ColumnYour cup of coffee deserves your respect.
The dark drink is such a part of most of our everyday routine that we often forget to think about it. The act of drinking coffee is automatic, a routine process of grinding beans, putting in one brew method or another and waiting until our favorite of drinks is ready to be poured into our favorite coffee cup and consumed.
But as part of our everyday routine for the last few decades, coffee has become banal, easily letting us forget that our cup of coffee is actually a luxury product and not a staple.
While the idea may sound deadly, you will not die without coffee. Live without fruit, vegetables and water however, and you will. And yet we treat coffee just like we do our staples. It’s such a part of our everyday that we forget to honor it, forget to think about where it comes from. And when that happens, it’s no surprise that we expect it to be cheap and fast.
I watched “A Film About Coffee” this week. Yes, an entire documentary devoted to coffee. Taking a look at the specialty coffee industry, if you’ve ever wondered why you should pay more for your beans, this film tells you exactly why.
“How did something that’s so exotic become such a mainstay of our culture?” asks the trailer.
It’s a good question.
These days more and more of us are becoming conscious about what we eat. But food and coffee are a bit different, in the sense that if you really want to know where your food comes from, how it was grown and how it was processed, you can go track down the farmer.
Even if we don’t live on a farm, most of us have at one point or another gotten our hands dirty in a garden. We’ve pulled a carrot from the earth, picked an apple from the tree.
Coffee is different. For most of us, it comes from the other side of the world. We have no clue what a coffee plant looks like, how it goes from fruit to coffee bean, and even if we wanted to, it would be hard for us to have a direct relationship with the coffee producers. If you want to get to know a farmer, you go to the farmers market. If you want to get to know a coffee producer, you need to buy an expensive plane ticket.
The simple fact that coffee is produced so very far away, yet is readily available on grocery store shelves has made it so that we are entirely removed from the production process. We have little to no connection to it. And that makes it easy to mindlessly consume cheap coffee, or coffee that in a smart marketing move is branded as quality, but is no better than the mediocre grade stuff out there. I’m looking at you coffee pods.
But a bag of coffee beans involves a lot of hard work, and a lot of hands. There are the people that maintain the coffee plants, there are those who pick the coffee cherries, there are those who process the cherries once they have been picked, there are those who spread them out to dry, there are those who bag them up and get them ready to export around the world. Just the simple fact that coffee makes it from exotic locations to our own kitchens is an amazing feat.
Start to think about the number of people involved, and the number of miles traveled, and you start to think a little differently about your cup of coffee. It’s a luxury product above all else, and we should treat it that way.
True locavores will tell you to give coffee up. They have a point – the footprint of coffee is big. But some of us aren’t willing to skip that daily cup of coffee, and if we’re in that category, then doesn’t it make sense to buy the best quality product available? Ultimately it’s not about what’s in your cup, it’s about the people on the other end. It’s about supporting a system that promotes fair wages and sustainable growing practices.
You may call it coffee snobbism, I call it conscious consumption. Something that we all could be doing a little more of, be it food or coffee.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.