How do you like your coffee?

Over the weekend was International Coffee Day. Who doesn’t love a cup of joe?

Growing up, we were a tea drinking household as I have Indian roots and born in the UK. Coffee was something my mum drank, occasionally, if we were out. I was neither much of a tea or coffee drinker. Again, during a Starbucks outing I’d opt for a tasty sweet, caramel-filled coffee drink. However, much later I took on the humble job of Barista, where I was opened to the world of coffee. Not only the magic black liquid, wake-me-up in a cup, but learning about where it grows, how it is selected, lives of coffee growing communities mainly located in Africa, Latin America and Asia within the coffee belt. I also learned about different roasting processes and techniques, and the darker the roast, the less caffeine it contains (contrary to what we think darker stronger, more caffeine!). Then of course, preparation and serving coffee with a standard set of ingredients and equipment. And finally, combining coffee with milk and sugars to perfect your morning latte or cappuccino.

Having lived in different countries, I’ve had different ‘coffee’ experiences. The USA has its coffee culture, with Friends-like meet up spot, coffee shops, Starbucks and now competing and up and coming small coffee shops. I could sit for hours refilling a coffee and working on a research paper or assignment.

In Peru, I lived in a small community where coffee was grown. It was not the staple product, so occasionally, there was no coffee. I know, I was in shock too! How could there be no coffee this morning? Well, like many other agricultural products, coffee being one, the climate, the land and other environmental factors can affect production. More on that in a bit.

Next, off to the Dolce Vita in Italy, where coffee is served at the bar, literally ordering and consuming standing at a bar counter with others crowded around. This was my pre-commute breakfast ritual in Rome – get to the station with 10 minutes to spare, order a cappuccino and a cornetto (not ice cream, but a croissant-like sweet bread). It took a while to leave behind the sitting down to a big mug coffee and morning paper ritual. In Italy, it was just a quick expresso shot, with maybe a bit of milk, and done! Or a cappuccino (which the rule is you can only order before noon).

Now in France, also good coffee, and coffee shop culture, not quite like the US, but more so than Italy. Nothing is rushed, no one shouting out ‘double tall non-fat, non-whip mocha’. For accompaniment, I’ve traded the sweet cornetto for a flaky, buttery croissant.

The concerning part of the story is the Peru portion. Whether we like to believe it or not, coffee could be in crisis. I recently received a newsletter from Conservational International outlining the idea that while coffee consumption is rising, production is suffering. The situation could be worse in the future if we don’t tackle certain challenges now.

Conservation International created the Sustainable Coffee Challenge Campaign to draw attention to the issue, raise money and has created an action network to address challenges in the coffee sector. The four areas of focus are:

  1. Scaling Up Sustainable Coffee Sourcing
  2. Coffee Farm Renovation and Rehabilitation
  3. Improved Labor Practices and Supply
  4. Mapping & Monitoring of Coffee and Forests

Featured companies, like Starbucks and McDonald’s are involved, as well as governments of coffee-producing countries. Furthermore, initiatives like the International Coffee Day over the weekend, are also aiming to bring attention to coffee. It was sponsored by the International Coffee Organization, the main intergovernmental organization for coffee, bringing together exporting and importing governments to tackle the challenges facing the world coffee sector through international cooperation. Its Member governments represent 98% of world coffee production and 83% of world consumption.

How do you like your coffee? Could you live without it? If not, what steps would you be willing to take to help make a difference in the coffee crisis?