Ecological quality as a coffee quality enhancer. A review

Research output: Journal contributionsScientific review articlesResearch


As both coffee quality and sustainability become increasingly important, there is growing interest in understanding how ecological quality affects coffee quality. Here we analyze, for the first time, the state of evidence that ecological quality, in terms of biodiversity and ecosystem functions, impacts the quality of Coffea arabica and C. canephora, based on 78 studies. The following ecosystem functions were included: pollination; weed, disease, and pest control; water and soil fertility regulation. Biodiversity was described by the presence, percentage, and diversity of shade trees. Coffee quality was described by the green bean physical characteristics, biochemical compounds, and organoleptic characteristics. The presence and diversity of shade trees positively impacted bean size and weight and reduced the percentage of rejected beans, but these observations were not consistent over different altitudes. In fact, little is known about the diversity of shade trees and their influence on biochemical compounds. All biochemical compounds varied with the presence of shade, percentage of shade, and elevation. Coffee beans from more diverse tree shade plantations obtained higher scores for final total organoleptic quality than simplified tree shade and unshaded plantations. Decreasing ecological quality diminished ecosystem functions such as pollination, which in turn negatively affected bean quality. Shade affected pests and diseases in different ways, but weeds were reduced. High soil quality positively affected coffee quality. Shade improved the water use efficiency, such that coffee plants were not water stressed and coffee quality was improved. While knowledge on the influence of shade trees on overall coffee quality remains scarce, there is evidence that agroecosystem simplification is negatively correlated with coffee quality. Given global concerns about biodiversity and habitat loss, we recommend that the overall definition of coffee quality include measures of ecological quality, although these aspects are not always detectable in certain coffee quality characteristics or the final cup.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalAgronomy for Sustainable Development
Issue number1
Number of pages34
Publication statusPublished - 01.02.2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, INRAE and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature.

This review was conducted in the frame of the research pro‑
ject “Exploring the interlinkages between specialty coffee farms’ bio‑
diversity and farmers practices in Bolivia,” Seed Money Grant 1912,
with the financial support of the Leading House for the Latin American
Region, Latin‑American‑Swiss Center (CLS‑HSG), University of St.
Gallen, and the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innova‑
tion (SERI), Switzerland

    Research areas

  • Agroforestry, Biochemical compounds, Biodiversity, Coffea, Ecosystem functions, Final cup, Organoleptic characteristics, Physical characteristics, Shade tree diversity
  • Biology
  • Ecosystems Research