Coffee and Health

Coffee is good for you. Every year more and more health benefits of drinking coffee are discovered. But, this view of coffee, based on scientific research, has only recently emerged. Many of us can recall being told by the doctor to cut back on our coffee consumption for various reasons. Humans have been drinking coffee for hundreds of years. And, there have always been concerns about whether coffee is good or bad for us to drink. In fact, as far back as the 1600’s when coffee became popular in Venice, Italy, the local clergy called it the “bitter invention of Satan.” Only the intervention of Pope Clement VIII saved coffee from being banned! (National Coffee Association) Here are some thoughts about coffee and health, why it is good for you, and also when you should cut back on your consumption of Java.

How Coffee Is Good for Your Health

Effects of Coffee on the Heart

Coffee and Health
Coffee Is Good for Your Health

If you drink a lot of coffee, your heart may speed up. And, some people complain of an irregular heart beat after drinking strong coffee. So is coffee bad for your heart? People who drink more than four cups of coffee a day are more likely to experience a fast or irregular heartbeat. (Mayo Clinic) So, if your heart skips or speeds up with lots of strong coffee, cut back a bit. But, the evidence shows that drinking coffee does not damage your heart but is good for it. Coffee drinkers do not have a higher incidence of dangerous heart rhythm problems than those who do not drink coffee. And, coffee drinkers have a lower risk of calcium deposits in and clogging of their coronary arteries!

Mental Health: Coffee Reduces the Incidence of Both Depression and Suicide

We know that coffee is a pick-me-up but there is more to the picture. We have known for several years that drinking coffee reduces the risk of depression. Researchers found that women who drank at least four cups of coffee a day had a lower incidence of depression than women who drank of a cup of coffee a day, or less. The risk reduction was twenty percent and the study included 50,000 women. It appears that the reduction of risk improves with more coffee each day. And, the benefit appears to come from caffeine as decaf drinkers showed no improvement.
(Archives of Internal Medicine, 2011, V. 171)

A slightly more recent study (2013) showed that drinking coffee reduces the risk of suicide. This is a big league scientific study from the Harvard School of Public Health. Over twenty years they followed more than 130,000 men and women, keeping track of coffee consumption and consumption of caffeine in general. The bottom line was that drinking two to four cups of coffee a day reduced the risk of suicide by half! There was a slightly better result with four cups a day than with two. The researchers believed that besides acting as a stimulant, the caffeine in coffee acted as an antidepressant as well.
(The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry)

Drinking Coffee Significantly Reduces the Risk of Type II Diabetes

It has been known for several years that coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of developing type II diabetes. The risk reduction is about seven percent for every cup of coffee consumed per day. As such, drinking six cups of coffee a day reduces your risk of getting type II diabetes by 42%. This happens with decaf coffee as well as caffeinated coffee. The effect is believed to come from the antioxidants in coffee. This is a huge deal!
(JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association)

coffee and health - diabetes
Coffee Reduces Your Risk of Type II Diabetes

In 1980 there were 108 million people worldwide with diabetes and ninety-five percent had type II diabetes. By 2014 there were 422 million people with the disease and the proportion of type II was the same. This disease is a primary cause of heart attacks, kidney failure, blindness, limb amputation, and stokes. And, drinking coffee reduces your risk of getting it by seven percent for every cup a day that you drink!
(World Health Organization)

Better Athletic Performance after Drinking Coffee

Usually we think of drinking coffee as a sedentary activity. But, it turns out that you can work out harder and even run longer and faster after drinking coffee. Coffee enhances athletic performance.
The bottom line is that coffee may help you pay attention when you are getting tired which should help in sports where that matters like reading the green correctly on the last hole of the Masters after four long days of playing professional golf. And, the adrenaline secreted in response to drinking coffee helps in endurance sports like running and cycling. This effect works just as well in heavy coffee drinkers as it does with those who normally drink no coffee. Coffee drinking does not seem to help strength activities like weight lifting.
(Journal of Applied Physiology)

Is Sex Better Too after Drinking Coffee?

If endurance is necessary for good sex, then drinking coffee ought to work as we noted in the part about coffee and better athletic performance. However, there is more to the story of coffee and better sex.
A study in 2009 showed that in a group of elderly men and women, coffee increased potency in men and libido in women.
(Dr. Bharwani/Archives of Internal Medicine)

Coffee Drinkers Reduce Their Risk of Getting Alzheimer ‘s Disease

The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported a study linking coffee drinking to a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life. This 2009 report looked at 1,409 individuals in Finland who were followed for more than twenty years and reported on their coffee intake, among other things. Of the group of 1,409 people, 61 developed dementia of which 48 were cases of Alzheimer’s disease.

Coffee and Health - Alzheimers
Coffee Reduces the Risk of Alzheimers

When the researchers compared coffee drinkers to those who drank little or no coffee, there was a 65% reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in the coffee drinkers. The maximum benefit occurred in people who reported drinking three to five cups of coffee a day. Those who drank decaf coffee experienced the same level of benefit as drinkers of coffee with caffeine. The consensus of scientists is that it is the level of antioxidants in coffee that is responsible for this benefit.
(Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease)

If you are interested in information about antioxidants and how they may help stave off Alzheimer’s disease, and you don´t mind wading through a lot of science, take a look at an article published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.

They go through a long list of foods and drinks with high levels of antioxidants, including coffee, and discuss the rationale for assuming that each one may reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s. The one substance that has been shown to make a difference in outcome over a long period of time is coffee!
(Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity)

Coffee and a Reduced Risk of Dying

In our article, Drink Coffee, Live Longer, we report on a study published in the journal Circulation. The ultimate health benefit of drinking coffee is that you reduce your risk of dying from a large number of different diseases in the next few years. The title of the study is a real mouthful, “Association of Coffee Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in Three Large Prospective Cohorts.”

Here is a, hopefully, clear explanation of how coffee reduces your risk of dying in the next few years. The Harvard School of Public Health has enrolled Harvard graduates in the health professions in a long term study of health outcomes and lifestyle. This study has gone on for decades and includes more than 167,000 women and 40,000 men.

Over the years, every time they were contacted, people reported how much coffee they drank. They also reported on health issues. And, if they died, the cause of death was found in public health records.
This study looked at 4,690,072 person years (# of people x # of years). During that time 19,524 women and 12,432 men died. When the researchers looked at those who lived and those who died they also looked at reported coffee consumption. The bottom line was that folks who drank from one to five cups of coffee a day had a lower risk of dying during the course of the study than people who were not coffee drinkers.
Cups per day and Lower Risk of Death (over the course of the study)

  • 1 cup: 6%
  • 2 cups: 8%
  • 3 to 5 cups: 15%
  • More than 5 cups: 12%

What was happening was that the coffee drinkers were less likely to develop problems like type II diabetes, heart disease, strokes, or neurologic disease. And they were less likely to become depressed and commit suicide. Thus, the coffee drinkers were less likely to die during the course of the 20+ year study than those who did not drink coffee.

The benefit of drinking coffee was not affected by drinking decaf or regular, did not extend to deaths from cancer, and did not extend to people who smoked!
(Circulation)

The Circulation article is very informative and full of lots of science. For a more “readable” version check out a New York Times article that reports on the study, Coffee Tied to Lower Risk of Dying.

Why Does Coffee Reduce the Incidence of Diseases and, Effectively, Prolong Life?

Why is it that drinking coffee has so many health benefits? Two things in coffee have been identified as being helpful, caffeine and antioxidants. We noted in regard to depression and suicide risks that caffeine is what makes the difference. For pretty much all of the rest of the health benefits of coffee it comes down to the antioxidants. The issue that researchers mention time and time again is called “chronic oxidative stress.”

Oxidation and Antioxidants

There are all sorts of densely scientific explanations of oxidation. The short version is that when oxygen combines with something, that something is oxidized. When oxygen combines with iron, the iron rusts. Within the human body oxygen is necessary for life and oxygen can also cause damage to the interior of cells. The sum total of this damage can be seen as oxidative stress.

The “too much” oxidation results in degenerative illnesses and premature aging. The body has a whole host of defense mechanisms to avoid excessive oxidation and oxidative stress, but the addition of antioxidants to the diet is known to help. The body’s antioxidants and those in the foods and drinks we consume help reduce the rate of damage from oxidation. Pretty much all of the health benefits of coffee appear to come from the antioxidants it provides the human body.

A short and useful explanation of oxidative stress explains that because we breathe oxygen we need enzymatic and molecular defenses to guard against oxygen free radicals that cause oxidation. When the body’s defenses are not sufficient, damage occurs to the RNA, DNA, proteins, and other constituents of the body’s cells. The cumulative damage results in damaged cell functioning, cell death, and cancer.
(University of Gothenburg)

Coffee as a Source of Antioxidants

So, is coffee the best source of antioxidants? Coffee is not the richest source of antioxidants but we drink so much of it that coffee is, for most people, their most reliable and important source of antioxidants.
The Nutrition Journal published a comprehensive study of foods and beverages and the antioxidants they contain. Coffee is mentioned in the summary where the authors note the high level of antioxidants and high level of consumption of coffee making it an important source, if not the most important source for most people in the world.
(Nutrition Journal)

What Is the Level of Antioxidants in Your Coffee?

There are antioxidants in green coffee and there are antioxidants created by roasting coffee. Green coffee antioxidants include trigonelline and ferulic, caffeic, chlorogenic, and n-coumaric acids. When coffee is roasted melanoidins, phenylalanines and several heterocyclic compounds are created. All of these are powerful antioxidants. The “take home lesson” here is not the specific names of these compounds but rather the fact that green coffee has antioxidants and by roasting coffee we create more of them!

But, not all coffee varieties have the same level of antioxidants. Stale coffee that has been stored improperly or too long has lower levels of antioxidants. And, coffees from different parts of the world may have different levels of antioxidants as well. How coffee is processed makes a difference as does the method of roasting.

