This post outlines my criteria for inclusion in the list.

There are a lot of great roasters out there, and many carry sustainable coffees, but my list will not include them all. The intention is to provide links to places where consumers can find the best variety of good, sustainable coffee. Note that not all coffees from each place will be sustainable. I’ll continue to provide reviews of additional providers and specific coffees from many further roasters. For a list of roasters that regularly carry Bird-Friendly certified coffee, see this post.

Overall criteria
I would love to make it simple, and provide a list of retailers that sell only certified shade-grown coffee. You can look for suppliers of Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certified coffee here. Rainforest Alliance does not provide a list of roasters or retailers, only producers; a list can be downloaded from this page.

There are many sustainably-grown coffees out there that are not certified. This will probably continue to be the case for some time due to high costs to producers for certification and other factors. In addition, some coffees from shade certified farms are not sold with the “seal” if the retailer decides not to market it as such. On the other hand, there are also coffees marketed as “shade grown” that may not be grown under any sort of measurable criteria.

Finally, there are places in the world where coffee is grown in areas that weren’t forested to being with (and thus where “shade” is not valid), at high altitudes where shade is provided by clouds and not trees, or where the ecology is (and therefore biodiversity preserving requirements) are far different from those for which shade criteria were developed. Current shade certification standards are not a good fit for these places.

Finding sustainable coffee, then, requires some due diligence on the part of the consumer (my list of the top 5 indicators of sustainable coffee can serve as a guide) . I have compiled a list of roasters in the footer that offer sustainable coffee, using these criteria:

  • I look for providers that mention shade, sustainability, or biodiversity specifically, and include details, and which source from farms that I’m able to determine, to the best of my ability, are biodiversity and environmentally friendly.
  • If they say their coffee is “Bird-Friendly,” it better have the SMBC seal and be listed as a certifed farm on the SMBC web site. If they say their coffee is “shade grown” and the coffee isn’t certified by SMBC, I’d like to see an explanation of how they determined it really is grown in shade. Sometimes a very specific description of origin is sufficient (see below).
  • They must have clear descriptions of origins on most of their offerings — not just the country, but if possible region and estate.  Big bonuses if they also provide links to the farms or cooperatives. Added details such as the botanical variety are also great. Including these facts provide important details which help consumers make wise choices in sustainable coffee.
  • I look for roasters who have direct relationships with farmers and are committed to helping their producers use sustainable growing practices.
  • An obvious dedication to offering quality coffee. Occasionally I come across a retailer who is more concerned with a “cause” than with the coffee. I want consumers who try coffee to love it and become converts to great-tasting sustainable coffee. I look for details on roast level and flavor, outside reviews, and in many cases whether the C&C tasting panel liked the coffee (note that not all coffees we taste get a published review).
  • Although not a requirement, it’s terrific if the retailer also describes their own sustainable business practices.
  • They must have online retail shopping.
  • I’ve stuck to North America, mostly roasters in the U.S.
Revised on January 7, 2022

Posted in Retail and specialty roasters

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