Every morning that Nora doesn’t have to open, we sit and drink coffee. It isn’t a ritual thing, or even really an activity that we do together – right now she’s enjoying her coffee and I’m writing while we occasionally say something to each other. Nora drinks coffee every morning. Sunday morning rolls around and, because the sermon is never complete early, I need that cup of coffee to not be yawning throughout the service. A nice cup of fauxspresso and Irish creme is…well, it’s just heaven.
We love coffee. I honestly can say that I think I am better for having acquired the taste for coffee. There are three things to have conversations over – food, beer (or whiskey), and coffee – and not having one of those three in my back pocket would have made the conversations I’ve had over the last 4 years less. Period.
Have you ever offered a coffee drinker a cup of coffee when they had none? It is amazing how much that cup of coffee can warm that person, both physically and emotionally. I don’t remember where I picked this up, but I firmly believe that you can any knowledge of a person you want if you just offer them the comforting drink of their choice that isn’t alcohol-based; for coffee drinkers, and especially caffeine addicts, a cup of coffee will more usefully loosen a tongue than a bottle of bourbon or vodka.
My grandfather went downtown every day until the day he died and had coffee with all of the other old farmers from Battle Creek. It was at the gas station, but either the coffee price went up or they took out most of the booths so they changed to one of the bars. Then for some reason that didn’t work out so they moved to a small collectible shop across the street that basically served coffee and sweets so they would have a place to drink coffee and eat sweets in the morning. And they did until many of them had passed.
My grandpa was at a funeral the day before he died and someone snapped a picture of him drinking a cup of coffee; even now, ten years after we lost him, my grandma still has that picture taped to the wall and she still has coffee with him.
Coffee is a part of life for a lot of people. I’m not talking about a mochafrapaccinolatte (yup, made that up) concoctions that mask all of the coffee taste; I’m talking about a pot of drip coffee, milk and sugar for those who want, sitting around talking. Growing up, after church on Sunday, the kids went upstairs for Sunday School and the adults went downstairs and drank coffee. The coffee pot in the seminary lounge had the worst coffee imaginable and yet there was always a group of people talking and preparing their coffee right before and in-between every class.
There is something about the warmth, the bitterness, and the ritual around it that just brings people together. It’s an intangible, something I can’t put my finger on, but it’s there. Coffee brings people together.
(Note before I continue: I’m not a coffee-elitist. Tea is wonderful, as well. As is hot chocolate. Mmmmmm, hot chocolate. I just one, grew up in a coffee-culture, and two, find drip coffee in coffee mugs to be a unique part of our culture. Other parts of the country, and other parts of the world, probably have their own thing that has the same effect coffee has on people in rural Iowa and much of the United States.)
As wonderful as coffee is, and it is wonderful, it has a serious dark side to it. Big, multinational growers of coffee had harmed people in the name of cheap coffee. People have been killed, have been starved, have been hurt just to make cheap, bulk coffee. I’m not a social justice warrior of any sort and I really understand how money works for people who are without, but there was a point that I had to be honest with myself and align my consumption with my beliefs. I can’t remember when it was, but I remember drinking a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, enjoying the taste quite a lot, and then thinking, “Someone has hurt to make the situation correct for this cup of coffee to be placed in my hands.” And mind you, Dunkin Donuts coffee isn’t a cheap brand of grind, either; more ethical coffee costs a bit more, but it isn’t cheap like a store-brand grind. It just struck me that I was participating in hurting people, and for a cup of coffee that was good but cheap(er).
I didn’t get perfect right away; it took me a bit to get to that point where I drink mostly ethical coffee. You will still occasionally find cheap, store-band coffee in our fridge. We aren’t perfect, and I will still get a cup of coffee at a restaurant without asking about it’s sourcing, but I am trying to help the situation. I am trying align my love of coffee with my love of humanity and doing the small part that I can to help people who are being hurt for coffee.
So what do we do? I’m not a huge proponent of Fair Trade because, though I agree with the philosophy and the goal completely, I’m not sure I agree with the practices nor the price of certification. I will never look down at someone who has switched to Fair Trade because every ethical option helps but that isn’t the route I’ve been following. Instead, I’m a huge fan of a couple of smaller outfits who aren’t certified but do a lot of good.
The first one is Justo Cafe/Just Coffee. What I love about this is that everything – growing, roasting, and distribution – benefits the actual people in the area. It’s also organic and shade grown, which is good for the Earth and not just her people. And it’s good coffee; the preaching professor gave us a bag for class and it was quite fantastic. In honesty, learning about this coffee really planted the seed to start drinking ethical coffee in me and guided me into wanting to change my plans.
The second is More Than Coffee. There are a lot of groups that have this name; the one I am talking about is at http://www.morethancoffee.info. The coffee itself is delicious, sourced from Ethiopia, and the farmers are treated as well or better than Fair Trade farmers are. In terms of ethics, they are solid. What is cool about this group, though, is that the profits are put back into helping the orphans and widows of Ethiopia. What is even cooler is that I actually got to meet the woman who started it, know people who work with them personally, and I can attest to their love of God and love of helping people. I have faith in the goodness of people who do these things, but knowing the people who do this makes it the obvious choice for us in our coffee drinking.
Their Ethiopian Delight is also the only coffee I have ever had that stopped me in my tracks with how delicious it was. It is just amazing coffee.
Do I think these are the only good options for ethical coffee? No, absolutely not. I just know about them and have done research into them. What I’m saying here is that you should know where your coffee comes from, know how the growers are treated, and find coffee that aligns with the second greatest commandment – Love your neighbor as yourself – and isn’t a selfish choice for you. Just do a bit of research and find a brand that you feel is doing good instead of harm in the name of coffee.
Small choices, small actions by everyone change the world. This is a small thing you can do.