Interesting Findings

  • Green Robusta coffee beans have more antioxidant activity than green Arabica beans, but with light roasting the difference goes away. And, by the time a dark roast is achieved, Arabica exceeds Robusta in antioxidant activity.
  • Microwaving coffee to roast it does a better job of preserving antioxidants than traditional convection roasting.
  • Wet processing of coffee preserves more antioxidants than dry processing.
  • Total antioxidant content was measured for coffees provided by Freshly Roasted Coffee.  Coffees from Guatemala, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Puerto Rico ranked the highest and are listed here in descending order.

(Antioxidants)

When Coffee Can Cause Health Problems

Blood Pressure

Caffeine is a stimulant. It can raise your blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, the caffeine in coffee can cause a short term elevation of your blood pressure. It is thought at part of this effect is because caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline which in turn raises pressure. Caffeine may also block the ability of arteries to widen which, in turn, can raise blood pressure.

However, many who drink coffee develop a tolerance to caffeine and their blood pressure no longer goes up with coffee and caffeine consumption. While some regular coffee drinkers experience an elevation of their blood pressure, many do not have any long term problems. According to the good doctors at Mayo, the best course of action is to find out if you do or do not have high blood pressure and, if you do, ask your doctor about how much coffee you can safely drink. If you want to play scientist, take your blood pressure before drinking coffee and again half an hour to two hours after finishing the cup. At Mayo, their opinion is that, in general, you should not have to worry about drinking a couple of 8-ounce cups of coffee a day (200 milligrams of caffeine). But, if you have significant health problems relating to blood pressure, talk to your doctor!
(Mayo Clinic)

Gastritis, Acid Reflux, and Ulcers

Heartburn (reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus) is a common complaint when one drinks too much coffee. Thus, doctors have typically advised against coffee drinking for patients with gastritis, acid reflux, and stomach of duodenal (upper small intestine) ulcers. However, recent scientific analysis shows that there is no proven association between gastritis or ulcers and drinking coffee that contains caffeine! Investigators speculate that other constituents of coffee such as its many antioxidants have protective effects. (Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology)  (PLoS One. 2013; 8(6): e6599)

The obvious answer in this case is that if you drink a lot of coffee and get heartburn, cut back until the heartburn goes away! And, for continuing problems in this area, see your doctor.

Coffee and Cancer

Drinking Coffee Helps Prevent Cancer

Recent scientific studies indicate that drinking coffee reduces the risk of developing cancers of the prostate, liver, breast, colon, rectum, endometrium (lining of the uterus), mouth and throat. In general, the benefit goes high with more cups per day consumed up to around 6 cups a day.
(American Cancer Society)

How about Acrylamide?

Acrylamide was in the news when a California court ruled that coffee needed to come with a label warning that it could cause cancer. The key issues here are California Proposition 65, roasting and frying starchy foods, and what constitutes a meaningful risk to the consumer.

California Proposition 65

This California law “requires the state to maintain and update a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.”
(CA.gov)

Acrylamide

According to the American Cancer Society, “Acrylamide is a chemical used mainly in certain industrial processes, such as in making paper, dyes, and plastics, and in treating drinking water and wastewater.
Acrylamide can also form in some starchy foods during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, roasting, and baking. Acrylamide forms from sugars and an amino acid that are naturally in food.”

According to these folks the highest levels of acrylamide are in French fries and cigarette smoke.

The primary evidence for acrylamide as a cause of cancer is from lab rats that were given acrylamide in their drinking water at level 1,000 to 10,000 higher than humans might be expected to be exposed to, ever.
(American Cancer Society)

Court of Appeals Reverses Acrylamide Decision Regarding Cereals

Coffee still needs to come with a warning label in California but according to the California court of appeals decision, breakfast cereals do not despite the fact that a lower court ruled that they do. The bottom line is that Federal policy is to promote cereals with fiber as being healthy and a cancer warning would negate that effort.
(Hogan Lovells Law Firm)

The problem for you as a coffee drinker is this. Do you believe in all of the evidence that coffee is good for you or do you believe that poisoning lab rats with excessive levels of a chemical really applies to you?
An interesting analogy is this. Put a lab rat, or you, in a room with 7 feet (84 inches) of water and nothing to hold on to. You have to tread water to stay alive and will eventually drown and die. That is a 100% mortality rate. If you reduce the water in the room to 1% of that level (0.84 inches) your risk of dying is now virtually zero and certainly not 1%!

It is certainly a worthwhile goal to protect the public against substances that cause cancer. But, in the case of coffee, the scientists find “no convincing evidence” that drinking coffee causes any kind of cancer.
(American Cancer Society)

At BuyOrganicCoffee.org we try to keep up with all of the news that relates to coffee and health. And, when we find something important or just interesting we will post the information on our site. If you have questions about the health aspects of coffee, please feel free to leave a comment and we will get back to you. And, if your question is of general interest, we may write an article about it.


Make Good Coffee at Home

You love the coffee at your local coffee house but would like to make good coffee at home as well. Start by considering why coffee house coffee is good. They start with high quality green Arabica coffee beans. They roast enough for the day. They grind the coffee just before brewing. And, they keep their coffee brewing apparatus clean.

Coffee House Coffee

Coffee house coffee is made from espresso. Ideally they use USDA organic certified coffee but that is not guaranteed. What makes their coffee good is that they follow the steps we noted above by using Arabica coffee beans from places like the coffee growing axis of Colombia. Because they buy green coffee beans that retain their freshness for up to two years, you are getting fresh coffee with lots of healthy antioxidants and excellent flavor. When they roast their beans that day there is no time for the roasted whole coffee beans to lose any of their freshness and, likewise, when they only grind enough for the batch they are brewing, there is no time for the coffee to get flat and tasteless.

Brewing Coffee

There are many ways of making coffee as noted in our coffee making article. One of the most common and best ways to make good coffee at home is to use a French Press.

Because this device uses a metal screen instead of a paper or cloth filter, more oils and minute solids remain in the coffee. The result is a deeper and richer taste that many coffee lovers prefer.

Buy Colombian organic coffee, whole beans, and roast just for the day if you have green coffee beans. If you have roasted whole bean coffee, grind just enough for what you want to make. Make the coffee and serve as soon as you get done pushing down the plunger.

If you like espresso, make sure to routinely clean the apparatus. A common way to make good coffee at home down in Colombia where great coffee comes from is to make pour over coffee. Put your ground in a cloth bag, boil the water, and pour it over the coffee. As with French press and espresso, only grind enough coffee to make what you are drinking and serving your guests.

Other ways of making coffee like Turkish coffee involve boiling the grounds in the water and letting them settle. If you want to mimic the coffee that great grandma made on the farm, make egg coffee buy breaking a couple of eggs into the pot before boiling and make enough to serve a large family gathering.

Practice Makes Perfect When You Want to Make Good Coffee at Home

The basics of good coffee beans, fresh coffee beans, and clean implements should never change but otherwise feel free to experiment with how strong you make your coffee, if you use a French press, try pour over, or take a turn a making espresso. With time you will find the exact process that makes the best coffee for you. Then, enjoy your coffee!

What Kind of Coffee is Good for You?

We have known that coffee is good for you for years. But even back years ago medical research was beginning to show that coffee benefits depend on several factors such as your age, how much coffee you drink, and what kind of coffee you prefer. The New York Times published a useful article recently about how and why coffee is good for you.

In moderation, coffee seems to be good for most people — that’s 3 to 5 cups daily, or up to 400 milligrams of caffeine.

“The evidence is pretty consistent that coffee is associated with a lower risk of mortality,” said Erikka Loftfield, a research fellow at the National Cancer Institute who has studied the beverage.
For years, coffee was believed to be a possible carcinogen, but the 2015 Dietary Guidelines helped to change perception. For the first time, moderate coffee drinking was included as part of a healthy diet. When researchers controlled for lifestyle factors, like how many heavy coffee drinkers also smoked, the data tipped in coffee’s favor.

We noted years ago that more organic coffee can lead to less diabetes and noted early studies showing the benefit off coffee for prevention and treatment of Type II diabetes. Over the years evidence has grown that drinking up to five cups of coffee a day helps protect against not only diabetes but Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer and cirrhosis. There is good evidence that coffee enhances certain types of athletic performance as well as sex! The most recent data on Type II diabetes is that five cups of coffee a day cuts the risk of this form of diabetes by 30%!

Arabica or Robusta?

If you want lots of caffeine in your coffee and are not picky about taste, you probably like coffee from strong Robusta coffee beans. The biggest producers of Robusta coffee are Brazil and Vietnam. Although much Robusta production goes for extraction of caffeine for soft drinks, this bean also lends a kick to Italian espressos and other strong coffees. If you prefer a better tasting coffee, you will want Arabica coffee beans and the best of the best are Colombian organic Arabica coffee beans. Colombia and Brazil are the biggest producers of high quality Arabica coffee and the Colombian coffee growing axis is where you can reliably get the largest quantities of the highest quality Arabica coffee, both regular and organic.

In regard to what kind of coffee is good for you, some of the benefits of coffee seem to come from the coffee but not a lot of them as folks who drink caffeinated soft drinks do not get the health benefits that coffee drinkers do. The key to coffee health benefits appear to the antioxidants in coffee and the best source of these antioxidants is an Arabica coffee from Colombia.

Older Folks Benefit More from Drinking Coffee

Age-related inflammation is involved in many diseases in later life. A study at Stanford University looked at coffee drinkers over fifty versus the twenty to thirty-year-old group. The benefits of fewer inflammation-related diseases and a longer life were very clear in the over-50 age group!

The bottom line to all this is that drinking coffee up to five cups a day is good for you. Drinking Arabica coffee is better and drinking coffee when you are over 50 years of age is a great idea. And, the best high-quality Arabica coffee comes from places like Manizales, Colombia!

