Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What I'm watching...Black Coffee Part 2

Back in high school when I sang "Java Jive" in my Vocal Jazz Quartet, I never really thought too much about the words to the song, nor did I think there was more to coffee than just "a cup, a cup, a cup..."

In Irene Angelico's documentary Black Coffee, I learned a lot of interesting tidbits about this hot beverage. For example, did you know that "Mocha" and "Java" are actually places in the world where coffee can trace its origins? I also learned that 2/3 of coffee industry is controlled by 4 major U.S. companies, some of which you might not associate with coffee? Proctor & Gamble (Folgers), Phillip Morris (Maxwell House) and Sara Lee (Nescafe)hold most of the power, with Starbucks coming in a distant 4th place.

It was also interesting to learn that women were not even allowed inside coffeehouses in Turkey, the U.K. or some other parts of Europe. Many of the original coffeehouses were attached to brothels. Coffee was free, tips were encouraged, and men sipped away while waiting for their opportunity upstairs. In the U.K., This provoked a massive lobby against coffee by women, with their men being too tired to be intimate at home because of "all the coffee they had been drinking". This guise didn't sway the women, they fought tooth and nail against coffee and started celebrating afternoon tea with their children in tow. (So that's why the Brits drink so much tea!) In Turkey some coffeehouses still don't allow women to enter, which has opened the door quite nicely for Starbucks franchises, where Turkish women can sip to their heart's content.

These days, coffee is part of what we call the "specialty industry". Specialty foods and beverages include: cheese, olives, chocolate, olive oils, jams, chutneys, coffee, tea, wine etc. and they are growing by leaps and bounds year after year. The specialty industry is full of small businesses and small-scale producers and it must be supported. Just as much of the organic food you see in the store might cost more, specialty items also carry a substantial cost, however if we purchase these products more, the cost will go down over time. Supporting the specialty industry is crucial to keeping prices fair for producers and farmers, in this case coffee farmers. This niche industry also creates jobs and more passion and awareness for its products. Without the specialty industry, there would probably be much fewer foodies blogging today.

As shown in the third part of Black Coffee, the focus now is on sustainability. In the past, some farmers have clear cut the forest to plant more coffee crops. Although this may have provided them with a quicker cash crop and more volume, the product resulting was inferior, and birds were left homeless. "Shade grown" coffee is the way coffee is meant to be grown, as we are told on screen from the Rainforest Alliance. Because of the clear cutting, farmers who grow in full sun use chemicals to get higher yields, and migratory birds have no shady forests in which to live. If these farmers reforested around their crop, they would be able to make more money by growing a higher quality, environmentally friendly, smaller amount of coffee.

Although some of us are making more envirocentric choices these days, some consumers are still purchasing the cheapest product. I totally understand not having the cash for some higher priced food items, however, if more people budgeted for higher quality products, things would slowly start to turn around.

In this film, I really enjoyed learning about the story behind coffee. Whether it be the personal story of the coffee grower or the unbelievable world history that surrounds this little cup of hot liquid, it is impossible to deny the power of a cup of coffee in the world today.

All images via Flickr (dadadreams,kevinzhengli,karisrene)

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