I used to work at Starbucks, so I know my coffee. Wait. Ignore that. I know the sickly sweet drink with 8 million pumps of vanilla syrup or layers of white mocha (goo?) or an inch of whip cream on top that Americans call coffee. For real, I once had a customer come in and order a cappuccino made from heavy whipping cream. Do you know how much that stuff splatters when you steam it? Don’t even get me started on the drinks made from egg nog or maple syrup. I guess I’m getting a little bit off track. Sorry.
Real coffee, the dark brown stuff that comes from your coffee maker, actually originally grows on a bush, as bright red berries! No really. It’s true. Bright red. What you want to make your drink is actually inside the berry, the seed or the coffee bean. And these beans are green. Green. The beans are then roasted to varying degrees. That is when they turn brown. Starbucks says that the longer you roast the beans, the stronger the flavor. That’s what “dark roast” means. My husband (and I) would argue that there is a point when you’re just burning the heck out of those suckers and the result of a “dark roast” often becomes simply a cup of hot water that tastes burnt.
Now, if you want a good cup of coffee, the best thing to do is to buy the whole beans and grind them yourself. An even better way to make coffee is to buy the green beans (no, not green beans, you weirdo), roast them yourself, grind them right before you make the coffee, and enjoy. Green coffee beans will last a long time on the shelf, but roasted coffee beans start to go bad after seven days (even if they come in the special Starbucks bag or you put them in the freezer or any other method of preservation).
Now I know you’re are saying to yourself, “That’s a lot of hard work for a little cup of coffee.” And it is, but (please notice me getting on my soapbox) making your cup of coffee is a lot of hard work even if you are not the one working. Someone has to tend to the coffee plants, clear the land, pull the weeds, harvest the berries, procure the beans, roast the coffee. You may only see the barista pouring you your cup of joe, but a lot of people had their hands in producing that drink. Most of those people worked long hours for very little money.
Global Exchange says this: Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.
Because coffee is in such high demand (America drinks 1/5 of the world’s coffee), many farmers clear their land of traditional crops to feed their families (corn, tubers, leafy greens) in order to grow coffee for export. If the farmers cannot recoup their losses, they not only have no grown produce to eat, but they cannot afford to buy food to feed their families.
Fair trade changes that because companies that sell certified fair trade coffee make sure that their laborers are paid a fair wage and work under fair conditions. Do you see a recurring theme here? Fair. So I’m just going to say it: drink fair trade coffee. And it’s even better if it’s organic because that means the workers didn’t have to harm land or themselves by using harsh chemicals. Fair trade and organic is more expensive than buying Folgers in the can, but a way to get your coffee as fairly and cheaply as possible is to buy fair trade and organic green coffee beans (about $4-7 a pound) and roast them at home.
Want to learn more?
Oxfam Resources: Includes reports called Mugged: Poverty in your Coffee Cup about the international coffee crisis and Just Add Justice about bringing fair trade to your community
Roasting Coffee on the Cheap: how to roast your own coffee at home using a $15 popcorn popper (this is the way Brad does it)
Want to buy fair trade coffee?
Pura Vida: fair trade, organic, shade grown – all the good stuff
Seven Bridges Cooperative: where we buy our organic and fair trade coffee beans to roast
Just Coffee: a Christian organization that works with poor communities to share Christ and help them develop economically through fair trade coffee – w00t! It’s the Kingdom in your cup!