Rootstohealth's Blog


A bit about coffee and the world economy
January 12, 2010, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Coffee, Economy

A blog post I did for the coffee shop I work at. It’s amazing how much coffee is inundated in the world economy. It’s a more important commodity than many people realize. And if you believe the health benefits touted by the Wall Street Journal, drinking a few cups a day won’t ruin your health, either.

At Joe, we take our coffee seriously. In the past few months, we’ve been meticulously cupping, brewing, and tasting coffee so that we can appreciate the subtle nuances in coffees grown in different regions, at different altitudes, and at different times of the year. But I think it’s important to remember that our rigor is about more than just taste: the coffee industry has a huge affect on the world economy as well.

Until twenty years ago, when the specialty coffee industry began to grow, nations such as the US and England were looking for cheap coffee. This motivation led them to create huge robusta coffee farms in Brazil and Vietnam, decimating the native flora and fauna and unleashing a glut of coffee onto the world market. The surplus of coffee lowered the prices of robusta and arabica beans more than thirty fold, and plunged many farmers and countries, including Nicaragua, into debt. This may sound extreme, but when you consider that 30% of the money Nicaragua receives from foreign exports comes from coffee, or that the Ethiopia’s coffee industry accounts for two-thirds of its economy and employs more than 12 million people, you realize that coffee is a whole lot more than just your morning buzz. Coffee cultivation and processing is the livelihood of millions of people around the world (including the 50 young coffee professionals you see at Joe daily), and choosing your coffee can come with important consequences. As the specialty coffee industry has grown, more small-scale farmers have began to grow coffee using sustainable methods, paying attention to the surrounding areas of the coffee and ensuring that they are harvesting and processing the coffee in the best ways possible, so that the coffee crop tastes better and can be sold for more money.

Buying coffees that are Direct Trade, where farmers are rewarded for growing such great coffee, means that no one is being unfairly treated as the coffee makes its way from the farm to your home. And, you get to support the people who are working hard to bring you that coffee. As R.F. Schumacher says, “Small is beautiful,” and that is certainly proving to be the case for the coffee industry. Sure, buying Direct Trade coffee that we serve at Joe won’t magically reverse over 100 years of exploitation and subsistence farming, but it is a small step. By sourcing, roasting, and selling Direct Trade coffees, companies like Ecco Caffe are making a higher demand for coffee that tastes better and is better for the environment and the farmers who are harvesting and processing it.

Plus, these Direct Trade coffees simply taste amazing. It’s really nice to have a coffee that you don’t have to douse with cream and sugar so that it’s drinkable. These coffees (a shout out to our current Ethiopia Sidama!!) can be sweet, savory, vegetal, fruity, or flowery, all on their own. The coffees we are currently serving are good for your taste buds, but they’re also good for the world you’re living in. By supporting these farmers, you support a better economy and business practices that are ultimately about creating sustainable relationships between the farmer, the roaster, the barista, and the consumer, so that we may all drink coffee with integrity and purpose.

These are the subtle ways that Joe supports your coffee habit.

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