December 18, 2011

Coffee: My Story? or Theirs? ..The Ultimate Coffee Guide.

My Story

Black as the devil, Hot as hell, Pure as an angel, Sweet as love."~Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

I remember the times when I used to accompany mom around Beirut , in buying grocery from local shops, known in Lebanese as “dekkaneh”. Supermarkets back then weren’t ubiquitous. I used to nag about the fact  that she would take me from shop to another till she finds that secret ingredient for the food that she wants to cook, or that special butchery that offers delicate meat..  But the only favorite part I used to get excited about was entering the Coffee Roaster. Just smelling the aroma of the bean roasting was the only thing that would shut me up.  “Bin maa’ Heil” (. (Or coffee with cardamom) shouts my mom to the vendor over the machine. The picture in my head is pure : I stand below the machine , watch the vendor weighing the beans in a stainless steel bowl.  I hear the beans hitting the stainless steel bowl, then the beans are devoured by the grinder. And here all the heavenly aromas are released.

She was ordering the Levant coffee which is based on the Turkish brewing method, and widely spread in Lebanon and Syria. This Turkish coffee is either roasted with cardamom or stays plain (qahwah sādah) according to the buyer’s taste.
Turkish coffee  served by Mom for her neighbors or visitors was a daily habit. As I a grew older, I was allowed to drink the Turkish coffee, especially if I had exams during my high school years and I needed to overnight.

During the holy month of  Ramadan , and as a Saudi Arabian tradition dictates, mom  prepares the Arabic coffee ( made from green beans) after every fasting. It brings sooth after breaking the fast and eases digestion.Arabic coffeem makes its appearance in our house during more “ethnic” holidays such as Ramadan and Eid..Humans are indeed creatures of habits.
This  Arabic coffee is characterized with the overwhelming aroma and flavor of cardamom, and sometimes other spices like saffron that usually gives it a golden color,  as well as the odors of cloves, and sometimes cinnamon. It is  mostly served with dates for the sugary taste, because sugar can’t be added to the coffee.

Dates & arabic Coffee
Arabic Coffee drank in Najd area mostly

Coffee making is an alchemy by itself ; millions of varieties, different blends, distinct flavors , added ingredients like milk, chocolate,cream…etc  ( Check this interesting  infographic ) and even coffee choice depends on each one's taste (Coffee Matching according to  taste : Coffee Matching)

But that’s not the whole story here. This is just my story. Coffee roasters aren’t wide spread anymore like a decade ago, coffee was replaced by vacuum packaged bags that can be just grabbed from any supermarket. There is no roasting. There is no overwhelming smell. The magic has gone.
And if one would analyze the reason behind this,it is because of the rise of prices of coffee.
The fresh roasted coffee mom bought costed only few dollars per kilogram, whereas  now the kilograms costs atleast 20 dollars!
Blame it on the oil prices, blame it on  global policies. Blame it on the industry. The coffee prices will continue to soar! But are coffee farmers gaining wealth with all this soar?

From now,  I will talk about the story of the coffee beans from the farmers point of view. It is their story...

Their Story

History of the Coffee:
The history of coffee making  has been for so long . There was a  legend that say : “An Arabian shepherd named Kaldi found his goats dancing joyously around a dark green leafed shrub with bright red cherries in the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.  Kaldi soon determined that it was the bright red cherries on the shrub that were causing the peculiar euphoria and after trying the cherries himself, he learned of their powerful effect.  The stimulating effect was then exploited by monks at a local monastery to stay awake during extended hours of prayer and distributed to other monasteries around the world.  Coffee was born.” ( Adapted from the International Coffee Organization)

And so coffee kicked off in Arabia,  where roasted beans were first brewed around A.D. 800. By the 13th century Muslims were drinking coffee religiously. The “bean broth” drove dervishes into orbit, kept worshippers awake, and splashed over into secular life. And so coffee acommpanied muslims wherever they  went: North Africa , Middle East, and India. After it reached the Turks, Italians  made their own coffee. And so it became a drink for the Europeans , each city with its own blend. . And from Europe , coffee crossed the Atlantic Ocean to reach America in 1720.
By 1800 Brazil’s  huge harvests turned coffee from an elite indulgence to an everyday elixir, a drink for the people. ( From the thorough guide about Coffee by The National Geographic)

Coffee Bean Varieties: 
Coffee beans are all grown in the equatorial region and they can either be : Arabica, or Robusta.