Colombian Coffee History

With a yearly production that routinely tops 10 mill bags of high-quality Arabica coffee, Colombia is the third largest coffee producer in the world. However, Colombia is the largest producer and exporter of Arabica coffee. Although the history of coffee goes back a millennium to the mountains of Ethiopia, it took a couple of centuries to spread into the Middle East and then across the world. That is when Colombian coffee history began in the 18th century.

Coffee Arrives in Arabia and Then Europe

It as in the 1400s when coffee was being grown, consumed, and traded on the Arabian Peninsula and the 1500s when it spread to the center of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul in what is now Turkey. It took another century before coffee got to Europe by way of Venice where the church disliked it until Pope Clement VIII tasted it and approved of its consumption by everyone.

Coffee Arrives in the New World

Although Dutch traders brought coffee to New Amsterdam (New York) in the 1600s, this was too far north to grow coffee and supplies initially came from Dutch plantations in the East Indies from islands such as Java. Coffee for planting arrived in the New World by a curious route.

The Mayor of Amsterdam gave Louis XIV of France a gift of a coffee plant in 1714. The king had it planted in Paris in the Royal Botanical Gardens. It was a naval officer, Gabriel de Clieu, who obtained a seedling from this plant and in 1723 carried it on a perilous voyage to the island of Martinique in the windward group of islands in the Caribbean Sea.

The plant thrived in its new home is credited with producing eighteen million offspring over the next 50 years. These coffee plants were the first to spread throughout the Caribbean as well as Central and South America.

Coffee Is First Grown in Colombia

The first written record of coffee in Colombia comes from the writings of a Jesuit priest, José Gumilla, in his book The Orinoco Illustrated. Gumilla lived and traveled for 35 years in the region that now includes Colombia and Venezuela. His book written in the 1730s, describes customs, foods, and medicines in the area as well as his work at the Orinoco Mission where he was the Provincial Superior of New Granada. Gumilla noted that coffee was grown and consumed at the mission of Saint Teresa of Tabajé near the junction of the Meta and Orinoco Rivers. Fifty years later in 1787 the region’s Archbishop and Viceroy Caballero y Gorgora noted that coffee was being grown near Giron and Muzo which are today Santander and Boyaca to the North or present day Bogota.

Increased Coffee Production in the Northeast of Colombia

Commercial production of coffee was first recorded in 1808 when 100 bags of green coffee (60 kg each) were exported from Cucuta. Local legend attributes the increase in coffee production to a priest, Francisco Romero, who is said to have required his parishioners in the village of Salazar de Las Palmas to plant coffee as penance for their sins! No matter what the imputes was, coffee production increased and spread from the departments of North Santander and Santander to Cundinamarca, Antioquia and the historic center of later coffee production in Viejo Caldas around Manizales.

The 14 Families Arrive at and Found Manizales

The department of Caldas was virtually empty of human in the early 19th century due to the massive deaths of the indigenous population due diseases caught during the European conquest. Despite there being colonial cities in Colombia like Cartagena and Santa Marta that date to the early years of the 1500s, he city of Manizales was only founded in 1849 after the “expedition of the 20” that came from the west in Antioquia around the present day towns of Niera and Salamina. To this day the fourteen founding families are part of the local culture including a grocery store chain named “La 14” and a large and modern mall named “Los Fundadores.”
Despite coming late to the business of growing coffee, the region around Manizales became the center of Colombian coffee production for the next century until is spread back across the rest of the “triangulo de café” demarcated by Manizales to the east, Medellin to the northwest and Cali to the southwest.

Exportation of Coffee from Colombia

It was not until the later part of the 1800s that Colombia began to export larger quantities of coffee to the USA and Europe. Initially, most coffee production for export came from large landowners. However, periodic collapses of the coffee market made pure coffee production unsustainable for many. Thus, small coffee growers became the backbone of Colombian coffee growing.

Coffee Leaf Rust and the Pivot of Coffee Production to the Western Hemisphere

Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, was the largest coffee producer in the world until the appearance of coffee leaf rust, the fungus that destroys coffee crops. As coffee production suffered in Ceylon (which switched to growing tea) and elsewhere in Asia, the world had to look elsewhere for coffee. Thus Colombian coffee growers found more customers in markets across the world. The fungus made it to Africa by the beginning of the 20th century and to Brazil by 1970. Although the disease eventually got to Colombia, the Colombian Coffee Growers’ research arm, Cenicafé began in the 1980s producing a Colombian leaf rust resistant coffee. The initial Colombian leaf rust resistant coffee came in two varieties, Colombian and Castillo. The first is a cross between an old Colombian variety, Caturra, and a rust-resistant strain from Southeast Asia, the Timor hybrid. Castillo is an offshoot of further cross breeding of the first Colombian leaf rust resistant coffee strain. Replanting with Colombian leaf rust resistant coffee in Colombia reduced the incidence of leaf rust from 40% to 5% a decade ago.

Colombian Coffee during the Covid-19 Crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected many businesses including the Colombian coffee harvest! The problem is getting enough workers into the fields to pick the coffee as the beans ripen. Every year in Colombia about 150,000 workers enter the coffee fields (and mountain slopes) to harvest coffee. This work is “social distancing” at its core because workers scatter throughout the fields and do not work side by side. The problem is one of getting from field to field as Colombia has restricted travel across the country with its nationwide quarantine.

Covid-19 Situation in Colombia

Colombia had the advantage of not getting a lot of travel from Europe or, especially, China as the pandemic began although there were vacationers who picked up the disease in Italy and needed treatment upon their return. Having watched how the disease unfolded in China and then in Italy and Spain, Colombia shut down early and hard with the military patrolling trouble spots to ensure compliance.

Hardest Hit Areas

The hardest hit area is the capital city of Bogota with 8,000,000 people and 2,408 of the 5,549 known cases in the country. The Cali and Medellin areas are next with 881 and 463 cases respectively at the end of April, 2020. (Colombia Ministry of Health Update, April 29, 2020)

Compared to the USA which a 0.3% case rate (one million reported cases per 328 million people, Colombia has a 0.015% case rate (5,549 cases per 36 million people).

Colombia Coffee Harvest, Processing, and Exports

The problem with the coffee harvest in Colombia is that the quarantine has shut down travel across the country. Every year about 150,000 are needed to pick coffee. Many of these workers move from area to area as needed. This year, growers are having to rely on just locals which may be difficult in scarcely populated mountainous areas where coffee is grown.

Colombian coffee roasters have not been spared the lockdown need to contain the virus and some are also concerned about lower global demand so they are not as willing to take on higher inventories.
Then the problem goes to the two main ports of Cartagena and Buen Aventura which are also large shut down due to the virus.

Things Are Getting Better in Colombia

The good news is that the “curve” has flattened in Colombia due to their early efforts at containment and the numbers, especially in areas like Manizales (one million people) in the heart of the Eje Cafetero, have not increased at all for a week. Thus, people are getting back to work slowly but surely and are we are likely to see fewer restrictions on travel so that workers will be able to get to the fields.

The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation is actively involved in protecting the health and lives of all coffee workers as noted on their website.

The FNC has adopted the necessary measures to preserve everybody’s health and well-being at all levels, including its headquarters in Bogotá, departmental and municipal coffee grower committees, Almacafé, Cenicafé, the freeze-dried coffee factory Buencafé Liofilizado de Colombia, Procafecol (Juan Valdez stores), the Coffee Park, the Manuel Mejía Foundation, and other branches.

Supported by our own technology platforms, we seek to ensure that the service to coffee growers, customers, partners, allies and suppliers is not interrupted. Our work team will remain available, through their email addresses, cell phones and virtual meetings, to provide the best possible service in these circumstances.

Coffee Making

Coffee lovers know that there is more to a good cup of coffee than just throwing coffee grounds in the percolator, adding water, and plugging it in. Coffee making is an art and a science. And, like all art and science, the details are what make the difference. With the rise of the coffee house in modern society, many people have gotten used to good coffee. But, how can you make a good cup or two at home? First, we offer a “quick and easy” way to make a good cup of coffee. Then, we delve into the details. Feel free to skip around and read what you want.

Quick and Easy: Coffee Making with Organic Beans and a French Press

When you buy certified organic coffee, you are almost always getting Arabica coffee beans, the highest quality and best tasting ones. Organic coffee is free of many chemicals that may otherwise show up in regular coffee and therefore in your morning cup of java. Unless you already have a coffee grinder, buy ground coffee to start with. If you have a coffee grinder, grind just enough beans for a serving or two. And, use a coarse grind with a French press.

Why French press coffee, you ask. A French press is (typically) a glass coffee pot. A metal rod (passing through a hole in the lid of the pot) is connected to a metal filter. Because this device uses a metal screen instead of a paper or cloth filter, more oils and minute solids remain in the coffee. The result is a deeper and richer taste that many coffee lovers prefer.

  • Put the coffee grounds in the pot, one to two tablespoonsful for each six ounces of water
  • Boil water and let it sit for a minute before adding to the pot
  • Let the coffee and water sit for two to four minutes
  • Push the plunger down and the grounds are pushed to the bottom of the pot
  • Serve the coffee

Use this method of coffee making and you will reliably get a good cup of coffee. Then, if you want to improve your knowledge, your skills, and the coffee that you brew, read on.

Coffee making with a French press coffee maker results in more oils and solids for a richer tasting coffee.

French Press Coffee Maker

Now, here is a detailed breakdown of what you need to know and what you need to do to steadily improve your coffee making results.

Coffee Making

Successful coffee making requires that you use good coffee, clean equipment, clean water, and the correct process. Here is how we broke down the details. Feel free to read the parts that interest you.

