Steam swirls off the surface in delicious luxury. The scent of warm darkness fills the room. Your hand wraps around a favorite mug and you relax. Your morning cup of coffee: liquid heaven.
If you are in a thoughtful mood, you may let your mind skim the globe, resting on the places your coffee may have been grown. But have you ever sincerely considered the distance your coffee has come?
Let’s take a closer look at the economies of coffee.
With the exception of Brazil which is both the biggest producer and one of the biggest consumers of coffee, the nations of the world that grow coffee are not significant consumers of their product. Inversely, the great consumers of coffee do not have the climate necessary to grow the crop. This means that chances are you are not standing on the soil that produced the wonder you are drinking.
But this divide grows wider. The top growers are developing countries and the top consumers are developed countries. Do you see the tension here? If developing countries have no other significant market for their product, developed countries control the coffee market to a startling degree. Of course, the producing nations could decide to plunge millions into caffeine withdrawal by refusing to export their product, but the reality is coffee is profitable and growers hurry to keep up with the demand. Consequently, consumers in developed countries will continue to hold the power in this arrangement.
So why should you care? Why should you spend a few minutes reflecting on the global coffee market?
Because a little slice of that power, that tension in the coffee market, rests in your hands.
Do you know where your coffee comes from? Do you know the conditions in which it was grown, the price paid for the beans, the difference that money made in the lives of the farmers?
It’s important to know all this because without it, you forfeit any good you could do with that spark of influence you hold. Not knowing or not caring how your coffee gets to your cup means you are accepting the status quo in the coffee market. And the status quo has so much room to grow, just like the farmers who stand on the far side of your daily brew.
But you have to be aware of how much your end of the system matters. If you settle for whatever is cheap in the store that day, ignoring everything that came before that bag of coffee hit the shelf, you have let your end of the rope fall. You have the ability to pull for better practices and help lift up coffee farmers and their families half a hemisphere away, but only if you are conscious of what a difference you can make.
Coffee has an infectious power. We drink it for energy, clarity, comfort, and the farmers grow it for stability, betterment, hope. Coffee is the conduit, the connection between your splash of impact and the farmer’s bushel of incentive.
So are you ready to harness the full potential in your coffee cup?
Rebekah Hildebrandt is a Southern writer with a strong case of wanderlust. She earned a degree in Philosophy before traveling the world and joining the Peace Corps. Now she lives once more in the South and endeavors to write the world more compassionate and peaceful.