Today’s Santa Barbara Independent published one of the more informed, and hence balanced, views of Fair Trade coffee I’ve seen in the past year: The Santa Barbara Independent :: cover story :: Bean Counting. By choosing Fair Trade coffee, you’re essentially outsourcing your ethical decisions to a third party proxy. All is well and good if that third party complies with your interests and intentions. But world economics never turns out to be all that simple.
Complicating matters further is a recent USDA ruling that, according to Salon, could eliminate virtually all small scale and family farms from qualifying for an organic designation in the U.S. market: Is this the end of organic coffee? | Salon Life. With new government requirements for annual inspections of all co-ops to qualify for the organic label, the increased certification costs may be too prohibitive for smaller producers.
Although smaller doesn’t necessarily mean better, it’s becoming clear that designations such as organic and Fair Trade are no longer tools for recognizing and supporting high quality family farms and small producers — which is how some original proponents envisioned these labels. The corporate co-option of these labels is becoming so complete that they may soon be more effective as promotional tools for mass producers than they will be for the little guys.
As much as I don’t like the overly simplistic wine analogy for coffee, the wine snobs are starting to pay their respects to coffee — and the over 1,300 aromatic and flavor compounds it offers more than wine. The latest example comes from the UK: New Consumer | News | Wine taster Angela Mount and Percol coffee join forces.
The wine snob in question is Angela Mount, former chief wine buyer for the upscale UK supermarket, Somerfield. A few years ago, Ms. Mount famously had her taste buds insured for £10m (about $20 million). After working for 15 years on Sumerfield’s wine buying team, last month she opted for the new challenge of coffee at the UK’s award-winning and enviro/ethical touchy-feely Percol.
Last month I mentioned an article on David Lebovitz’s site regarding his recent training at Illy‘s Università del caffè in Trieste, Italy. David is a professionally trained pastry chef and writer, and recently he’s taken up a bit of an obsession with quality home espresso production. (Sound familiar?)
Today his site features an article and “Top 8″ list I wrote for his audience on taking home espresso to the next level: David Lebovitz: Delving Deeper Into Coffee.
Last Thursday, the Chicago Tribune published an article on Ethiopia and its intimate relationship with coffee — both as a producing and a consuming nation: Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee | Chicago Tribune. The Tribune also published a related photo gallery and a brief history of the bean and beverage.
However, that an article on the Ethiopian economy wound up in the paper’s “Entertainment” section is another question entirely — particularly since it was published well before April Fool’s.