  • Robusta grows at lower altitudes, such as  Western and Central Africa (Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Uganda, Angola, etc.) , Malaysia (Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Java, etc.) , Brazil and India. It accounts for about 30% of world production. Robusta has a stronger flavour than arabica with a full body and a woody aftertaste which is useful in creating blends and especially useful in instant coffee.
  • Arabica grows at higher altitudes,has a lower yield and less caffeine content (0.8 to 1.4%) it is widely recognized to be superior to robusta. Arabica accounts for about 70% of world production, although only about 10% of this yields "grand cru" beans. Arabica has a delicate acidic flavor, a refined aroma and a caramel aftertaste.
    Arabica is mainly grown in the following regions: Central America (Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama) South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina) , India , Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique) and Papua New Guinea.
Tip: A cheaper blends usually is made up of  a higher proportion of robusta compared to arabica. While  high quality blends use a small quantity of the very best robusta beans to give body and character to the blends, particularly in espresso blends
( check the Best Coffee Beans in the world  and  know the quality of the coffee you are drinking )

Coffee Sales/Production :

  1. Coffee statistics show that coffee is the most popular beverage worldwide with over 400 billion cups consumed each year. 
  2. The coffee industry statistics show that only 20% of harvested coffee beans are considered to be a premium bean of the highest quality.
  3. Coffee market statistics show that coffee is grown commercially in over 45 countries around the world.
  4. Remarkably, Yemen is the only Arab country producing cofffee . See list of  coffee producing countries and the amount:  
  5. Coffee trade statistics show that over 5 million people in Brazil are employed by the coffee trade.
  6. Specialty coffee sales are increasing by 20% per year and account for nearly 8% of the 18 billion dollar just in the U.S. coffee market.
  7. World Production of coffee is still increasing from year 2000 up till now due to the increase in demand : from 122 thousand bags to 134 thousand bag

Coffee Prices Fluctuates in the Same Month
*For more trade statistics .

Remember the " Ground Truth" :
 We realized from the above that: demand for coffee is increasing, the production is also increasing, as well as the prices, profits are increasing so the farmers are also paid more. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Farmers around the world are still underpaid despite all this increase in prices and production.
The coffee chain is indeed complicated and needs a thorough analysis from an economist not a food scientist like me.
But there is a simple question : We pay 5 dollars for your coffee in  our favorite coffee shop but have we ever  wondered how much from this 5$ is going to the farmer??
We are actually  paying 50 times more than what they are actually getting for their labor in harvesting, according to Oxfam.
And while coffee farmers are working each day for ensuring that we get the best coffee bean for our drink, are we being fair to them in return? Are big companies being fair??? I dont think so.

Oxfam international has been raising campaigns to defend farmer's right for fair payment and supporting their union trade. So, negotiations between companies and the farmers are still ongoing .
But till a legitimate situation is reached, farmers are living in a distressful situation; they cant put their children in schools, they cant afford eating each day and feeding their families. This is the bitter taste of Coffee !!!

Black Gold: This documentary has captured the dilemma of the coffee farmer: how to get a fair price for quality coffee in a market that is set up only to make money for powerful international traders in cities far from the farm.”. See the trailer.
Black Gold follows Tadesse Meskela, the leader of an Ethiopian coffee cooperative, on his travels through Africa and around the world seeking a fair price for the coffee grown by cooperative members before they are forced to declare bankruptcy. Meskela travels to London and Seattle in an attempt to find a coffee buyer willing to pay a fair price, while the film documents the enormous power of world coffee traders and the double-dealing of trade ministers during World Trade Organization talks.

Do Coffee Shops Support Coffee Farmers?? 

