In 1990 my family moved to Seattle, which to my great surprise, had a bustling specialty coffee scene. You could get a latte from a cart at just about any street corner or in any mall, and Seattlites debated endlessly about whether Starbucks, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Torrefazione, Dilletante or a host of other brands really had the best coffee. Even New York (or at least its upper class suburbs in Long Island) weren’t that sophisticated yet, as I discovered during a trip back in 1994 when I saw a fabulous copper ‘Grand Gaggia’ espresso machine in the basement of the Roosevelt Field Macy’s (there was no espresso machine to be found in that mall back in 1990). I excitedly ordered a latte, had a sip, and then proceeded to discard the swill they had extracted from the Gaggia in place of the extraordinary espresso the machine was designed to produce.
At that moment I knew: I was an official Seattlite-a coffee snob who would settle for nothing less than that amazing coffee I’d grown used to.
It was unavoidable-good coffee permeated Seattle. I could get it at the student-run cafe in my high school cafeteria, or on the way home through downtown Bellevue. I don’t think I ever had to walk more than a couple of hundred yards to get my next latte fix while at the University of Washington, and even there we used to pick and choose our daily fix based on who was serving what kind of bean (sadly, in recent times the single-brand fixation has gripped the campus). Off campus, we picked cafes to study in based on the quality of their coffee as much as the hours they kept.
In 1999 I went away to grad school at Oxford, where I was relieved to find somewhat half-decent espresso drinks. And I was at wit’s end when, after moving to Germany a couple of years later, I discovered the swill the Germans still drank (cheap discount store filter coffee) in the name of ‘kaffe’. All the more shameful as they served their most delectable cakes with the most godawful tarry oily sat-too-long-on-the-burner junk. And I travelled 40 minutes each way every weekend to visit the first Starbucks that opened near the town where I was then living, out of sheer relief to get my fix. Crazy what you miss-I don’t think I went to Starbucks half as many times during the entire decade I lived in Seattle as I did in my first couple of years in Germany!
So, needless to say, the quality of the coffee I drink is…important to me.
But I didn’t know how important, or how personal coffee would become to me until I started working in Fairtrade. During that time, I got to know the wonderful, hard working, talented, and sometimes crazy people who deal with this amazing bean.
I’ll share stories about these folks in due course, but in the meantime, have a think about this:
-Did you know that coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world? Oil is the most traded. Why on earth is coffee so high up?
-How important is coffee to you? What would you do if there was no more coffee to be had (the good stuff or the swill)?
-Who in the coffee supply chain got what part of the 3-4 bucks you just plonked down for your morning coffee fix today?