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What color is shade grown?

What color is shade grown?

Shade grown coffee refers to coffee grown under a canopy of trees, rather than in direct sunlight. This method of growing coffee has become increasingly popular in recent years due to its environmental benefits. But what exactly does “shade grown” indicate about the actual color of the coffee beans?

The color of coffee beans is determined by many factors, including the variety of coffee plant, the soil conditions, the amount of sunlight the plants receive, and how the beans are processed after harvesting. Shade grown coffee beans can range in color from light brown to very dark brown. However, there are some generalizations that can be made about the typical color characteristics of shade grown coffee.

Less Sunlight Results in Lighter Beans

Coffee beans obtain their dark brown color from chlorogenic acids that accumulate in the beans while they are still on the plant. These compounds break down when exposed to sunlight, so beans that receive more intense sun exposure tend to be darker in color.

Beans grown in heavily shaded conditions receive less sunlight, so they tend to be lighter in color. Many shade grown coffee beans are light to medium brown, with a slightly more straw-like or golden hue compared to beans grown in direct sun.

Growing Condition Typical Bean Color
Full sun Very dark brown
Partially shaded Medium to dark brown
Heavily shaded Light to medium brown

The reduced sunlight also tends to mute the color intensity of the beans overall, so even darker shades of shade grown beans will often appear less vivid or saturated in tone.

Other Factors Affecting Color

While shade conditions generally produce lighter beans, other environmental factors can also influence the color. Altitude, rainfall, soil nutrients, and coffee variety all play a role.

Beans grown at higher altitudes, for example, usually develop more slowly due to cooler temperatures. The slower growth allows for accumulation of sugars and acids that form the coffee’s flavor profile. But the cooler environment also results in less breakdown of chlorogenic acids and thus lighter bean color.

Excess rainfall can cause coffee cherries to dilute their sugars and acids, resulting in paler bean color. And nutrient deficiencies in the soil may stunt bean development, also leading to reduced chlorogenic acid content.

The variety of coffee plant also makes a difference. Arabica beans naturally tend to be lighter in color than Robusta varieties. Within Arabica types, there is also variation, with some strains known for producing particularly light beans under shade, like the Bourbon and Caturra varieties.

Processing Methods Darken Beans

After harvest, coffee beans are usually processed in one of two ways – the “wet method” or “dry method”. Both methods tend to darken beans relative to their raw state post-harvest. But the dry method, where beans are dried in the sun rather than soaked in water, results in darker beans overall.

Wet processed beans dried in the shade after soaking develop a more muted, bluish-grey tone. Dry processed shade grown beans will be lighter than sun dried, but still darker than wet processed shade grown beans.

Processing Method Typical Resulting Bean Color
Wet, sun dried Medium to dark brown
Wet, shade dried Light to medium brown
Dry, sun dried Very dark brown
Dry, shade dried Medium to dark brown

Roasting Can Darken or Lighten Beans

The final stage of coffee processing is roasting. This cooking process not only develops the beans’ characteristic flavor and aroma compounds, but also substantially alters their color.

In the early stages of roasting, beans tend to get lighter as they dry out. But as the roasting progresses, the bean color darkens significantly due to chemical reactions that break down chlorogenic acids.

Lighter roasts preserve more of the bean’s original character, including color. As roasts become progressively darker, the beans become more uniformly blackish-brown.

Extremely dark espresso roasts results in nearly black beans with an oily sheen. Light roasting, in contrast, produces cinnamon brown colored beans that still show some of their original character.

In between those two extremes, medium roasts produce chocolate brown beans, while moderately dark roasts yield beans that are blackish-brown.

Roast Level Typical Resulting Bean Color
Light roast Cinnamon brown
Medium roast Chocolate brown
Moderately dark roast Blackish-brown
Dark espresso roast Nearly black

A master coffee roaster can take into account the starting color of the beans and adjust the roasting approach accordingly. For example, beans that are naturally lighter in color can be roasted a bit longer to produce a desired darkness. This allows the roaster to achieve consistent color across different bean origins and varieties.

Visual Cues for Assessing Shade Grown Beans

Given all these interacting factors, what visual cues can be used to identify shade grown beans? Here are a few general rules of thumb:

– Raw, unroasted shade grown beans will typically appear light to medium brown, with a slightly dull or muted tone, rather than very dark or vivid colors. There may be some greyish or bluish hues visible.

– With medium roasting, shade grown beans tend to show more of their original lighter brown color as undertones. The surface color may appear partly greyish rather than consistently blackish-brown.

– Light roasts will also preserve more of the raw bean’s color. Expect more golden, cinnamon tones rather than uniform dark browning.

– Wet processed shade grown beans, whether raw or roasted, will usually have a more matte, less oily surface compared to beans dried in the sun.

– Roasting defects like an uneven mix of dark and light patches may be more common with shade grown beans. This is because the beans dry more slowly in the shade and may not roast consistently.

– Beans grown at higher altitudes often have a bluer tone due to slower cherry development. This bluish tint may show through even after roasting.

While these visual markers can be useful, keep in mind that many factors affect color. Always check with your coffee supplier to understand their particular production methods. Taste ultimately matters more than appearance when it comes to enjoying a delicious cup of shade grown coffee.


Shade grown coffee beans encompass a wide range of actual colors, from light golden browns to nearly black depending on processing methods. But in general, the shaded growing environment results in beans that are lighter in raw color than sun grown coffee. Roasting can darken the beans considerably, but shade grown beans tend to preserve more of their original lighter tone even after roasting. Subtle clues like greyish hues, dull surfaces, and uneven coloring may indicate beans were grown in the shade. But the surest way to verify shade grown coffee is to check with the grower or roaster directly. By understanding how color develops, we can better appreciate the bean’s journey from farm to cup.