  • Equipment
  • Coffee Beans
    • Origin
    • Variety
    • Type of Roast
    • Roast Your Own
    • Grind texture
    • Grind Your Own
    • How Old Are the Beans: Fresh Coffee
  • Water
  • The Brewing Process
    • Ratio of Coffee to Water
    • Temperature of the Water
    • Time to brew
    • Time to extract
  • Brewed Coffee is Best When Fresh
  • Alternative methods

Clean the Coffee Making Equipment

No matter what you use to make coffee, keeping it clean is important. If you grind your own coffee beans, make sure to wipe out the grinder with a dry cloth or paper towel. You should rinse the coffee maker with hot, clear water and then wipe dry with an absorbent towel. Make sure that no coffee grounds or coffee oil remain as they will give the next batch a bitter or rancid taste. And, if you have a single-serve coffee maker like a fourth of us do, clean that too after each use.

(National Coffee Association)

Basic to Complex Equipment to Make Coffee

Percolator Coffee: What You Grew Up With

Many of us grew up in a home with a coffee percolator. Add coffee grounds, add water, plug it in and wait. There are electric percolators that can make 40 cups of coffee and there are stovetop models. In both cases, boiling hot water rises up a metal stem and splashes onto the coffee grounds in a metal basket. The water runs out though tiny holes in the bottom of the basket only to return again and again. This is a “perk and forget” device that can make a lot of coffee for a lot of people.

One downside to using a percolator is that the boiling hot water extracts more coffee chemicals than you want and the coffee is typically bitter. Another is that you really need to clean this device well after each use. And, last but not least in importance, be careful not to open the top when perking for fear of being scaled by the boiling hot water.

Coffee making with this vintage coffee percolator was easy. The coffee was bitter and not always that good.

Vintage Coffee Percolator

For best results, use freshly ground coffee, between one heaping tablespoonsful per every cup of water. The coffee will be best when just brewed. Unfortunately, the last folks to drink percolator coffee from a 40 cup urn are getting caffeine and a bad cup of coffee.

(Talk about Coffee)

Pour Over Coffee

In places where they grow coffee, like the coffee triangle in Colombia, pour over coffee is what they make at home. This consists of a pan or pot to boil the water, a cloth or wire mesh filter filled with ground coffee, and a pot to receive the coffee. Boil the water, let it sit a minute or two, and pour over the coffee grounds. Then, serve the coffee. You should still clean the coffee pot and the filter, but otherwise this simple setup makes great coffee without a lot of fuss.

Pour over coffee is a way of coffee making without a lot of fuss or cleanup.

Pour Over Coffee

This is how folks make coffee in places like the Coffee Triangle in Colombia or in Panama, where this photo was taken.

Espresso Machines

And if you want to make espresso, you will want an espresso machine. This method forces water near the boiling point through a small quantity of finely ground coffee and a filter. The result is thick and concentrated. All coffee house coffee starts with espresso.

Making espresso is coffee making like a coffee shop coffee, first step.

Making Espresso

If you grind your own beans, grind them extra fine to about the size of grains of table salt for espresso.  The grounds go into a cup-with handle device called the portafilter. Put in enough to be rounded over the top of the device. Then tamp down the coffee so that it is packed tight and below the rim of the portafilter. Your espresso machine should come with a tamper.

The portafilter fits onto the bottom of the machine. Fill the water container as directed and make your espresso. Fancier machines have lots and bells and whistles and simple machines simply make the espresso. Most machines have a metal tube that provides steam for frothing milk to go with your espresso.

Ibriks and Large Pots on the Farm

And, you will want a pot called an Ibrik for making Turkish coffee, or a really big coffee pot for making egg coffee like great-grandma did back on the farm.

Coffee Beans

No matter how fancy your coffee making gear is, or how simple, a good cup of coffee starts with good coffee beans.

Varieties

The two main types of coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is the superior coffee for taste and aroma and is what you want to buy for making a really fine cup of coffee. Robusta has more caffeine and if you want more of a jolt in the morning that may be your choice. Gesha coffee is an heirloom varietal. The seed stock has not been cross bred or altered from the original near Gesha, Ethiopia. Gesha has much more of a floral note than Arabica. It can also sell for $100 for a pound of beans or $11 for a cup in a coffee house. Until you get the hang of coffee making, we suggest that you forget about the Gesha or other gourmet coffee brands. Return to these when your coffee making abilities consistently result in a great cup of Arabica!

When you are buying coffee beans, consider the country and region of origin, the variety, the type of roast (assuming that you are not roasting your own), and whether the grind is coarse or fine.

Where Did Your Coffee Come From?

Coffee from the Americas

  • Kona coffee, the only produced in the USA (Hawaii) is aromatic with a medium body.
  • Mexican coffees are good for dark roasts and have impressive aroma and depth of flavor.
  • Coffee from Puerto Rico is known for its fruity aroma and balanced acidity.
  • Guatemala produces medium-bodied coffees that are spicy or chocolatey.
  • Costa Rican coffee is Arabica, medium bodied, and sharply acidic.
  • Colombia produces only high quality Arabica coffee. The highest quality bean, Supremo, has an aromatic sweetness and Excelso, the next best, is slightly more acidic and softer.
  • Brazil produces lots and lots of coffee. The best Brazilian coffee is sweet, low-acid, and medium-bodied.

Coffee from Africa

  • Ethiopia is the birthplace of the coffee plant. Their best coffee is full flavored and full bodied.
  • Kenya is just South of Ethiopia. Its best coffees are full bodied, fruity and acidic, and richly fragrant.
  • The Ivory Coast produces Robusta coffee, strong and slightly aromatic.

Middle East

Yemen was the first stopping point for coffee coming out of Africa. Its coffee is distinctive, deep and rich.

Asia

  • Vietnam just recently edged out Brazil as the leading coffee exporter. Most of their production is Robusta but with good balance and light acidity.
  • Indonesia: If you really want a cup of Java, buy Indonesian coffee from the island of Java! These coffees have mild acidity, rich flavor, and full body.

(National Coffee Association)

How Was the Coffee Roasted?

Coffee undergoes chemical transformations when it is roasted. Light, medium, and dark roasts are carried out at successively higher temperatures.

A light roast is used for mild coffee varieties preserves flavor and aroma that would otherwise be overcome by the effects of roasting.

  • Light City
  • Half City
  • Cinnamon

A medium roast results in a stronger flavor and like with the light roast, the coffee oils do not break the surface of the bean.

  • City
  • American
  • Breakfast

Medium dark roasts leave some oil on the surface of the bean and results in a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Full City

Dark roasts result in a black, shiny bean with an oily surface. A dark roast results in a bitterer but less acidic coffee. With a dark roast the results of roasting largely overcome the original coffee aroma and flavor.

  • High
  • Continental
  • New Orleans
  • European
  • Espresso
  • Viennese
  • Italian
  • French

(National Coffee Association)

A medium roast or medium dark roast is a good choice for anyone new to coffee making at home.

How Coarsely or Finely Is the Coffee Ground?

When you expose coffee to water, the chemicals in the coffee get dissolved and that results in the coffee that you drink. The longer the coffee grounds sit in hot water, the more caffeine and flavor enters the water. The finer the grind, the more surface area is exposed and the more caffeine and flavor come out.

For coffee making with a French press you want coarsely ground coffee because the grounds remain with the coffee. If you are making pour over coffee or using a percolator or drip coffee maker, you will want a finer grind because the hot water just passes through the grounds. If you are making espresso, you want the coffee very finely ground. And, if you are getting out the Ibrik for Turkish coffee, the grounds should be the consistency of powdered sugar!

Fresh Is Best with Coffee

Unlike a fine wine, coffee generally does not get better with age. If the bag of gourmet coffee you bought was on the shelf for a few years, it will have lost significant flavor, aroma, and even health benefits. And the green beans need to be fresh as well. Several years ago, Brazilian coffee growers put significant quantities of green coffee beans in storage because prices were so low. When prices went up, they were only able to sell those green beans for institutional use as the 8-year-old green beans had dried out and lost flavor.

Ordering green coffee directly from the source is an option. Store them in a cool and dry location. Only take out enough to roast for the day. Green coffee beans properly stored can be good for a couple of years!

But, let’s say that you just bought a bag of roasted whole bean organic coffee. How do you keep it fresh?

The flavor and aroma of coffee comes from chemicals called antioxidants. These chemicals combine with oxygen when exposed to the air. The process of “oxidation” speeds up when beans are stored in a warm location, exposed to sunlight, or allowed to become moist. And, ground coffee has more surface exposed to the air so ground coffee loses its freshness a lot faster than whole beans.

Although you want your coffee beans close for coffee making, the shelf next to the stove is a bad place because it is too hot! Pick a cool and dry pantry shelf. Only take out enough beans to grind for the current batch of coffee. When you buy whole bean roasted coffee, buy just enough for a couple of weeks. If you prefer ground coffee, buy weekly.

Some folks like to refrigerate their coffee. The coolness is a good idea. Unfortunately, every time you take the bag out of the fridge, moisture from the warm kitchen air will condense on the cold beans. If you buy a lot of coffee and want to preserve it in the refrigerator, store in several smaller bags.

Air tight containers are a better choice than the bag the coffee comes in because you can properly reseal these containers.

(National Coffee Association)

Coffee Is Mostly Water

You can use tap water to make coffee, providing that the water does not have an odor or too much chlorine. If that is the case, use bottled or filtered water. The water should be cold. And, do not use softened water or distilled water. Start by using one or two tablespoonsful of coffee for each six ounces of water. Then add or subtract coffee according to your taste.

Best Temperature for Making Coffee

The best coffee brewing temperature is between 195 degrees and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature is lower, the water does not extract the chemicals that give coffee its aroma and flavor. When the water is closer to boiling at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, extraction is too efficient and your coffee will have excessive bitterness.

Coffee makers typically take care of the temperature for you. When making pour over coffee, bring the water to a boil. Turn off the burner and let the water sit for two or three minutes and then pour over the coffee grounds. Likewise with a French press, let the boiled water cool for a couple of minutes before pouring into the French press pot.

