COFFEE & TEA

Teas and coffees have meanings that extend even beyond caffeine and rituals. Coffee has become a symbol of some of the least attractive aspects of our globalized world. To enter the coffee section of a supermarket is to be confronted with the products of an especially raw form of globalization in action. Coffee is the prototype of a commodity produced by farmers in the poorest of developing countries for the benefit—economic as well as social—of people living in much wealthier nations. At the moment, this particular manifestation of globalization works just the way it is supposed to; you can buy coffee at relatively low costs, but at the expense of the poor farmers who produce it. These days, so many farmers in developing countries are producing coffee that supply greatly exceeds demand. The oversupply has forced prices below the cost of production, and places the livelihoods of farmers at risk. Everyone, even the largest corporate coffee producers, considers the current situation a crisis.


COFFEE

Coffee has become a symbol of some of the least attractive aspects of our globalized world. To enter the coffee section of a supermarket is to be confronted with the products of an especially raw form of globalization in action. Coffee is the prototype of a commodity produced by farmers in the poorest of developing countries for the benefit—economic as well as social—of people living in much wealthier nations. At the moment, this particular manifestation of globalization works just the way it is supposed to; you can buy coffee at relatively low cost, but at the expense of the poor farmers who produce it. These days, so many farmers in developing countries are producing coffee that supply greatly exceeds demand. The oversupply has forced prices below the cost of production, and places the livelihoods of farmers at risk. Everyone, even the largest corporate coffee producers, considers the current situation a crisis.

If worrying about the plight of coffee farmers in Peru or Rwanda seems like more than you want to take on just to buy a pound or two of coffee, you can ignore where your coffee comes from. You can simply decide among beans or ground, caffeinated or decaffeinated, or flavored with vanilla or hazelnuts. Only if your local supermarket happens to carry such products, will you have to deal with certification labels that alert you to one or another aspect of the crisis; Certified Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Shade Grown. Certified products cost more, but might be worth the price if you care about such issues. Or, if you want your coffee stronger and fresher, you might want to skip the supermarket and buy it from specialty stores. Whatever you decide, the product you savor or bring home comes with an astonishing amount of baggage, not the least of which is a long cultural history based on how coffee delivers caffeine.



BLACK & GOLD
Marc Francis and Nick Francis

Multinational coffee companies now rule our shopping malls and supermarkets and dominate the industry worth over $80 billion, making coffee the most valuable trading commodity in the world after oil.

But while we continue to pay for our lattes and cappuccinos, the price paid to coffee farmers remains so low that many have been forced to abandon their coffee fields.

Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. Tadesse Meskela is one man on a mission to save his 74,000 struggling coffee farmers from bankruptcy. As his farmers strive to harvest some of the highest quality coffee beans on the international market, Tadesse travels the world in an attempt to find buyers willing to pay a fair price.

Against the backdrop of Tadesse's journey to London and Seattle, the enormous power of the multinational players that dominate the world's coffee trade becomes apparent. New York commodity traders, the international coffee exchanges, and the double dealings of trade ministers at the World Trade Organization reveal the many challenges Tadesse faces in his quest for a long term solution for his farmers.