Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Coffee Break: A Global Addiction

 So first off, no, Fridays will not be devoted to coffee. However, I managed to miss International Coffee Day on 29 September (because obviously we need a day for something in order to celebrate and enjoy it...). And while I don't pay quite as much attention to coffee as certain other tropical commodity crops (...chocolate...), it seemed like a good time to insert some coffee tidbits on the blog. 

In case you need a quick refresher, coffee is grown within a narrow latitudinal band around the equator, in approximately 70 countries. The "cherries" of the coffee plant, so the fruits and seeds, are roasted, ground, and brewed into the beverage you likely know and potentially love. Depending on the specific varietal of coffee 'tree', one can produce anywhere from a pound to three of coffee beans per year, though the relationship is negative between quantity and quality. 

As the world's most widely traded agricultural commodity, coffee is both a globally-important economic driver and a globally-significant force for people and the environment. In fact, despite being a non-nutritive food substance (read: it's not really going to provide calories or macro/micronutrients), over 400 billion cups are consumed each year, and the U.S. manages to be the most buzzed by importing about 1/3 of all coffee exports! For how different countries consume this beverage, take a look at this fantastic little infographic on coffee around the world!

Finally, putting on your sustainability-coloured glasses, coffee has not only a large social impact but a sizable ecological and hydrological footprint, as well. One standard 125 ml cup of coffee requires 140 litres of water...let me repeat, LITRES. This embedded water we often refer to as "virtual water," which is insightful when thinking about the costs associated with a product that are not immediately visible. Coffee is also one of the crops most often associated with certifications such as fair trade (which is social and not necessarily environmental) or shade-grown/organic/Rainforest Alliance. Because there is a history of unfair labor practices, deforestation, and pollution associated with the commodity, and a growing threat from climate change to long-term production, such standards are seen as beneficial and increasingly being employed.

Worldwide we may have this addiction to coffee, though in what way and how much is consumed varies drastically regionally and even within segments of societies. But regardless of one's coffee affinity, it is interesting to think that a cup of what is sometimes called 'liquid gold' is so loaded. It is filled not only with a roasted, ground, and brewed tropical berry, but the environmental, social, and economic weights that exist with many of our most coveted commodity crops. And on that note, I better drink my coffee before it gets cold!

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