Cold brewed coffee is completely different. Add coffee ground to a pitcher of water, put in the refrigerator, and forget for half a day.

Best Temperature for Drinking Coffee

Most coffee drinkers like their coffee at about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, drinking hotter coffee in the 185 degree range can cause scalding and burns mouth and throat. (Journal of Burns) And, very hot coffee could increase the risk of cancer of the esophagus. (Chicago Tribune / Lancet) And, we all remember the McDonald’s lawsuit when the lady sued for burns of the skin from spilled near-boiling coffee.

How Long to Brew when Making Coffee

The longer your coffee is in contact with hot water, the more chemicals are extracted. A drip coffee maker has coffee in contact with hot water for about 5 minutes. With pour over coffee, the contact time is less than a minute. Espresso has a contact time of about 20 to 30 seconds. And, if you use a French press, serve the coffee two to four minutes after pouring water into the pot.

How Soon Should You Drink Your Coffee?

The same “oxidation” issues apply to coffee after it is brewed as applied when it was stored. Coffee has the best aroma and flavor right after it is brewed. By the time your coffee has cooled down, some flavor has gone as well. After a few hours your coffee still has the same caffeine content, but the antioxidants have combined with the air and the flavor is pretty much gone.

Coffee Making Across the World

Turkish Coffee

Turkey was once the center of the Ottoman Empire which extended to Yemen, where coffee was first cultivated. When coffee arrived in Istanbul, it was first prepared in the Sultan’s palace. The Turkish coffee method is still used in the countries that were once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Coffee making in the old Ottoman Empire involved an Ibrik, coffee, and lots of sugar!

Ottoman Empire where Turkish Coffee Began

Ottoman Empire around 1300 AD and an Ibrik for Making Turkish Coffee

Here is the short and “sweet” approach to making Turkish coffee.

  • When making coffee Turkish style grind the coffee beans even finer than you would for making espresso.
  • Make Turkish coffee in a small pot with a cup of water
  • A small sauce pan will do although Turks use an Ibrik (see image)
  • Add sugar
    • Plain: no sugar
    • Little sugar: add half a level teaspoon to the coffee
    • Medium: add a level teaspoon to the coffee
    • A lot of sugar: add two level teaspoons to the coffee
  • Bring the water with sugar to a boil and remove from heat
  • Add coffee and stir until coffee sinks
    • Some add a pod of cardamom as well (optional)
  • Heat again slowly until coffee boils and foam appears on the top
    • So not stir as this disturbs the foam
    • Do not boil too long as prolonged boiling gives the coffee a burnt taste
    • Remove from heat briefly and then heat again
    • Repeat one more time
  • Pour coffee directly from the Ibrik or your sauce pan into demitasse cups similar to what you would use for espresso
  • Ideal Turkish coffee has a lot of thick foam (think of Cuban coffee) and the person who gets the cup with the most foam has the best coffee.

Ibrik for coffee making the Turkish way

Ibrik for Turkish Coffee

Café de Olla

When coffee moved across the world to the Americas, so did the ways of making coffee. A now-traditional way of coffee making evolved in Mexico. Coffee was made in a clay pot and was thus called pot coffee (Café de Olla-Café de O Ya as the Spanish letter “ll” is pronounced like the English “y” or also the English “j”) . Unrefined cane sugar, ground cinnamon, and ground coffee are all heated together. The sugar is called piloncillo in Mexico but further into Central and South America it is called panela.

How to Make Café de Olla

To do this correctly you should use a ceramic pot, but for beginners, you will be forgiven for using a sauce pan.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of water
  • 3 ounces of panela or piloncillo (Gringos may use brown sugar)
  • half a stick of cinnamon, preferably Mexican
  • 4 tablespoonsful of ground coffee

Make your café de olla on the stove top. Grind your coffee first, finely ground is best.

Then add the cinnamon and panela to the water and heat to a simmer to dissolve the sugar. Then turn the heat to high and boil the water. When the water boils, add the coffee and turn off the heat.

Stir the pot briefly and cover the sauce pan for five minutes. Pour the coffee through a filter or strainer into the cups you will use to serve the café de olla.

Café de Olla is an indigenous Mexican way of making coffee in a ceramic pot

Café de Olla

You Are the Best Judge

For all coffee making, remember that you are the best judge of what variety of coffee, what roast, what grind, and what method that you like. The point of making your own coffee is to get the coffee you want with the amount of effort you choose to expend. Experience is the best teacher with any coffee making, so start brewing your coffee and enjoy!

Coffee

Coffee is a beverage brewed from the seed (bean) of the Coffea plant. More than half of all Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day. Americans average 3 cups a day and spend about $40 billion a year on their coffee. (Harvard School of Public Health)

The History of Coffee: Ethiopian Legend to Modern Genetic Testing

In Ethiopia, they tell the story of Kaldi the goat herder who saw his goats become energized by eating berries from a tree. The legend has it that Kaldi tried the same berries and experienced the same effect. He then reported this finding to the abbot of a local monastery who made a drink of the berries and thus being the first person to drink coffee. According to the legend, the berries and the drink spread from monastery to monastery, and eventually beyond Ethiopia.

Recorded history tells us that by the 1400’s coffee was grown and traded on the Arabian Peninsula and by the 1500’s people were drinking coffee in Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and Persia (Iran). By the 1600’s coffee arrived in Europe where the clergy in Venice condemned the drink and asked the Pope to intervene. Pope Clement VIII tried the “bitter invention of Satan,” liked it, and gave coffee the papal seal of approval. (National Coffee Association)

Modern researchers have trekked the highland of East Africa in search of wild coffee. The genetic testing done on these wild varieties of coffee indicates that Arabica coffee originated in the Southeastern area of evergreen forests in the mountainous Sidarno and Harar provinces of Ethiopia. The same testing indicates that Arabica coffee was taken to Yemen and the Southern Arabian Peninsula and grown there as the next step in its spread around the world.  (Researchgate.net) The researchers make no mention, however, about Kaldi or his goats!

What about the Plants That Give Us Coffee?

Scientifically, coffee is a woody perennial evergreen dicotyledon that belongs to the Rubiaceae family. You can now forget that part. What is more important to us coffee drinkers is that there are two main coffee species, Coffea Arabica (Arabica coffee) and Coffea canephora (Robusta coffee). (CoffeeResearch.org). Robusta is more hardly, more prolific, more disease-resistant, and does not taste as good. Robusta also has more caffeine. Arabica is less prolific, less hardy, more prone to diseases like coffee leaf rust, and has less caffeine. But Arabica tastes significantly better than Robusta, so your gourmet coffee brands are almost always Arabica.

Coffee in Colombia

Coffee in Colombia

Coffee does not survive freezing temperatures. So, all coffee is grown in the tropics (where it does not freeze) in what is called “The Bean Belt” or “Coffee Belt.” This is the tropics, between 25 degrees North latitude and 30 degrees South latitude. Arabica is grown at higher altitudes, at lower temperatures, and in richer soil. Robusta grows better at lower altitudes, at higher temperatures, and can tolerate poorer soil. (National Coffee Association).

Coffee is grown in the region between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, also called the Coffee Belt

The Coffee Belt or “Bean Belt” (Seasia)

Economics: The Money Aspects of Coffee

  • Worldwide coffee consumption is about 500 billion cups a year
  • Most coffee is consumed in economically developed nations
  • 90% of coffee is grown in developing nations
  • 25 million people make their living on coffee farms
  • The fastest growing niche in the restaurant business is coffee shops
  • Northern Europeans rank highest for who drinks the most coffee per capita
  • The USA consumes the most coffee of any nation

(Business Insider)

The Whole Process from Planting the Coffee Seed to Your Cup of Java

Yes, Coffee Starts with a Seed (the coffee bean)

To grow coffee, a coffee farmer plants the beans (seeds) in moist and shaded soil. This is typically done in a nursery where the seedlings are protected from bright sunlight and watered often. When the plants are strong enough, they are planted in the field. Farmers do this in the rainy season to let the coffee plant establish its root structure before the soil dries out.

Waiting and then Picking the Coffee

When the coffee farmer plants coffee, he needs to wait for the plant to mature before he can get a coffee crop. Coffee takes three to four years to mature and produce fruit, the coffee cherry. Coffee is ready to pick when the cherry is a deep and bright red. And, when the coffee cherry is ripe, there is also a distinctive odor in the field, another indication that the time is right to bring in the coffee crop.  In most coffee growing regions, there is one harvest a year. However, in some countries like Colombia, Arabica coffee has a primary and a secondary harvest each year.
The large and flat coffee fields in Brazil are commonly strip picked by machine. In mountainous regions at altitudes of 3,000 feet to 7,000 feet, coffee pickers climb up and down the slopes picking by hand. A hand picker can also strip the plant of all of its cherries or selectively pick just the ripest cherries. Selective picking is used for high-quality Arabica coffees and requires that the picker return every week to ten days to pick again. A picker can bring in between 100 and 200 pounds of cherries a day. After processing this is between 20 and 40 pounds of coffee.

Soaking and Raking the Coffee: Processing and Drying

The coffee farmer needs to process his picked coffee quickly. Otherwise, it starts to spoil. A few bad beans, called “stinkers” can ruin a batch of coffee. There are two ways to process coffee, dry and wet.

Dry Coffee Processing: Sunlight, Raking, and Time

Dry processing is pretty basic. The cherries are spread out in the sun. A worker rakes the bean frequently to turn them over and make sure that all of them are drying. And, the workers much cover the beans in case of rain and at night so that the morning dew does not moisten the coffee again. They keep doing this until the cherries are dried to 11 percent moisture content. This can take several weeks! Small coffee farms in dry areas and coffee farmers without a lot of money use this process.

Wet Coffee Processing: First You Soak the Coffee but You Still Need to Dry It!

With wet processing, the cherries are fed into a pulping machine. This separates pulp and skin from the coffee bean. Beans are separated by weight using water channels where heavy beans sink and light beans float. Then, the beans are separated by size using a series of screens or rotating drums.

