Coffee and birds

Bird Friendly Coffee

Do you drink coffee? Do you know your choice of coffee - wether over the counter, off the shelf at the market, or in a restaurant - has global significance? As you inhale those aromas that account for much of coffee's appeal during your next cup, consider how your beans got that flavor. Beginning in the 1970's, traditional cultivation of coffee in the shade of trees began to give way to growing the plants in full sun, on land cleared of trees. Full sun greatly speeds up rates of plant growth and, of course, profitability. However, it is very bad for the soil, water, wildlife, and usually involves more pesticides and other nasty compounds that end up in your cup.

Sun farmed coffee is especially bad for birds, who need the habitat provided by trees in order to survive. "Traditional polyculture"is the term used to describe coffee cultivation involving not only shade trees but also other crops, medicinal plants, and beneficial plants. This method also uses few if any pesticides and less water while also offering farmers stability by having more than one crop or product to rely on - rendering them less susceptible to victimization by the market.

To guide your choice of coffee, please at least go with USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, and, if possible, Shade Grown. Just meeting these standards does not guarantee the coffee will be to your liking. Roasting and other factors influence the final cup; so try several kinds until you are happy. Another factor is country of origin: Bolivia, Mexico, Nicarauga, Honduras El Salvador, Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia are countries more likely to produce shade grown coffee. If possible, buy coffee approved by the Smithsonian Institution and displaying their "Bird Friendly" label.

My current favorite is Bolivian shade Grown, Fair Trade, Organic Coffee offered by Trader Joe's as a house brand. Nothing is simple though - "shade" does not have a strict definition and Trader Joe's does not label its source for this or most of it's other it is a case of giving the benefit of the doubt, and making a good, if not the best, choice. 

I gave up coffee as a habit almost twenty years ago and now drink it in my professional capacity as a chef to decide what to serve - or as cappuccino with that rare piece of cheesecake. But I do drink tea, and at the risk of being even more prescriptive, let me offer my highest praise for Upton Tea. It's founder, Tom Eck, will be at Stellina Restaurant in Watertown Massachusetts on March 14th, at tea time, to lead a tasting. See the website for tickets. Upton also has a neat series on the history of tea. The current issue, also to be seen on their web site, relates the complex interrelationships between tea and opium. 

Finally, coffee grounds are an excellent addition to the soil; tossing grounds into the compost bin or directly onto your garden is an added value.

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