Coffee Awakening

We are all in the hustle, especially if you are an engineering major college senior with an entrepreneurial mindset (that’s me). We put great efforts into our works so that we have money to put food on the table and pursue our interests. And that cup of morning coffee is a great boost for any hustling we are about to undertake. Until one day, we realize coffee has become a staple fuel for our body and brain to function. And I started to question.

Coffee connoisseurs, while sipping their coffee cups, often discuss to lengths about the taste and quality difference of coffee strains: Arabica and Robusta. In this article, I would like to introduce you, my fellow coffee fanatic, to a different view of coffee category by its method of farming: sun-grown coffee (Sun Coffee) and shade-grown coffee (Shade Coffee).

The evolution of coffee growing
In natural state, coffee is susceptible to sunlight and prefer growing under a canopy of taller trees, which filter the sun rays for coffee trees underneath. Traditional coffee bean agriculture started with growing under shade trees.

In 1972, coffee plants were modified to tolerate in direct sunlight and yield higher volume. Farmers since then transitioned to this new farming model, cutting down shade tree to expand Sun Coffee planting land, integrating industrialized practices like chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides. The massive production of coffee has led to deforestation, habitats and biodiversity loss, soil contamination and erosion, nutrient depletion, water pollution and runoff. Undoubtedly, Sun Coffee is unsustainable. Recognizing the adverse effects of Sun Coffee, the movement to endorse Shade Coffee was revolutionized by Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute since 1996. The Institute gathered environmentalists, farmers, and companies to pinpoint the damage of Sun Coffee and raise awareness for Shade Coffee. Nonetheless, Shade Coffee is still overlooked; sales of organic grown account for 1% of the U.S. market for coffee beans (eartheasy).

Benefits of Shade Coffee
The addition of shade tree offers a myriad of benefits to coffee production, ecology, environment, and consumers health. Apart from natural protection from sunlight, tree moisturize and fertilize the soil with their fallen leaves. Because nutrients are cycled back to the soil, excessive fertilizers are no longer necessary. Trees are also habitats for birds and invertebrates, which promotes biodiversity. Birds are natural predators to insects and pests, so farmers do not rely heavily on pesticides. Therefore, consumers are not accumulating toxic compounds when ingesting coffee. Moreover, the trees act as a carbon sink and avert the negative impacts of climate change to coffee growing. For scientific evidence of Shade Coffee’s ecological benefits, I invite you to examine this article by Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.

Picture: Coffee growing model and bird species (Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute)

Change our values and sacrifice convenience
To be a promoter of Shade Coffee, we consumers need to accept a higher price for a coffee pack. The estimate cost for Shade Coffee is €20-30/kg. Of course, it is much more costly than Sun coffee, but it imposes less costs on the environment. Our coffee choices have to be more discriminative. For example, we may search coffee companies’ website if they follow shade grown practices and avoid the use of excessive fertilizers and pesticides. We may search for eco-label coffee with Bird Friendly, Fair Trade, Certified Organic. Origins is also an indicator to choose. Countries where Shade Coffee is likely practiced are Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatamala, Sumatra, Timor, New Guinea, Ethiopia.
Coffees from Colombia, Brazil, and Costa Rica are more likely to be Sun Coffee, of course there are still shade farmers in these regions. By choosing Shade Coffee, consumers are adopting Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life on Land of Sustainable Development Goals.

For the final words, I hope you are more aware of the current unsustainable coffee agriculture. In Finland, we are the most consumers of coffee in the world, and I urge us to become a more responsible with our consumption. If you find a shade-grown coffee brand in Finland, please spread the messages to your family, friend relatives, and us at the Sustainable & Impact Club.

Breaking my personal habit
I was born in a country where coffee is rich in the tradition. Vietnam is dominating the top chart of coffee exports, and our coffee drinks are heavenly tasty (try looking up Nâu đá, or Bạc Xỉu). Interestingly, I am currently living in a country where people (the Finns) are notorious for their top coffee consumption. I would use my coffee on many possible occasions: as a talking lubricant at social events, as an anti-sleeping antidote for cramping nights before tests, as a therapeutic enjoyment.

The last semester (Autumn 2019), I made many achievements: joining two projects, getting decent grades from courses, meeting lots of people, and occasional leisure travelling. I was proud, confident, happy and positive, and I attributed those successes to the ritualistic cup of coffee, dark roasted, boiled in a Moka pot, every morning. Due to caffeine tolerance, the usual dose of coffee did not give me the high anymore. So I drank more, to reap the productivity and be a happy person (because life only happens after that morning coffee cup, am I right?). I often jokingly said that “I ran on coffee” or “coffee is my fuel”.

The lifestyle did not last long; I started to experience symptoms of withdrawal last winter. During the afternoon from 2 pm to 4 pm, I would experience not only brain fog if I did not drink a cup a coffee, but also indigestion, like belching, stomach cramp, and heartburn. There was a time I was studying at TAMK library 2nd floor, the free computer area. I suddenly felt this extreme pain and cramped in my stomach. I had difficulty breathing, standing up or walking. I had to lay down on the library couch, waited for the pain to relieve and dragged myself home for proper rest. It was a terrible experience; my works and productivity were hindered. I realized coffee did indeed give me that amazing buzz in the morning, but later during the day, I crashed and had to pay a price with my well-being.

That was the wake-up call from me. I need to take a break of coffee and gain control back for my life, especially for my digestive health. I know this task is not easy, as coffee is deeply rooted in my habits. How will I be able to get out of bed? How will I get energy for my workouts? How will I cope with those reports and deadlines? That new club I just participate
requires a lot of writing so how can I be productive? There are numerous doubts and worries, but I am determined.

By the time I am writing this article I have been five days since my last cup of coffee. I am documenting my journey; how my brain and body responds to the lack of coffee, my emotions, withdrawal symptoms and my coping mechanism are all noted. And I would like to share with you in the next article.

Tri Phung (Feb. 2020)

Reference: Eartheasy. Shade Grown Coffee:.