For wet processing, the beans are left in fermentation tanks filled with water for up to 48 hours. This removes another layer called the parenchyma and a layer of mucilage on the parchment. Then the beans are rinsed one more time before drying.

Wet processed coffee beans can be dried by the sun to 11% moisture content as is done with dry processing. On a large commercial coffee farm, they will tumble dry the coffee in drying machines.

When the coffee beans are dry, they are still encased in a layer of parchment and are called parchment coffee.

Coffee Drying in the Sun

Coffee Drying in the Sun

One More Step: Milling the Coffee Beans

The parchment is removed from the coffee bean by a specialized hulling machine. Another optional step is polishing which removes any list bits of silver skin from the bean. In Latin America, the company that does this is called a “trilladora” and is also a company that sells or exports coffee.

Coffee Beans Before and After Removal of Husk

Coffee Beans Before and After Removal of Husk

Getting the Sizes Right: Sorting and Grading Coffee

At this point, the coffee beans are sorted by size. This is done by passing them over screens of decreasing size. Larger beans such as Colombian Supremo are considered superior and command a higher price. Defective beans are removed by hand and the coffee is ready for sale or export.

Exporting Coffee for Your Cup of Java

To make export cost-effective, green coffee beans are packed in jute or sisal bags and loaded into shipping containers. Alternatively, the beans are loaded into plastic lined containers for shipping.

(National Coffee Association)

Where Is Your Coffee Grown?

Coffee comes from the “Bean Belt” roughly between to Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The biggest exporters are Vietnam, Brazil, Colombia, and Honduras.

June 2018 Exports in Thousands of 60 KG Bags

  • Vietnam: 2,575
  • Brazil: 2,548
  • Colombia: 918
  • Honduras: 856
  • Ethiopia: 599
  • India: 591
  • Uganda: 320
  • Mexico: 300
  • Nicaragua: 300
  • Indonesia: 250
  • Peru: 240

Sixty percent of coffee exports are Arabica coffee and forty percent are Robusta coffee. The big news this year is that Vietnam passed Brazil in their total volume of coffee exports. However, Vietnam produces Robusta coffee while Brazil produces both Arabica and Robusta. The leading producers of Arabica coffee are Brazil, Colombia, and Honduras.

The August 1, 2018, Arabica mild coffee price was $132.70 for 100 pounds while Robusta was $83.70 for 100 pounds. (International Coffee Organization)

You may not know this, but much of Vietnam’s Robusta output is purchased for the caffeine that goes into soft drinks like Coca Cola! (NPR)

Social Issues Relating to Coffee: Making the World a Better Place

It used to be that coffee was coffee and nobody worried much about where it came from or how it was produced. But, that has changed. We have gotten accustomed to drinking better coffee and even buying gourmet coffee brands. And, we have learned more over the years about the effects of how coffee is grown. These effects have to do with impurities in the coffee we drink, deforestation of tropical forests, degradation of the soil and water tables in coffee growing regions, and the near poverty in which many coffee farmers and workers live. Thus, many coffee drinkers are fussier about the quality and safety of the coffee they drink and about social issues like fair prices for small coffee farmers and preservation of habitat for migratory birds.

Fair Trade Coffee:   A Fair Deal for Small Coffee Farmers and Their Workers

People drink coffee all over the world. But nine-tenths of all coffee production comes from developing countries. While twenty-five million people work in the coffee business, many work for subsistence wages. And, coffee is a commodity with a price determined in trading markets far from where it is grown. It was after the collapse of coffee prices in the 1980s that Fairtrade was started.

As the Fairtrade website states,

Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.

The goal of Fairtrade is to guarantee predictable and better prices for coffee farmers as well as better wages, working conditions, and lives for workers at the base of the coffee industry.
As we mention in our article about Fair Trade Coffee,

None of these growers have the pricing power to gain a better market share or better price. They are largely at the mercy of a global supply chain. And the profits increase as one ascends the supply chain away from the coffee farmer.

Many coffee drinkers drink Fairtrade coffees because they are good coffees and because there seems to be more social justice in the Fairtrade movement than with other coffees.

Bird Safe Coffee: Preserving Rainforest Habitat for Birds

When farmers clear land in the tropical rainforest to plant coffee or other crops, they destroy the habitat where birds live. These are both local species and ones that migrate with the seasons. One of the important shade grown coffee benefits is that preserving the trees gives the birds a place to live!

Forested coffee farms are bio-rich buffer zones for plants, flowers, and wildlife that are at risk as a result of deforestation and poor land management. Planting coffee under the existing forest canopy results in a high-quality coffee.

The Smithsonian Institution has taken up the cause of the birds with their Bird Friendly® coffee certification.

The Bird Friendly® program aims to protect the most quality habitat from the threat of deforestation under the Bird Friendly seal. Bird Friendly coffees come from farms using a combination of foliage cover, tree height, and biodiversity to provide quality habitat for birds and other wildlife.

As with Fair Trade coffee, people drink these coffees because they are excellent shade grown coffees and to help protect the environment for the birds.

The Best Organic Coffee is Shade Grown with the Birds

Shade Grown Organic Coffee Saves Bird Habitat

Sustainable Coffee Farming: Saving the Land for the Next Generation

A coffee farmer loves growing coffee. It is a labor of love. But, coffee farming is also a business. Many large coffee farmers clear-cut the land, use synthetic fertilizers, and apply pesticides and herbicides to increase their yield. These techniques increase the amount of coffee they grow and improve their short-term profits. Unfortunately, pesticides and herbicides seep into the ground and the water table. Clear-cut land is often subject to erosion.

Coffee farmers who want to pass their farms on to the next generation are more likely to practice sustainable coffee farming in order to protect the water table and preserve their land.
If you want to support farmers who practice sustainable coffee farming, drink organic, shade grown, and Fair Trade coffees as these coffees are grown using sustainable agricultural practices.

Organic Coffee: Good for You and Good for the Environment

The best organic coffee brands have several things in common.

  • Climate, soil, elevation
  • A culture of growing coffee
  • Certification
  • Aroma, flavor, and antioxidants
  • Dedication to growing the best coffee

Growing organic coffee protects the environment and produces a cup of coffee free of many potential contaminants such as pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. You will like your organic coffee because it is the most often excellent Arabica. You will be safe drinking organic coffee because it is free of unwanted chemicals. And, you can feel good about drinking organic coffee because you can protect the environment for future generations.

To make sure that you are getting organic coffee, look for evidence of certification on the container. The gold standard for organic coffee certification is the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture. Look for their seal to make sure that the coffee you are buying is certified organic.

USDA Organic Coffee Certification Is the Gold Standard

USDA Organic Coffee Certification

The Rise of Specialty and Gourmet Coffee

The early rise of gourmet and specialty coffee can be traced back to Alfred Peet.

At a time when a cup of coffee was just a cup of coffee, Alfred Peet introduced us to the concept that coffee could be special. Alfred Peet taught us that the quality of coffee and its sourcing are important.

According to the (Investor’s Business Daily), Alfred Peet was a pioneer who brewed better coffee in America. He traveled to coffee growing regions and visited the farms. He sourced his coffee, bringing back the best to roast and brew for his customers. This was in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Berkley, California. Today, it is hard to pass through a major city without running into a Starbucks, Tully’s, Costa, or Caribou as well as countless neighborhood coffee houses serving specialty and gourmet coffees.

We referenced the Investor’s Business Daily article because coffee houses are the fastest growing niche in the restaurant business! Local coffee shops and large chains sell first and second wave coffee. What is this all about?

First Wave Coffee: Roasted, Ground, Ready to Brew

First wave coffee refers to companies like Folgers and Maxell House who sold mass produced coffee from the late 1800s to the late 1900’s. This coffee was roasted, ground, and ready to brew. The first wave also produced instant coffee, vacuum packed coffee, and drip coffee makers. The quality was not always so good, but no one noticed because there was little competition in the USA until the likes of Alfred Peet and others changed the game.

Second Wave Coffee: Sourced, Better Coffee, Gourmet Brands, Organic

After Alfred Peet, others picked up on the idea the coffee drinkers would pay more for a really good coffee that was freshly roasted and brewed.

The rise of Coffee house coffee in the USA also had its roots in Europe after World War II when GIs tasted espresso for the first time. The term “Americano” comes from the fact that American soldiers were used to the coffee that mom made back on the farm in Iowa, lots of it but not so strong. Europeans learned to dilute the espresso with water for these “Americanos.”
A coffee shop chain like Starbucks serves second wave coffee. Their coffee is sourced, roasted on site, and served as espresso, latte, mocha, and other variations to customers who come back again and again for reliably good coffee.

Third Wave Coffee: Which Farm, What Altitude, What Kind of Soil?

The Third Wave is very recent. Coffee connoisseurs learn the exact farm on which their coffee was grown. They become experts regarding altitude, soil, and production methods. Coffee tastings similar to wine tastings are common in coffee shops catering to the Third Wave. But, is Third Wave coffee really better, or just an expensive fad? There are coffee lovers who will visit a Third Wave coffee house for tastings but still regularly frequent their favorite local coffee house.

(Craft Beverage Jobs, the History of First, Second, and Third Wave Coffee)

Why Is Coffee Good for Your Health?

Once upon a time, we drank coffee to wake up in the morning and stay awake at work, or on long cross-country trips in the car. Too much coffee gave us the jitters and if we had high blood pressure the doctor said to cut out the coffee.

This has all changed! Researchers have uncovered a whole host of regular and organic coffee health benefits.

Would you like to reduce your risk of type II diabetes? Drink more coffee.

And, coffee appears to reduce the incidence of cancer of the prostate, liver, endometrium, and mouth and throat. (American Cancer Society)

Drinking coffee has been linked to a lower likelihood of developing degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia. And there is evidence that at any point in life you can reduce your incidence of dying in the next few years by drinking coffee. (Circulation)

What interests many coffee drinkers are two more health benefits of drinking coffee, better athletic performance and better sex!

