Around The World in a Cuppa’ Joe

After water, coffee is the most consumed non-alcoholic drink in the world, and a daily ritual for millions of people. According to a legend, coffee consumption began in Ethiopia, a thousand years ago when the red coffee fruits were eaten by goats. The goats then became somewhat hyperactive, and so their shepherd decided to take them to the local imam along with the fruits they had eaten. The imam was not impressed, and in order to outlaw this fruit he threw them into the fire, causing them to release their wonderful aroma, and inadvertently inventing coffee roasting at the same time.

 

Such stories are, of course, the stuff of legend. But we know for certain that the coffee plant, as indicated by its name, originates from the region of Kaffa in Ethiopa. From this region it was slowly diffused throughout the world by sailors, traders and intellectuals. Coffee moved north, through Yemen and Egypt before reaching Istanbul, and finally Venice, where the first public coffee house opened in 1683. Coffee culture spread through Europe like a caffeinated goat, first through the palaces and courts nobility and then through the salons and bars of the middle classes. Coffee shops became culturally and socially active meeting places. They helped establish the emergent free press, and the first insurance company, Lloyd’s of London, began life as a coffee house.

 

In the XVII century the coffee plant crossed the Atlantic where it began to be cultivated by the European colonies of the new word. Today, one of these ex-colonies, Brazil, is the largest producer of coffee in the world and produced a whopping 49 million sacks in 2013. In second place was Vietnam, which in the last 25 years has gone from producing 1.5 million to producing over 20 million. This is thanks to national and international projects that, truth be told, go for quantity over quality.

 

The price of Arabica, the most prized and aromatic coffee, is regulated by the New York Stock Exchange, while its more caffeinated and full-bodied brother, Robusta, floats on the London Stock Exchange. Both are subject to heavy fluctuations and a good deal of speculation. At the beginning of 2000, a severe reduction in coffee prices put the survival of millions of small producers around the world at risk. Small producers are often impotent in the face of the global market, and at the mercy of local middlemen. After petroleum coffee generates the most business worldwide. Yet paradoxically, most coffee producers struggle to make a living by cultivating it.

 

Since the early naughties, Slow Food has been working in the fascinating, and often unfair world of coffee. Slow Food works to give producers dignity, to save and protect forgotten varieties and to make coffee culture good, clean and fair. That’s why Coffee Presidia were established. Slow Food works alongside Mayan producers of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, and we also work in the forests of Harenna to rediscover wild coffee. A new Presidia has been set up in Ibo, Mozambique to safeguard a wild coffee with a unique flavor and improve the livelihoods of those who produce it. In Luwero, Uganda, a Presidia safeguards the excellent characteristics of the Robusta. All of our presidia coffees will be with us at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre 2014. You will discover that the unique flavors of these simple beans are the perfect testament to the people who work to produce them, and our wonderful world of biodiversity.

 

Andrea Amato
a.amato@slowfood.it

 

Sources:
Baiguera Gabriella, Il Caffè, Giunti 2009
Marconi Mirco, Il caffè, Slow Food
ICO, International Coffe Organization, www.ico.org

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