Friday, September 19, 2008

more on that cup of joe


E.R. Dunhill has offered us a great post this morning on the complexities of choosing a container for one's coffee (and I offer a photo of my personal collection of handcrafted pottery coffee mugs, the average age of which is 15 years).

Even more perplexing than the container is coffee itself. There are many good health reasons to avoid caffeine or at least to reduce substantially the amount we ingest. We can sleep better, avoid caffeine withdrawal headaches and migraines, women can avoid breast pain from fibroadenomas, and many people can solve the problem of "overactive bladder" by just cutting out that troublesome caffeine. These and other reasons are why over a decade ago I went from being an eight cup a day coffee/caffeine addict, to being a two cup of decaf a week person -- because after all the smell and taste of coffee is just too, too good to give up completely.

Then there are the environmental and humanitarian issues. Coffee, unless you live in Hawaii, comes from great distances. Unlike winter blueberries from Argentina, of course, coffee can travel by ship rather than plane to its destination, but nonetheless long distance travel in petroleum powered transport is behind every cup of coffee we drink. Coffee has traditionally been grown in partial shade of existing forest, providing an incentive to protect tropical forests. But in recent years, more and more coffee is grown in full-sun, resulting in destruction of forest cover to expand coffee plantations.

There are other issues about human welfare in how coffee plantations are owned and managed. The blurb on my morning coffee says "Coffee grown on farms that meet rigorous social and environmental standards earns the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal. The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity, protect ecosystems and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior. Rainforest Alliance certification assures that forests and wildlife habitat are protected, local waterways are kept clean, and farm families have access to education and healthcare."

Certified coffee costs more, but if you make the change to drinking less for health reasons, you can afford to pay a little more for coffee that will be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And if you're not drinking on the run, you can invest in a handcrafted cup from which to drink your occasional cup, thus savoring the process even more.

7 comments:

E. R. Dunhill said...

Sue,
Thanks for posting on this. You make a good point about some options to improve your coffee, like selecting organic, fair-trade, and/or shade-grown options.
When we get back to the beginning of gardening season, I plan to offer some additional ways to either extend or replace coffee and tea with homegrown items, like chickory, German chamomile, mint, the balms, and bergamot.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD/SUE: I plan to continue my efforts to stimulate the economies of the tropical nations that are heavily dependent on export crops such as coffee and tea. I feel it is important that I support their contribution to the world marketplace. I know, you will point out that many coffee and tea plantations are controlled by international conglomerates but, at least they employ local labor. If it weren't for those jobs, the locals might have to resort to growing crops that are destined only to illegal markets....

Sue said...

Chris, you are certainly correct that coffee production is key to the economies of many communities in South and Central America, Africa and Asia. The key is rewarding those coffee growing enterprises that do the best job of providing income, housing, and a sustainable coffee economy--one that's not going to burn out in 20 years because of the way they treat the local ecosystem, leaving the local people worse off they they were before.

I think my experience is instructive, Chris. I didn't cut back my coffee for environmental, social or political reasons. I cut it back because I had blinding headaches, and I couldn't drive 13 miles to work without having to stop and find someplace to pee half way there. I think its very hard for people to change any kind of habits for abstract reasons, or people somewhere else, or to make a better future. I changed because I had some real unpleasant things happening to me that stopped the minute I stopped drinking caffeine. Once I stopped drinking so much coffee, I could afford to be more choosy, and could think about picking coffees that would benefit the local producers the most effectively. If more and more consumers make those choices, that will encourage other growers to adopt those practices.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Sue: I've tried a couple of times to cut coffee completely -- also for health reasons -- but failed. I have dropped from always-a-cup-in-my-hand to 2 per day. I avoid the high-end coffee houses such as Starbuck's. I would rather spend my $$'s on other things.

Pat Jenkins said...

why grow anything sue if the ramifications mean something being harmed? for that matter why even breath?

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris,
I don't see anything inherently wrong with trade. People have been doing this since long before anyone coined the term "globalization". But for people who want to reduce their environmental impacts, fair-trade, organic, and shade-grown coffees and teas (and chocolate for that matter), are fairly simple ways to do that. So is cutting your tea or coffee with something grown in your own yard, like chickory or German chamomile.

Chris Crawford said...

I drink one cup of chai tea -- half tea and half milk -- once each morning. The caffein content is small. Who needs all that caffein? I just... just... [yawn]... mmm...[snore].