Most of the world’s best coffee is grown near the equator in countries like Guatemala, Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil. There are a total of 65 countries growing coffee to keep up with western demand. Most of these places are considered “third-world,” which basically means there are just two classes of people: very rich and very poor. The rich have control of labor, capital, and land use, while the poor cultivate soil, hand-pick, sort, and ferment coffee berries before they finally produce beans hard and ripe enough to ship to roasters.
Coffee is a high-demand cash crop, and most of it is shipped to North America and Europe—places which demand a caffeinated fix to deal with daily challenges and boredom.
Coffee snobs like myself choose mostly single-origin, shade-grown, arabica beans. If I’m feeling especially sassy, I’ll also look for the “rain-forest and rare exotic bird protected fair-trade beans.” While there is always at least some BS built into fancy labels, I like to think that the little choices I make locally can actually make a difference globally.
Coffee snobbery has been the greatest impetus for the rise in coffee roasters, who brave hot temperatures and humidity, and behave like “farm to table” chefs. They actually attempt to cut through the BS and develop relationships with coffee brokers, finding not only the best beans, but finding farms to partner with, where working conditions are decent, and where environmental and fair-trade practices are maintained.
This helps prevent a plutocratic oligarchy of monied interests from controlling everything in the poor regions where coffee is grown. These same countries also ship most of our opioids. Imagine if heroin users were as discerning as coffee drinkers; what a world we could live in! But one step at a time.
The conclusion: Work toward becoming a coffee snob and help save the world’s most impoverished regions from corporate colonial rule.