To answer this question, I checked the websites of the world's most famous coffee shops

1. Dunkin Donuts:  has a  Corporate Social Responsibilty section on its websites for people ( including farmers) , the  planet,  and neighborhoods. But how do they support farmers.
In their report:  In 2004, Dunkin’ Donuts partnered with Fair  Trade USA to begin purchasing Fair Trade 
Certified™ coffee for espresso. Dunkin’ Donuts was the first national brand to sell a full line of espresso beverages made exclusively  with 100% Fair Trade Certified™ coffee. Their Fair Trade purchases help farmers and their  families earn a better income, hold onto their land, keep their children in school and invest in the quality of their harvest. As of December 31, 2010, DD purchased 25,893,440 pounds of 
Fair Trade Certified™ coffee and delivered $1,877,640 dollars in premiums back to farming communities, impacting an  estimated 30,000 people annually.

2. Gloria Jeans:  They do support humanitarian cases , but I couldnt find how they support farmers and whether their coffee is fair traded. 

3. Caribou Coffee: They also have their own Corporate social responsibility and sustainability  for Coffee bean farmers:
" Caribou Coffee supports the ongoing and sustainable production of coffee. For every pound of coffee we buy, we allocate funds to support socially responsible initiatives in coffee-producing communities.
With our help, our communities are able to: Build clinics,finance schools, invest in reforestation efforts
and support water-cleaning programs"

4. Starbucks: "Responsibly grown, ethically traded coffee means working with farmers to produce coffee in ways that help provide benefits to their business, their communities and the environment." is what was stated on their website.
But this full report, shows exactly how they are doing it and the goals they want to reach in 2015.
They aim for ethical sources, and they are increasing Farmers' loans program! But are these loans fair??
I mean they are giving farmers money as a loan , not increasing their salaries or not getting them paid higher!
Starbucks has to be kidding me .

5. Cafe Younes is a  Lebanese Coffee shop . In their shop, they say that their coffee is fair traded in Ethiopia. But  they dont mention anything related to this on their website.
They need to add a " Social Responsibility" section.

6. AlRifai Roastery:  one of the oldest and prominent  Lebanese roasteries  and has around 100 branches in the Middle east. However, it doesnt state either the source of the coffee on its website. Also the social responsibity section need to be added.

Pearl's Powder : The Aim  from this post is to raise awareness every time you want to have a cup of coffee. I want the  readers to remember those hardworking farmers, salute them , pray for them ,  question the company selling coffee,  make them reshare this post, and even  lobby if they can for defending their rights and raise their voices to the politicians.
A small step,  will sure make a difference for those farmers :) 

More Interesting Links:
  • The best 50 Coffee Shops from the Independent 
  • If you are a brand owner of coffee, and you want to design your own coffee.
  • Will Coffee get extinct? Apparently YES! Check this news from CBS and Guardian.
  • Nutritional Facts about Coffee and Nutrionatl benefits about Coffee in reducing cardiovascular diseases, liver cancer, and type 2 diabetes. 
  • Licensed Dietician Patricia from Paty M's Nutrition World world claims that coffee is actually a 2 edged sword. In moderation, 1-2 cups tops per day, much benefits are being found in various diseases but as the cups increase per day, association with diseases is increasing. So there's actually a thin line between its benefits and damaging effects. )
  • Coffee Game for Schools:  How to tell students about fair traded coffee. 

Bon Appetite!


  1. Amazing and a much needed post! beautifully tackled!

  2. heheheh thank you Paty!
    Though I would Love your input about its health benefits! Was searching in ur blog for any advise :):)

  3. coffee is actually a 2 edged sword. In moderation, 1-2 cups tops per day, much benefits are being found in various diseases but as the cups increase per day, association with diseases is increasing. So there's actually a thin line between its benefits and damaging effects. Will sure write a post about it soon :)

  4. Thank you! I will add it below in the references section!!!

  5. i never thought of it in this way, good job

  6. Thank you Joseph ! I hope I am able to reach my aim!

  7. Very interesting post :)
    Although I really hate the taste of turkish coffee, the aroma is so intoxicating!
    Ps. hehe my mom used to make me go around the dekkenehs as well, she sometimes still does it :P

  8. haahah Aline! :):) its all about Taste! :)
    I ll make u some day the Arabic coffee !

    Why do moms do this to us??? I m sure one day will be doing this to our children :P:P

  9. wow very wonderful coffee facts, thanks for linking me!

  10. Thanks for the comment! :)
    Gr8 that you enjoyed them!