What Can Specialty Coffee Accomplish?

By Peter Giuliano

As we all know, coffee is a uniquely global product. Grown only within the tropics and typically consumed outside of them, coffee is one of the rare luxuries that transcends boundaries and cultures.

This unique element creates a deeply, completely global industry where we regularly use names and words from a number of different languages. We also tend to feel we are on a first-name basis with coffee producers half a globe away, and spend an unprecedented amount of time and resources interacting with the entire supply chain, from barista to roaster to coffee buyer to farmer.

However, it is likely to be immediately obvious to everyone that conditions are not uniform throughout the vast network of coffee. The nations where coffee is produced are largely still developing. Many face serious socio-political and human issues including hunger, disease and deprivation. The ironies abound: a luxury crop grown in places where luxuries are few; coffee as the fuel of the progressive movement, produced in a system that sometimes echoes a colonialist past; a beverage that is extolled as one of the great culinary experiences but is produced as a mere cash crop by many. These ironies lead to some stark realities: food insecurity—a polite phrase for hunger and a problem that has largely been solved in developed countries—is still widespread in the developing nations where much of our coffee is grown. Preventable diseases such as malaria still affect many of these same countries.

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