Most health benefits of coffee start at just a cup a day and increase up to about six cups. For better athletic performance, a cup or two before working out will be enough.

The Coffee World Moves On with Better Coffee at Home and Roasting Your Own

As we taste better coffee in the coffee shop or even in McDonald’s, many of us are no longer satisfied with our old Folgers or Maxwell House coffee at home. As a result, we buy gourmet coffee, organic coffee, Fair Trade coffee, and coffees from the far reaches of the world. We compare coffee from Ethiopia with coffee from Brazil. We try making Turkish coffee, organic Irish coffee, or café de olla to go with Mexican food.

And, we buy green coffee beans and roast our coffee at home! That becomes an adventure as we start with an old popcorn popper and end up putting out fires! Then, we move on to real home coffee roasters and become experts in first and second crack, the smell of roasting coffee, and learning just the right roasting profile for organic Kona coffee as opposed to mountain grown coffee from Panama.

BuyOrganicCoffee.org: Useful Coffee Insights and Information for Coffee Lovers

At BuyOrganicCoffee.org we observe the world of coffee. We write about the world of coffee. And, we try to provide you, our readers, with information you need regarding coffee, and coffee-related products. Our hope and our goal are to help you find the coffee you want whether it is organic, Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, or just sustainably grown.

When you need accurate and insightful information about roasting coffee and coffee roasters, we will provide it on our site. Likewise, we will post reviews about other coffee-related products from time to time.

If you have a question about coffee, organic coffee, or the equipment needed to produce a great cup of coffee at home, please feel free to leave a comment on our site. We will get back to you and may even feature your question, and our answer, in one of our blogs!

How to Make Homemade Eggnog

Eggnog is a drink made from milk and cream, sugar, egg yolks, whipped egg whites, and distilled alcoholic beverages such as rum, brandy, bourbon, or whisky. The origins of this traditional Christmas-time beverage go back hundreds of years to “posset,” an English drink of ale, sugar, and milk.

Learn how to make homemade eggnog for Christmas.

Homemade Eggnog

The Evolution of Eggnog

Historians tell us that in the 1200’s English monks drank a posset containing figs and eggs. Possets were considered medicinal, as Shakespeare notes in Hamlet,

And with sudden vigour it doth posset,
And curd, like aigre [sour] droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood.

And, for pleasure as he notes in The Merry Wives Windsor,

Yet be cheerful knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house;
Where I will desire thee to laugh at my wife.

One of many variations of this drink, which included eggs, made it across the Atlantic with English settlers and became eggnog.

(British Food: a History)

Posset Goes to America and Becomes Eggnog

In England, only the wealthy could routinely afford the milks, eggs, sugar, and spirits necessary for a good posset. But America was full of farms and therefore eggs, milk, and cheap rum (from the Caribbean) were plentiful. The evolution of the name, eggnog, is uncertain but “nog” may have come from noggin which was a wooden cup or from “grog” which was a word for a strong beer. In any case, by the time of the American Revolution in the late 18th century, the word eggnog was used. And, one of the founders of American Independence, George Washington, left a recipe for eggnog.

One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, 1/2 pint rye whiskey, 1/2 pint Jamaica rum, 1/4 pint sherry-mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.

The father of our country left out the precise number of eggs but other recipes from that era used a dozen!

Besides leading the American colonies to independence, George Washington knew how to make homemade eggnog.

George Washington
President, Eggnog Lover

(Time: A Brief History of Eggnog)

Today eggnog is a traditional drink in the USA and Canada over the Christmas holidays. It has even caught on to a degree in Australia. In Venezuela and Trinidad “Ponche Crema” (cream punch) has been a popular yuletide drink for more than a hundred years. In North American and other locations, commercially made eggnog is typically available over the holidays. True aficionados of eggnog turn up their noses at “store-bought” eggnog as lacking in flavor due to not using enough eggs or liquor.

Eggnog at Christmas

Going back to the late Middle Ages, the wealthy in England drank their posset warm, in the winter, and as part of festivities and celebrations. When the drink jumped the pond to the Americas and came to be known as eggnog, it was still part of celebrations including the most important Christian celebration, Christmas. When you are making homemade eggnog at Christmas, you are following in a tradition that dates back hundreds of years.

How to Make Homemade Eggnog

Although you can certainly buy eggnog at the grocery store as the Christmas season approaches, you may not like it as much as a richer and more flavorful drink made at home. Here are some tips to help make your eggnog the best tasting and most memorable.

Egg Whites versus Whipping Cream

Eggnog recipes going back to the days of George Washington separated the egg yolks from the egg whites. Then they whipped the egg whites and folded them into the drink. Today many choose to use whipping cream as they find it easier to whip than egg whites. If you are unsure of how to whip egg whites, take a look at how Good Housekeeping does it.

How to Make Homemade Eggnog includes knowing how to make whipped egg whites.

Whipped Egg Whites for Making Homemade Eggnog

Adding Spirits to Eggnog

Higher proof spirits balance the sweetness of eggnog. And, the flavors in eggnog will overpower the more delicate aspects of premium liquor. So, your best bet is a higher proof but not the most expensive booze. Good choices for adding to eggnog are aged rum, rye, bourbon, Irish whiskey, brandy, or blended Scotch whiskey. And, if you want something special and different, consider adding a cordial such as a white chocolate liqueur, peppermint schnapps, or ginger liqueur.

(The Manual)

What Spices Do You Use with Eggnog?

Today a standard eggnog recipe typically contains nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, and clove. But, you are making the eggnog in your kitchen and you are in charge. So, you can also add shaved bittersweet chocolate or pumpkin puree. (Bustle) Or, you might try adding lemon zest and using buttermilk or going the Caribbean or South American route with toasted coconut flakes, coconut milk, and allspice. Another option is to add peanut butter and a little hazelnut liqueur for a “double nut” eggnog. (Serious Eats)

Although standard eggnog uses whipped egg whites, you can use some whipped cream instead of, or in addition to, the egg whites!

But, before trying a lot of variations on the eggnog theme, start by making standard eggnog and getting that right. Here is a basic home recipe.

Basic Eggnog Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • ½  to 1 ½ cups of bourbon, rum, or brandy
  • Nutmeg, freshly grated

Equipment:

  • Three mixing bowls
  • Whisk
  • Pitcher
  • Electric (or hand) mixer
  • Microplane or standard nutmeg grater

Preparation:

First: Separate the eggs, yolks into a medium bowl and whites into a large bowl. Cover the whites and put in the refrigerator until you are ready to whisk them and add to the eggnog.

Second: Add the sugar to the yolks and whisk or mix with a mixer until it is a lemon-yellow color and a creamy and smooth texture.

Third: Whisk in the milk, cream, and liquor if you are making an alcoholic version and continue whisking until well-combined.

Fourth: Cover the bowl and put in the refrigerator.

NOTE:

If you have not added alcohol you will need to use within a day
Add up to a cup of liquor and this mix will be good for several days
If you added a cup and a half of liquor, the mix will keep for several weeks and will thicken even more

Fifth: You will whisk the egg whites just before serving the eggnog. Mix until stiff peaks form on the top of the egg whites.

Sixth: Fold or gently stir the thickened egg whites into the bottom of the yolk mixture.

Seventh: Serve in individual glasses and sprinkle the grated nutmeg on top as a finishing touch.

(Kitchn)

Coffee Eggnog or Eggnog Coffee

Once you get the basics down for how to make homemade eggnog, one nice touch is to add a touch of freshly roasted, ground, and brewed coffee. Since eggnog can be served chilled or warm, you can either let the coffee cool a bit, or add hot coffee to the warm eggnog. Thus you have coffee eggnog.

And, you can add eggnog to coffee like you would cream, making eggnog coffee or go a step further and make eggnog latte!

Gourmet Coffee Brands

For many folks there is a good cup of coffee, OK coffee, or bad coffee. In the world of true coffee lovers there is good coffee or exceptional coffee. And, for the true connoisseur there is gourmet coffee, either regular or one of the organic coffee brands. Although there is USDA certified organic coffee there is no agency that certifies gourmet coffee brands.

 

Gourmet coffee brands do not have a seal proving what they are like USDA Organic Coffee Certification does for organic coffee

USDA Organic Coffee Certification

 

But, all gourmet coffees have several things in common. These coffees are all Arabica coffee varieties grown in volcanic soil in mountainous terrain. And a gourmet coffee has been carefully processed and quickly delivered to the consumer. No matter how good a roasted coffee was to begin with, it does not age like a fine wine. Old coffee is never gourmet coffee.

And, a gourmet coffee is freshly roasted, French roast or otherwise,  in a small batch, immediately ground, and brewed. Coffee starts to age the moment the contents of the roasted bean are exposed to the air. And ground coffee is really not gourmet because it has aged before it ever got to you.

Although we like to promote Fair Trade coffees, being fairly traded is not an issue with gourmet coffees as they have a following and charge plenty for their coffee.

All of this having been said, what are some specific gourmet coffee brands?

Gourmet Coffee Brands

  • Gesha coffee from Panama
  • Kopi Luwak from Indonesiae
  • El Injerto from Guatemala
  • Yauco Selecto AA from Puerto Rico
  • Kona from Hawaii
  • Blue Mountain from Jamaica
  • Several excellent coffees from Colombia

Gourmet Coffee Brands 1: Gesha from Panama

Gesha coffee is a Arabica variety that originated near a village of the same name in Ethiopia.

Gesha is an heirloom varietal. The seed stock is extremely pure. It has not been cross bred or altered. It is a faithful replica of the original seed stock from around Gesha, Ethiopia. The plant was tried in Central America in the 1950s because of its disease resistance.

