Those who know me well may also know that I do not drink coffee. I don't eat coffee stuff, I don't drink mixed coffee drinks, and I definitely work to avoid coffee. My only positive coffee drinking experiences stem from the summer I spent volunteering in rural Honduras when I was 16; they made me "kid coffee," which means you brew the coffee with sugar water. Yes, that is sugar added before the coffee is even brewed. I sometimes also drank weak lattes there. The coffee there was fabulous and nothing like the coffee we get in the United States; that said, I still only drank coffee perhaps 5-7 times while there.
I'm not sure what it is about coffee. I bet I could get used to it over time, but I see no need to even try. Why hook myself on something that I will then need to drink every morning? My morning routine is not dependent on anything (except breakfast, I suppose), and I never have problems waking up in a variety of situations even if there are no liquid pick-me-ups.
For a non-coffee drinker, I still have some strongly held opinions on coffee. Foremost of this opinions is the need for shade-grown coffee. That's how all the coffee I drank in Honduras was grown -- not just shade-grown, actually, but grown as little coffee plants amongst the mangoes, oranges, and various tropical trees. It's all organic, it is grown by the people who live there, and it produces some excellent coffee. Somehow, I've always taken this as fact, since that was my experience with coffee. As a side note, did you know that it can take three years or more to grow coffee from plant to a mature bean? That's a lot of time for your coffee bean to have an influence on its surroundings.
In graduate school, I had the great fortune to meet a lovely researcher who became a friend. And her research revolves around the importance of shade grown coffee. As summarized by Treehugger (an environmental news site), shade-grown coffee protects biodiversity of trees. This is back up by several studies by my friend Shalene.
Further, shade-grown coffee isn't just good for the trees. It's also good for the animals that live in the systems.
If you're looking for shade-grown coffee, a good place to start is looking for coffee certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center's coffee page, as their criteria has been shown to be effective in identifying shade-grown coffee growers that actually nurture diversity in flora and fauna. There's also more great information on Charity Navigator, including links to the Audubon Society's efforts to promote shade-grown coffee.
The research I've cited above was done in Latin America. Interestingly, I just found a link to a study in Ethiopia that showed the opposite: shade grown coffee contributed to a loss of bird biodiversity, while cultivating coffee on already degraded farmland could increase bird diversity. I can't read the whole study, so I don't know the details. I suspect that this might indicate the need for more forested land in general in Ethiopia. It will be interesting to watch further research in this area. In the meantime, I would definitely continue to look for shade-grown coffee from Latin America, where studies have shown a link between growing coffee under a rainforest canopy and the maintenance of biodiversity versus coffee grown in the sun on plantations.
I might not drink coffee, but my boyfriend does. We've switched to organic, shade-grown coffee (fair trade when we can get all three) at home, and the next step is switching over his co-workers. For those that love coffee and want to make sure their habit doesn't contribute to deforestation and unfriendly environmental practices, looking for the shade-grown label is the way to go. And for the green thumb, you can always start growing your coffee at home.