Today, I’m going to talk about coffee.
It might be because it’s finals week, that time of year when EVERYONE consumes excessive amounts of caffeine via this black, liquid gold, myself included.
It might be because I’ve started to really get into coffee; making sure I’m trying good coffee and really tasting it. Trying to make the best coffee I can with the limited resources I have in my dorm. Looking for and buying from really good roasters, watching dreamy coffee videos… It’s all very exciting.
And also, I’ve become enamored with actually making coffee. It’s so cheesy, but texturing milk perfectly, getting a good shot of espresso, and putting the 2 together to make a great drink for a customer is something I love doing. Which is why I’ve been picking up so many shifts this finals week… COFFEE TAKES PRIORITY OVER EVERYTHING!!!
So I want to share my love of coffee. I’m sure almost everyone out there drinks coffee. You might drink it just for the caffeine boost, or you might actually drink it to savor that deep, dark brew. Whatever it is, I want to talk about it.
Because coffee’s becoming huge these days. Cities like Chicago, NYC, and San Francisco are home to burgeoning coffee cultures and more and more high-class cafes that are trying to fix the impression that conglomerate coffee chains made on the American public.
Pour-over stations are everywhere, and siphon coffee is also becoming huge.
La Marzocco, probably one of the best espresso machine makers out there, is becoming a standard in most cafes. There’s a rising interest in getting better, more sustainable coffee… And it doesn’t hurt that most baristas are extremely attractive.
But there’s also a lot of trending words being thrown out there about coffee. Like “sustainable.” And “fair-trade.” But how’s that different from “direct-trade.” Shade-grown, organic, Rainforest Alliance Approved? As people are demanding more and more coffee, they’re also demanding better coffee. This means that café manages and baristas are starting to source their coffee differently. The alternative food movement is emphasizing organic and local foods; although it’s not really possible to get local coffee (all of the world’s coffee is grown pretty much exclusively in a band stretching around the equator called the coffee belt), people are going out to get to know their coffee harvesters and roasters, just like you would with produce at a farmers’ market.
According to the book “Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival by Daniel Jaffee, the coffee industry has reached a critical point in the past decade. The price has coffee plummeted starting in 1989, and was especially bad between 1998 and 2004. The highly fluctuating prices of coffee means that the cultural and economic well-being of coffee-growing communities is in danger, as is the ecological balance of the highly biodiverse regions where coffee is grown.
This is where fair-trade comes in and offers a more dependable alternative for coffee growers. Fair-trade means that coffee purchasers offer the farmers a fixed price for their goods, so that no matter how low the price drops, farmers will always get paid at least this minimal amount. That’s why you see fair-trade tagged in crops susceptible to crisis like coffee, chocolate, bananas, and vanilla.
But fair-trade is just one step in offering farmers the economic safety. Jaffee says that fair-trade labeling is valuable because at the very least, it “conveys information about the social conditions under which [coffee] was produced and about the people who produced them… and to reconfigure local people’s opportunities to improve their social and economic conditions.” But contrary to popular belief, fair trade farmers actually do not escape the cycle of poverty; because of the continued dependence on conventional market structure, coffee farmers’ food security is still directly affected by the stability of coffee prices (which is not very stable at all). I know that in the café that I work at on-campus, the price of the coffee that we use (which is fair-trade) has gone up by 30% in the past few years.
So simply put, fair-trade is not the be-all, end-all solution to coffee.
Coffee roasters like Madcap Coffee and Novo Coffee are actually engaging in direct-trade now, where they actually visit the coffee farmers once every few months, building a personal relationship with the people they get coffee from. It’s an admirable business model, and a sign of slow but steady improvement and concern for the farmers’ welfare.
And what am I doing? Well, although both price and taste are huge factors for me when I buy coffee, I still try to actively participate as a consumer in buying direct-trade and relationship coffee. Yeah, it’s a couple bucks more expensive, but as most of us probably know, cheap coffee is fakely cheap, with other people paying for the price of the coffee that’s $5 a pound.
And if any of you were curious, this is how I make espresso in my room. With a Mypressi Twist, some good, fresh coffee that I grind in my hand-grinder, and filtered water. It might look like a lot of work for one cup of coffee, but trust me, it is SO worth it.