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Shade-Grown Coffee

Why drink shade-grown coffee?

Shade-grown coffee provides important winter habitat for songbirds that nest in western North Carolina.

For people who love birds and coffee, choosing shade-grown coffee is one of the most important things they can do to support migratory birds.

Producing coffee and chocolate in shade-grown conditions helps preserve migrant species like the Cerulean Warbler, which nests in our area. Shade-grown coffee and cacao plantations with native trees and shrubs have four times the bird diversity than open “sun” plantations. Increased shade and tree density, along with more flowering trees in the upper canopy of these forests, result in more birds and more species.


Coffee was traditionally grown under shade but sun coffee monocultures have prevailed since the 1970s.

As a result, the high quality coffee often associated with shade practices is considered in short supply. However, interest in shade coffee is increasing as climate change, chemical fertilizers, and insecticide costs make sun production less sustainable. Shade-grown coffee farming practices also benefit local farmers, as the greater diversity of birds helps control insect pests, pollinate crops, and spread seeds.

Many birds, including warblers and tanagers, that overwinter in Central and South America and breed in the southern Appalachians benefit from the habitat that shade-grown coffee plantations provide.


The birds shown below are affected by habitat loss in the tropics. The consumer choices you make have a direct impact on these birds and many others.

Have you seen any of these species in western North Carolina?

Roll over large version of photo for species identification and photographer's name.

Scarlet Tanager © Will Stuart

Blackburnian Warbler © Will Stuart

Golden-winged Warbler © Todd Arcos

Northern Parula © Will Stuart

Yellow-throated Warbler © Will Stuart

Black-and-white Warbler © Jamie Harrelson

Wood Thrush © Will Stuart

Worm-eating Warbler © Will Stuart

Black-throated Green Warbler © Jamie Harrelson

BRAC is building partnerships with local roasters and coffee shops to promote shade-grown coffee for bird conservation. If you would like more information about partnering with BRAC on this initiative, please contact us.

You can now purchase shade-grown coffee directly from one of Audubon North Carolina's partners! 


Finca Esperanza Verde—an organic, shade-grown coffee farm in Nicaragua—began selling their coffee via mail order in November 2018.

The farm partnered with Audubon North Carolina on a Golden-winged Warbler geolocator project that has contributed valuable information on migration and overwintering habits of this imperiled species.

Click here to learn more about the project!

Golden-winged Warbler with geolocator
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