African Coffee


Video promoting organic, Fair Trade coffee. This video was created to also educate us about coffee. 2nd only to Oil, coffee is traded as a commodity and sold on the world wide stock exchange. Think of it! How many coffee drinkers are there in your office, your home, on the city block where you live? How many venues have you recently been at that did not serve coffee? It is reported that the average American adult consumes over 10 pounds of coffee annually, that’s about 2.4 billion pounds of coffee for the USA alone.

Look at the many brands in the grocery store, then go to the map and look at the vast places where the coffee plantations are. Mostly Latin American and Africa. But the country of origin, as I’ve stated is Africa. One of the most romantic stories ever told is how coffee traveled from Ethiopia to Brazil. But that’s another story.

Let’s get back to the issue of how coffee is typically cultivated and how ‘nature’ intended it to be cultivated. The best way to explain that is to look at who now owns the coffee plantations; most of us consumers, are relatively untutored in the bigger picture. Put bluntly, pharmaceutical companies, like Proctor Gamble own the coffee plantations. They also own the production line and supply of many household products.

Its simple to understand what a drug company has to do with coffee growing when you consider just how many pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on coffee plants. Why you ask, especially when you may know of or have tried ‘organic coffee’. Well, nature intended coffee to grow in the shade…those of you old enough to remember the famed ‘Folgers Coffee’ TV adverts that focused on the ‘mountain grown in the shade. Coffee plants itself under canopy of shade trees and as such picks up the nuances and flavour profiles of the plants near it. This is why you read in the taster notes, berry, spice, chocolate , etc.

The terrior, the soil, provides different flavours. Same with grapes and chocolate, both of which are described by a varietals and flavour profiles. The roasting of the coffee bean, since it is oil based is a very skilled task. Taking just one type of coffee bean, the arabica, and firing it one way for certain amount of time and then either slowly or rapidly cooling it can profoundly effect the taste profiles. Even the grinding play a part in how the coffee will taste, after all, grinding, especially in an electric grinder, can also produce heat in the bean.

Back to the way ‘nature’ intended the coffee plant to grow: under the shade and to ripen very slowly. Each coffee bush produces approx. 1 pound of coffee cheeries. This plant, is like the orange tree, for at any given time the same tree can have ripe oranges full of juice or a bud that has yet to reveal a coffee blossom. This is why the best coffee is hand harvested – one red ripe cheery at a time. The farmers that own these small coffee plantations and harvest coffee this way are usually families or small community cooperatives.

They have fought and won many battles for ‘Fair Trade’ value of their precious crops. They live very meager lives at subsistence levels and are currently enduring a lot of pressure to yield their small farms to the encroaching companies. Mainly because, big concerns such as Starbucks are busy developing a market of coffee drinkers in China and that has brought increased demand for coffee. Side bar: as industrious as the Chinese are, and taking into consideration the far less caffeinated national drink of tea, what are we to expect when they load up on coffee!! LOL

Now let’s look at the way the corporations that own these larger plantations operate. Firstly, shade grown coffee, though its better for the ecology, the farmers, and the consumers, it is not as profitable. So, the coffee is taken from the shade canopy, put out into hugh fields that have been stripped of all vegetation. The tender young coffee plants are without support. It is a mono culture. And that word, ‘mono’ means one in the most dangerous way there is to be one.

Gone are the friendly insects that bring to the plant what it needs and remove waste that it does not need. Gone the friendly plants with it’s pollens, the flavours it puts into the earth, the shade, the birds that arrive with essential offerings.
Gone, because we have ‘ONE’ and one only. Think about it; how healthy would you be eating only one food?

So there you have it, row after row of coffee plants growing in the blazing sun, because that speeds up the ripening of the coffee cherries. But remember that the coffee plant, like the orange tree, has everything from the bud of the blossom to the fully ripe cheery on one bush. Now add this… the harvesting machines…gone are the human harvesters that select and pick just the red cheery and in its place the machine that strips all the fruit from the bush.

The main reason these coffee plants survive at all is because of the chemicals that are lavished on the plant at all stages of its growth. Would the bees survive to pollinate the flowers? Would those chemicals that are sprayed on the crops merely wash off when they harvest the fruit? How could it, it’pigmentations in the earth, the air and the water. Okay, I’ll leave you with this single image which I hope expresses a very real concern that you can actually do something about:

When you learn that the skin on the hands and arms of both the Africans & Latin Americans looses it’s pigmentation and that it never returns you are then in the ‘picture’. Those that spray the crops wear space suits – those that work with the harvested coffee berries use their bare hands. Some studies blame the ‘withdrawal’ that some folks have when they suddenly stop drinking coffee on the caffeine. The more likely culprit is the chemical cocktail that induces the symptoms of withdrawal.

1,000 chemicals are used to create the chemical cocktails that keep the coffee bushes from being invaded by foreign bodies. 1,000. No, I’m not kidding. Go look it up. Organic Fair Trade coffee is now available everywhere. Considering how much coffee is consumed…. almost everywhere in the world, could you think of a better way to change the world than by putting an echo friendly coffee in your cup?

What’s in your cup; a community or a commodity?

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