Today is #nationalcoffeeday here in the USA, so obviously we have to talk a little bit about coffee...the worlds favorite beverage. But instead of sharing another coffee recipe, which I am sure you will see plenty of today, or yet another round-up of where you can run to for your free cup of coffee, I want to talk to you about coffee cultures around the world, and how it plays into your own daily life.
how much coffee do we drink around the world every year?
Here in the United States we spend roughly $18 billion every year on coffee. Let me repeat that again $18 billion!! Americans alone consume 136 billion cups of coffee each year, with the average American drinking roughly 3 cups per day, and spending on average $1100 annually.
Worldwide it is estimated that we drink more than 500 billion cups of coffee annually, with the United States coming in as the second largest importer of coffee beans, right after the European Union, which accounts for more than 40 percent of all the worlds coffee beans.
But where does all this coffee come from?
Well more than 90% of the coffee we drink and enjoy is produced and exported from developing countries. But with an industry that has so much worldwide popularity, and results in so much volume and profit...why are the economies and laborers not benefiting further? The coffee industry employees more than 100 million people worldwide, many of whom live and work in developing countries with the top exporters being:
Like I wrote about in a previous article there is a lot of good we as consumers could do for the people living and working in these many developing countries, by simply focusing on where our coffee comes from, the process that got it to us, and the livelihoods of the people involved.
The more demand there is for coffee produced in a way that has social integrity and supports both positive environmental and global health outcomes, the more change will occur in this industry. If you want to read all about my thoughts on how to support a better, fairer, safer coffee trade check out this post and get inspired.
coffee and culture
Recently there has been this trend towards making coffee another form of "superfood" in our daily diets. We need to add butter, or MCT oil, collagen, or mushroom powder to help "elevate" our morning coffee into something that will help "elevate" our health.
Honestly, if you absolutely light up for a cup of bullet proof coffee and that is the way you find yourself enjoying coffee best in your life then go for it. BUT I would argue that if you are adding a whole of bunch of things to your coffee because instagram says so, maybe we should think through this a little bit more. Because really when it comes down to it, what is the point of coffee in your life? Why do you drink it? How do you enjoy it? Do you even enjoy it?
After living and working in Italy, Guatemala, Palestine, and here in the United States I have watched how coffee culture varies so drastically, and I'm not going to lie...I think here in the USA we are doing it all wrong.
So let me bring you through my experiences in these other countries and then lets talk about that Venti Double Shot With Two Pumps of Syrup and a packet of Collagen TO-GO please.
I may be biased because I am also an Italian Citizen (I have dual citizenship between the USA and Italy) but is there anything in regards to food and drink that Italians don't get right? I cant think of anything, but you let me know if you do. When it comes to Italians and coffee, the two are just a match made in heaven, they are both bold and full of flavor, which comes as no surprise that Italians like their coffee strong!
Don't even think about ordering a cup of coffee to-go, or you will be sure to get some Italian attitude from the barista. Espresso is the Italian version of a to-go coffee, so if you need it on-the-go then you should probably get on-board with throwing a shot back. Otherwise, Italians love to enjoy their coffee with friends or a book in the morning, and by the way if you want a cappuccino you best order it in the AM, Italians don't drink these "breakfast" coffee's in the afternoon, when the only thing that should be added to your coffee is some liquor.
Living in Italy absolutely was what inspired my connection with coffee, and culture...and got me thinking about the way it fits into our lives. In Italy it really isn't relied on as an IV of energy (there is a siesta later for that), but instead is a necessary social part of every day. Since I truly believe that so much of our food should be about our connection to our environment and culture, the way Italians do coffee will always be the way for me.
After living in Italy, a few years later I also got to work and live in a Palestinian refugee camp working on addressing public health concerns within the camp, and improving communication between Israel and the West Bank around water security issues.
In the mornings at our home stay we would have the most incredible Arabic Tea, which was a highly sweetened mint tea that I simply couldn't get enough of. Then later in the day when we would be settling in for one of our meetings there would always be a pot of Arabic coffee placed at the center of the meeting table, and a member of the team would serve the coffee to each team member...then we could start our meeting.
While I am not going to pretend to enjoy Arabic coffee...if you have tried it you either love it or hate it, I did really respect the process of sharing coffee with one another before beginning conversations and negotiations. There was something about it that seemed to connect everyone in the room, as we all shared this same drink. Everyone drank it the same way, there weren't a million different varieties, and its place in the room was entirely customary, something I respected and enjoyed very much.
Then I finally made my way to Guatemala and while I had certainly drank and enjoyed coffee throughout my other travels and at home in the United States, it was while living and working in Guatemala that I truly fell in love with coffee.
Guatemala like I mentioned earlier is one of the top coffee export countries in the world. It also is a developing country with one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition globally. After living in Guatemala during one of the worst roya (coffee rust) in recent years I learned just how intertwined coffee was into the livelihoods of the Guatemalan people, and how little they seemed to benefit economically from the global coffee trade. I learned from a small organic coffee farmer about the process that goes into making organic coffee, and how difficult it is for them to make a living.
I also fell in love with the chocolate-y, coffee flavor of Guatemalan coffee, and began to view this drink in an entirely different light. I now saw it as part of the lives of the Guatemalan people, I saw the system that got it from the farm to the Starbucks cup in the United States, and I realized just how intertwined coffee was into the lives of people all over the world. There was no going back after that.
back home in the usa
I don't think I really need to get into the many ways that we Americans do coffee wrong, but adding a ton of sugar, relying on it for energy, draining our adrenals, increasing our stress hormones, always drinking it on the go...these are just a few things we could probably improve on.
But luckily there are now so many more small coffee shops that are focusing on small batch coffee, with direct trade practices from small coffee farms that are helping to change the way we do coffee, and the impact we make when we purchase it.
I also hope to see in the future more and more small coffee shops not even offering to-go cups, and refusing to do public wifi...could you imagine! Instead the focus would be brought back to enjoying a high-quality cup of coffee, that you probably enjoyed with a friend, or a book, and an espresso bar for the people who need their espresso quick and on the go. A girl can dream right?!
So lastly I want to leave you with this one question. When you order/make your coffee...where does it fit in your daily food culture. Is it part of your social life with your spouse? Is it always guzzled down on the go? Do you know where your coffee even came from? If you did, do you think you would connect with it more?
For something that most Americans consume every single day, multiple times a day, I think we can do better. I think we can know more about where it came from, enjoy the process more of sipping it, and bring culture back into our coffee. What do you think? Are you in?