Coffee Tasting

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“The importance of coffee to the world economy cannot be overstated.”*

Perhaps it is just the freezing, icy heart of winter that makes me ponder the dread questions.  Maybe, come June, and the leafy things, and those hot road mirages, and the utter relief of submersion in the almost-too-cold lake,  I won’t ask you to join me in considering things like whether or not individual actions can possibly matter in the context of a global capitalism that depends on our implicit consent in all kinds of inequities.  And maybe I won’t worry about whether or not the asking of this question does anything other than paralyze us and worsen that immobile feeling that hearts get when they understand too much and recourse seems inaccessible.

“[Coffee] is one of the most valuable primary products in world trade, in many years second in value only to oil as a source of foreign exchange to producing countries.”

In journalism they say you should tell your story in the first sentence.  Then you can get all detail-y and explanatory and expansionist and such.  I’m terrible at that.  I want to start the story with the reason I thought to tell the story and then sort of wander around with a bunch of notecards throwing thoughts about and going on tangents and then maybe right before I stop talking altogether I’ll let you know what is actually going on.  Yes, this makes conversations with me totally frustrating.  

“[Coffee’s] cultivation, processing, trading, transportation and marketing provide employment for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.”

This Sunday we are hosting a tasting.  We’re gonna make some coffee from some different places in some different kinds of ways in order to provide everybody with some insight into how coffees that are grown in different regions taste different and how the same coffee can taste different(ly) depending on preparation and attention paid to detail and tricks of the trade and quality of equipment and so on and so forth.  So I was thinking about how neat it is that we can come into a coffee shop and choose to try beans from Guatemala or Indonesia and how that is a privilege that often I don’t remember to remember.  Regardless of how kind of mind boggling is this post-modern world (as my mother would say), even more amazing is how little is required of us in this exchange.  I will tell you right now how little I know about Colombia.  Like nothing.  That’s how little.  And that’s really just south of here.  Indonesia?  I don’t know if I would know it existed at all if not for coffee.  Which is not to say that I’m trying to rev us up for some kind of huge cathartic guilt trip or something.  I think simply piquing our natural and evolutionarily desirable human curiosity would be great.  The more you know the more you know you don’t.  I feel that way every time I make espresso- the more shots I pull the more I am aware that I know this tiny drop in the massive ocean of what coffee is.  And when this huge whirly-pooling feeling of being a speck of a human in this huge cosmos of coffee cultivation- a barista slinging lattes made out of the second most significant commodity in world trade . . . If my toddler weren’t keeping me awake at night already, I’d have plenty of other reasons to be a perpetual insomniac.

“Coffee is crucial to the economies and politics of many developing countries; for many of the world's Least Developed Countries, exports of coffee account for more than 50 percent of their foreign exchange earnings.”

I went to check out a bunch of UN statistics on the countries our tasting will feature.  The first thing I realized is that I do not know how to read statistics.  For example:  “Energy consumption per capita (kilograms oil equivalent)” in Colombia, is 71 173/1.6.  Great.  I’m sure that’s super important.  And while I now have the goal to understand this before I die, I certainly don’t have time to figure it out this afternoon.  So I threw together this REALLY basic chart of factoids about Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Indonesia, so we can all approach the future with, at the very least, this same set of common knowledge.


Surface Area

Population (2011)

Unemployment (2011)

Internet Users (per 100 inhabitants)

United States

Northern America

3,717,812 sq mi





South America

440,831 sq. mi





Eastern Africa

426,372 sq. mi





Central America

42,042 sq. mi





South-eastern Asia

737,814 sq. mi




And that, I think, was the whole point of what I was talking about.

See you Sunday!

*All quotes taken from The International Coffee Organization



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