Coffee Buying Guide

By Russ Schipper

This information is from Tom Dietsch. Tom was one of the graduate students whose research in Central American coffee plantations was supported by ASK several years ago. He is still very much involved in the shade coffee issue. I saw him recently and he explained that the issue of good organic shade-grown coffee is still very relevant but admittedly complicated. The following guidelines that he has drawn up may help you when you are deciding which is the right shade-grown coffee to buy. I strongly encourage you to be careful in your choice of “shade-grown” coffee. The imposters will be helping themselves with, I believe, little interest in what organic shade-grown coffee can do for birds and people. By imposters I am referring to the coffee that has no or very soft criteria. It is complicated, but if you want the best, look only for the logos on Tom’s lists.


  • If possible, buy triple certified coffee.
  • Buy certified coffee.
  • Avoid mislabeled coffees.
  • Support cause-related coffees but encourage them to be certified.
  • Ask questions!
  • Find a good (certified) coffee you like, but experiment with different roasts and coffees from different countries.
  • Look for similar efforts in other products, like tea and chocolate.


Shade-grown Coffee

Fair-trade Coffee

Cause-related Coffee

Prepared by: Tom Dietsch, UCLA Center for Tropical Research (and formerly of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center)