Hacienda la Esmeralda is a coffee farm in Panama famous for its small plots of Gesha coffee.

Hacienda la Esmeralda gesha coffee has sold at auction for $100 a pound! There are a few other growers of gesha coffee in Honduras, Costa Rica and Colombia. A unique Gesha variety is called Santuario and sells typically for about $80 a pound.

 

Gourmet coffee brands like this gesha coffee from Panama can cost as much as $350 a pound

Very Expensive Gesha Coffee

 

Gourmet Coffee Brands 2: Kopi Luwak from Indonesia

This is perhaps the most expensive coffee in the world as noted by the website most expensive coffee! You may or may not like how this coffee comes to be but it is one of the gourmet coffee brands. The palm civet cat eats the choicest coffee berries.

During the digestion process the coffee cherries and the pulp are removed but the coffee beans are not digested. During this process some kind of unique fermentation occurs which is responsible for giving the civet coffee its special flavor.

The feces of the civet cat are collected and the coffee beans isolated and cleaned. The process may be unique but the coffee commands a high price of as much as $500 a pound!

Gourmet Coffee Brands 3: El Injerto from Guatemala

Finca El Injerto is a coffee farm in Guatemala. They have won multiple awards for their coffee. They are also proud of the fact that their operation has been certified as carbon neutral.

Our commitment with our coffee’s quality has earned us multiple awards, being acknowledged as one of the best 5 coffees in the world.

Gourmet Coffee Brands 4: Yauco Selecto AA from Puerto Rico

Yauco Select production is limited to about 3,000 bags. This coffee has been a gourmet favorite for years and years. The coffee culture on Puerto Rico goes back a quarter of a millenia!

Over 250 years ago, a few coffee trees were first introduced to the island of Puerto Rico. At the time, coffee was mostly a Caribbean crop in the new Continent.

This is also a gourmet coffee that you can order online.

Gourmet Coffee Brands 5: Kona from Hawaii

Kona coffee is a market name for one of the most expensive coffees in the world. This coffee is Arabica and cultivated on the Big Island of Hawaii. It grows on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona Districts.

Be careful when ordering this coffee online. Hawaii forbids any coffee not grown where Kona is grown to be labeled as Kona coffee. But you can find coffee from elsewhere that may even contain a few percent Kona beans being sold as 100% Kona coffee. Of course your first hint will be when you make coffee and get a bad taste. Make sure that what you order is grown, processed, and packaged in Hawaii!

Gourmet Coffee Brands 6: Blue Mountain from Jamaica

Like Kona coffee, Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica comes from a specific region of the island. And like Kona, there are several growers who produce coffee on Blue Mountain. And, all of them are expensive, running about $200 a pound. To avoid being scammed, order online from an estate like BaronHall to be sure you are getting genuine Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica.

Gourmet Coffee from Colombia

There are lots of excellent full body Arabica coffees from Colombia in South America. We wrote that what gourmet coffees have in common is volcanic soil in the mountains. And these coffees are grown by people who have lived the coffee culture for generations. This description fits most of the coffee grown in the Colombian coffee growing axis, the “Eje Cafetero.” Where good Colombian coffees differ from other gourmet coffees is in the price. You can afford to drink gourmet coffee from Colombia every day.

We also noted that no matter how good a coffee is, it will not age well. Coffee is not a fine wine that gets better on the shelf. So, do you want to take advantage of one or more of the excellent gourmet coffee brands from Colombia? If so why not buy Arabica coffee directly from Colombia?

The folks who contacted us about coffee from Colombia ranged from people who were simply interested in Colombian coffee to roasters across the globe who were interested in prices and the specifics of getting bulk wholesale green coffee beans shipped from Colombia. With our readers’ and clients’ questions in mind here is some useful information about our business connecting Colombian Arabica coffee growers to coffee lovers everywhere.

A Word about Juan Valdez

Maybe you will just pass on paying $200 a pound for coffee. You can still find good Colombian coffee at your local supermarket. To make sure that it is 100% Colombian coffee look for the guy with his buro on the package. This is Juan Valdez and his buro, Conchita.

The Juan Valdez name was invented by the Colombian Coffee Growers Association in the middle of the 20th century. When you see Juan on the label it means you are getting 100% Colombian coffee.

And if you want the freshest green or roasted Colombian coffee contact us at BuyOrganicCoffee.org. We will have our suppliers in Juan’s country send the coffee directly to you.

 

Gourmet coffee brands in Colombia may be just as good and not nearly so expensive as the $300 a pound variety

Arabica Coffee from Colombia

Fair Trade Coffee

What is Fair Trade coffee? Where does it come from and who makes it? Is it organic coffee or is it a gourmet coffee brand? Is Fair Trade a good cup or coffee or just an expensive one?

Fair Trade Coffee

The idea behind Fair Trade coffee is provide a price floor for small scale coffee farmers for their coffee. The FairTrade.org.uk website writes about coffee farmers and the beginnings of the Fair Trade idea.

Fairtrade was started in response to the dire struggles of Mexican coffee farmers following the collapse of world coffee prices in the late 1980s. With Fairtrade, certified coffee producer organisations are guaranteed to receive at least the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their coffee, which aims to cover their costs of production and act as a safety net when market prices fall below a sustainable level. Through their producer organisations, farmers also receive the additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community improvements.

The coffee bean is subject to the same swings as other agricultural commodities and farmers cannot simply cease coffee production until prices recover. Fair Trade tries to protect their small farmers and farmers cooperatives from ruin during down times.

 

To achieve the benefits of fair trade coffee look for the Fair Trade International Logo

Fair Trade International Logo

 

Small Coffee Farms Help by Fair Trade

The coffee market is huge and worldwide but the majority of coffee is produced on small coffee farms by the small producer or cooperative. None of these growers have the pricing power to gain a better market share or better price. They are largely at the mercy of a global supply chain. And the profits increase as one ascends the supply chain away from the coffee farmer.

Fair Trade Coffee Helps Smooth Out Boom and Bust Cycles

When there is a good year more coffee is produced that can be sold at reasonable prices. But, at the same time the costs of the small coffee farmer do not change. The situation in Mexico in the 1980’s was just one example of the boom and bust cycles that can devastate both small and large coffee farmers. A price guarantee for Fair Trade coffee helps farmers survive when the price of coffee falls.

A Unique Product and Supply Chain

We have written about gourmet coffee brands and have noted that these folks have well known brands and do not have a problem selling their product and making money. This is the situation that Fair Trade wants to copy. To do this they help coffee farmers take care of their land and grow better coffee. And they market their product to coffee drinkers as coffee that is good to drink and good for the coffee farmer.

But, to sell Fair Trade coffee it has to pass through the supply chain to the coffee roaster and to you. Thus there are Fair Trade certified growers and coffee roasters.

More Than Just Coffee

Coffee is not unique in being produced by small farms and being subject to boom and bust cycles. So, as Fair Trade has grown it has included bananas, chocolate, cotton, flowers, sugar, tea and many other commodities to its list of Fair Trade products.

Fair Trade Coffee versus Organic Coffee

Is fair trade coffee the same as healthy organic coffee? When does fair trade coffee differ from organic coffee and when are they the same thing? Fair Trade certification is not the same as USDA organic coffee certification. However, there are certified organic coffees produced by Fair Trade farmers. And Fair Trade coffee farmers learn and apply sustainable agricultural practices. So, much of Fair Trade coffee is organic coffee in fact even if it is not certified. Fair Trade coffee farmers learn to avoid synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and other chemical that get into the coffee and linger in the soil and water table. Unfortunately, to be certified as organic, a grower needs to have their soil tested and have in place a verified plan for every practice and procedure starting with planting and including crop maintenance, harvest, de-husking, bagging, and transport. And at all times organic coffee must separated from non-organic coffee to avoid cross contamination. This is simply too expensive and difficult for a small and subsistence coffee farmer to do.

Does Anyone Else Follow the Fair Trade Coffee Model?

We have written about both UTZ and Rainforest Alliance. Both of these organizations follow a plan similar to that of Fair Trade. They teach small coffee growers how to farm better and they help the farmer get a better price for his or her coffee. These organizations are also concerned about child labor practices and childhood education. Both of them also deal with a wide variety of food products and not just coffee.

 

Rainforest Alliance has a system similar to the Fair Trade coffee approach to supporting small farmers

Rainforest Alliance

 

Where Does the Money Go with Fair Trade Coffee?

Fair Trade coffee is a wonderful idea but does this system achieve its stated goals? An article in The Guardian discussed not so fair trade. It wonders if enough of the money brought in by Fair Trade prices goes back to farmers in developing countries.

Economist Paul Collier argues that Fairtrade effectively ensures that people “get charity as long as they stay producing the crops that have locked them into poverty”. Fairtrade reduces the incentive to diversify crop production and encourages the utilisation of resources on marginal land that could be better employed for other produce. The organisation also appears wedded to an image of a notional anti-modernist rural idyll. Farm units must remain small and family run, while modern farming techniques (mechanisation, economies of scale, pesticides, genetic modification etc) are sidelined or even actively discouraged.

Part of the problem is that they need to sell Fair Trade coffee at a bit of a premium in order send money back to farmers. But the advertising and promotional costs cut into available revenues. There appears to be a tightrope that these folks need to walk in order to fulfill their mission.

Where Can You Get Fair Trade Coffee?

One easy place to try a cup of Fair Trade coffee is your local Starbucks. 100% of their espresso roast is Fair Trade coffee. However, Starbucks is not 100% Fair Trade. Rather they say that their coffee is “ethically sourced.”

An offshoot organization in the USA is Fair Trade America. Their website lists where you can get Fair Trade coffee. These sources include both coffee shops where you can walk in for a cup and online sources as well. A competing USA organization is Fair Trade USA. They have a similar set up and purpose.

 

Fair Trade America provides Fair Trade coffee to customers and benefits to its coffee farmers

Fair Trade America Logo