Bird Friendly

What is this?

I like to say it’s the most strict environmental standard out there.

While that’s true, it really downplays the merit of the certification.

Here’s why it matters that your coffee is Bird Friendly Certified:

As the name implies, the coffee is grown in a manner that is safe for birds and provides a healthy space for birds to live naturally.  To achieve this, the plantation must first be certified Organic.  Every Bird Friendly Certified (BFC) coffee is Organic, and that’s just the starting point!

It’s so simple it’s difficult.

The main focus of BFC coffee is the habitat.  The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center oversees the certification, more info here.  The need came about from birds in our back yards, started to not return after the winter.  Largely because their winter habitats were (And still are) being decimated.  The vast majority of coffee growers are ‘Sun Grown’, meaning the land is cleared and coffee bushes are planted in the full sunshine.  This makes for a more productive crop, which leads to a lessor quality of bean.

My first job was on a farm in Minnesota, one quickly sees that melons, strawberries and asparagus don’t grow well in the shade.  That’s Minnesota, our crops need as much sunlight as possible to grow in the 3 months of snowlessness.  Coffee is grown in Tropical areas around the world, the soil, the climate and the eco-system as a whole is different than Minnesota.  Coffee bushes thrive under shade, the production is lower, but the quality goes up.  Think of a vineyard, if you are growing table grapes, you want your vines to produce as many grapes as possible, if you are making Domaine de la Romanée-Conti you are pruning the vines, leaves and fruit to limit production of the vine and direct all of its energy into growing better quality albeit less quantity of grapes.  Grown in the shade, coffee will grow more slowly, putting all the energy of the bush into the fewer berries, making a better quality of bean.

This is why you see coffee bags with ‘Shade Grown’ on them.  Shade Grown is not a protected term like Bird Friendly.  The difference lies in the canopy. Since there is no check on calling your coffee ‘shade grown’, the quality will vary wildly.  Bird Friendly coffee incorporates multiple layers of canopy, from a variety of trees that grow over the coffee.  These tropical trees provide shelter, food and protection for the birds, but they also lend to a more bio-diverse landscape, which is better for all crops and the land itself and other wildlife.   This isn’t necessarily true of ‘shade grown’ without the BFC.  The diversity of the ecosystem where BFC coffee is grown lends to a higher quality coffee bean, with better nuance, crema, and more robust coffee.

In general terms it becomes apparent that this type of third-party certification is expensive. BFC plantations will be able to sell their beans at a higher, more sustainable  price, and the plant diversity allows them to sell the bananas, guava and other fruit and nuts from the trees providing the shade and habitat.  To wit the majority of BFC plantations are Fair Trade Certified as well.

The ‘Lungs of the World’.

The most important fact of Bird Friendly Certified Coffee is where it’s grown.  BFC coffee is currently only from Central and South America, largely in rainforest regions that are always in danger of being cut down.  Bird Friendly Certified coffee ensures you are not supporting the destruction of the rainforest!  Any coffee that calls itself Friendly to Birds or Shade Grown without the certification is not protecting our Birds, our Rainforests, our Planet!

  • A note about Rainforest Alliance.  Rainforest Alliance is a good thing.  Sadly it’s not a reliable certification.  Rainforest Alliance has multiple ‘levels’ of participation for the plantations.  While they are promoting good practices, they are allowing farmers to use their certification while planning, or working towards a goal.  Which is a good thing, but can also be misleading. Bird Friendly Certified coffee comes from plantations that currently meet or exceed the strict criteria set by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

100% of the coffee at Sparrow Cafe is Bird Friendly Certified.  Our house coffee is sourced and roasted by UP Coffee Roasters in NE MPLS.  Easily the best roaster in Minneapolis, in my humble opinion. They bring in a BFC exclusively for Sparrow Cafe.  Our Dark Roast comes from Birds and Beans. Birds and Beans is a great source of Bird Friendly Coffee, also they only roast Bird Friendly Certified coffee.  Bird Friendly Certified coffee is not as popular as it should be.  Since 2013 we have been serving exclusively Bird Friendly Certified, and we still are the only coffeeshop in Minnesota that only serves and sells BFC coffee.