The Seed to Cup Journey: Where Coffee Grows

Oh where oh where does coffee grow?

This installment of the Seed to Cup Journey is the first real step in the journey: Choosing Where to Farm.

The good news is, the world has made this relatively easy for us. As you know from school, the world is split in half by the equator. Well, other latitudinal lines divide the earth as well. The Tropic of Cancer in the North and the Tropic of Capricorn in the South. Coffee grows best between these two tropics. Of course, there is a little spillage over the lines because the globe couldn’t make things that easy. But in the “Coffee Belt” is a good general rule of thumb when picking a place to farm.

The Coffee Belt includes countries and regions that will sound familiar to any coffee drinker: Brazil, Kenya, Sumatra, Colombia, Ethiopia. The coffee economy bloomed in these areas because of their prime growing conditions (and because of our friend Francisco).

So, why exactly can’t I grow my coffee plant at my farm in NJ?

Well, first, you can, you totally CAN do whatever you want. In fact, we have a tiny coffee plant here at BRR. (visit, chat with it, and you can watch it grow). And honestly, that plant will grow, and we’ll have some yummy coffee in a few years, but the process of growing is not going to be as easy as it would be on a farm in the Coffee Belt.

Coffee is needy; the coffee plant is as particular about its growing location as a coffee aficionado is about her single origins.

Coffee wants a moderate climate and relatively high altitudes. Coffee grows best in either a climate that has a clearly defined rainy and not rainy season (resulting in one harvest) or a climate that has frequent rainfall (resulting in two harvests). See what I mean? Coffee is needy.

So, if you ever decide to go open up a coffee farm, move out to the coffee belt. Find a place in the mountains and get used to the comfortable temperatures of 60 – 70 degrees F. But before you start cutting down trees, and leveling out land for your farm, I want to bring one more consideration to your attention.

Shade Grown Coffee

You have probably come across this before. Shade Grown or Bird  Friendly. But you probably weren’t entirely sure what that meant. I know I had no idea what Shade Grown meant when I first read it on a label! The answer is actually both simple, and extremely complicated.

The simple, almost-too-obvious explanation is that Shade Grown coffee is well… grown in the shade. It is grown under the natural tree canopy that exists in that climate. “No Trees were Harmed in the Making of this Coffee” Easy, right? 

Well, not quite. The certification companies that determine if coffee is Shade Grown or Bird Friendly have set out guidelines that go beyond “Don’t cut down any native trees.” The guidelines include canopy height, species diversity, and even a guideline that talks about the leaf litter.

Why is this important? 

You can’t step into Black River, look at our website or social media without noticing our environmental and sustainability values.  Shade Grown coffee is key to being environmentally friendly! Growing coffee according to the Shade Grown or Bird Friendly Criteria ensures that the natural habitat is allowed to flourish and keeps the flora and fauna of these sub-tropical climates intact. The Smithsonian believes that Shade Grown coffee will help slow down population depletion of migratory birds and promote bird species diversity in coffee growing regions. Save the birds! Save the Rainforest! Drink Shade Grown!

So before you pick your place to farm, be sure to check out these Bird Friendly Farm Criteria. Then be sure to check back next week, cause I’m going to talk about setting up an Organic Farm! Also, drop a comment and let me know where your favorite coffee comes from in the bean belt! Then, check and see if that coffee is shade grown!

As always, follow us on Instagram @black_river_roasters for more fun coffee facts, photos, and events!

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