Starbucks has officially jumped on the barrel-aged coffee wagon. The coffee gian...
By Deb Powers
Why create an online coffee reading list? Simply put, the more you know about coffee, the more you’ll come to appreciate it as more than a caffeine delivery source. The endless variat.ions of flavor, the effects of coffee on the environment and vice versa, the economics of coffee, the incredible variety of ways to make coffee are just some of the reasons that coffee and the coffee industry have been an endless fascination for me for more than 30 years. To keep up with it all, I read as much as I can about coffee. Over the years, I’ve come across some articles that stay with me because they say something essential about coffee, the coffee industry or the people who are involved in it. Even if you only appreciate coffee as a way to mainline caffeine, you’ll find something of interest here – and some of what you learn may actually blow your mind.
If you think of Ethiopian coffees as bright, Guatemalans as juicy, and Sumatran coffees as earthy and spicy, you’ve got a beginner’s understanding of terroir. The word is one imported from the wine lexicon. It refers to the natural environment in which grapes – or in this case, coffee plants – are grown. It includes geography, topography, soil conditions and climate, and delves so much deeper than the country of origin. After all, coffee plants don’t recognize political borders. George Howell of Terroir Coffee puts it this way:
Slate’s Stephen Kearse talks about his introduction to the concept of “terroir” and how it led him to a new appreciation for both coffee and his love for coffee. It’s a good introduction to the concept and a different way of thinking about coffee.
When you start paying attention to the ecological and socio-economic effects of coffee production, it becomes evident that coffee has a dark side that can’t be cured by adding a little milk and sugar. Large-scale coffee production, in particular, comes with a whole host of exploitative and ecologically damaging practices that increase coffee production at the expense of the well-being of the planet and the people who actually produce the coffee.
Alexander J. Myers, a research assistant and coffee lover at the University of Kansas, offers a broad overview of some of those effects, with particular attention to the damages caused by growing coffee in full sun. Do read the comments on the article for some opposing viewpoints, and if you’re moved to learn more, click on the links to related articles to read about how climate change is already affecting coffee production, and how some agricultural practices can reduce the impact of growing coffee on the environment.
This may seem like a typical marketing press release, but it delves into one of the most complicated aspects of the coffee business: who actually makes money on it? Most people are now familiar with Fair Trade coffee, where coffee producers are paid a higher amount for their coffee beans. As its popularity has grown, though, so has criticism of its standards and its accessibility to smaller farms and farmers. VEGA Coffee, the company profiled in this article, is part of a growing number of coffee growers and cooperatives that sell direct to consumer via the Internet. The idea behind it is simple enough to understand: much of the cost of your coffee beans comes from the middlemen who get between you and the coffee grower. Processors, importers, roasters and more all add to the cost of the coffee and cut into the amount of money paid to the coffee farmer. By assuming the value-added parts of the supply chain and selling direct to consumers, farmers get a higher price for their crop – and, many of them say, a deeper appreciation for the crop they produce.
Be aware that “direct trade” means different things to different companies. Few coffee coops are doing their own roasting, but there are a number of roasters who have developed ongoing relationships with small coffee farms and coffee coops. Most pay a premium for the coffee beans they source directly, and many make further investments into the communities where their coffee is grown.
Rainforest Alliance. Fair Trade International. USDA Organic. Bird Friendly. These are just a few of the best-known certification programs for specialty coffee. Each of them has a different focus and different standards, but they all aim to produce coffee more ethically and more sustainably. This short read from NPR gives a quick overview of the most popular coffee certification labels and explains the effect they’re having on coffee production methods around the world.
Many of these articles are on the older side, but they all offer some valuable information and insights into the coffee industry and some of the factors that influence it. If you really want to keep up with coffee news, check out our list of coffee blogs you should be reading for even more fun and info.