Yesterday was my dad’s birthday. My dad loves his coffee. Really loves his coffee. He can drink a coffee before bed and be fine. Always has. One of my favourite memories as a child is the sound of the milk being frothed for his cappuccino as I fell asleep. So today, as a surprise, my mom – who is never short on interesting ideas and fun adventures to go on – gathered a bunch of close friends and family at a rather fitting location – the home of the Merchants of Green Coffee.
We gathered for some snacks and nibblies and talked and caught up and wished my dad a happy birthday – and then it began … the history of coffee 101. Our host was a walking encyclopedia of information about the 2nd largest commodity industry in the world next to oil (over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year). He began by giving us a very concise and fascinating look into the history of coffee. Its origins begin in Ethiopia where they have an entire ceremony built around coffee.
Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity and birthplace of the arabica coffee tree (coffea arabica). Green coffee beans are crushed by tribes people and mixed with animal fat as a food source for long expeditions.
You’d never think it, but coffee has an incredibly fascinating history! I would suggest you take a look at the Merchants website about the history of the drink – which is the second most consumed beverage after tap water (!). So there we were, all 20 of us sitting around tables with five mugs in front of us – one for water to clean our spoon, one for drinking water to cleanse the pallete, and three for various types of coffee that were going to taste. The main reason the Merchants exist is to promote and educate consumers about fair trade and organic coffee.
Our mantra is Fresh Coffee, Fair Trade, Green Business. Merchants of Green Coffee strives to be a sustainable company – a business that creates financial and social wealth without degrading the productive and aesthetic capacity of the environment for both present and future generations. Essentially, we look at the triple bottom line; equal treatment of the economic, social and environmental components of trade. We exist to re-acquaint coffee drinkers to the wonderful taste of fresh roasted coffee using beans brought to market under sustainable conditions.
The Merchants subscribe to a mantra for coffee that has three key points noted here:
We were all fascinated by what our host had to say. He jumped back and forth through time, threw out facts left, right and centre, but it all made sense and came together in the end. For example, Mocha Java – which for most of us North Americans means a blend of coffee and hot chocolate (or something similar), is actually two different types of coffees from two different regions split 50/50. The Java beans are higher in acidity and less full of body while the beans from the port of Mocha (where the beans were shipped from) are less acidic and more full of body. The combination of these two beans makes for a nice even brew.
Here’s another fascinating fact: Indoensian Monsoon – grown in India (one of the larger producers of coffee beans) – is created by drying the beans (which when done by hand can take up to two weeks), then placed in a large house-like structure with a roof but no walls and left there for another two weeks while the monsoon winds and moisture blow their way into the beans creating a “musty” taste. This process was created as a result in the decline of beans being sold to Europe. You see, when India used to ship their beans to Europe in wooden ships, they were known as one of the best coffee beans in the world because of their taste – which developed whilst at sea in these wooden ships and containers. But then metal ships came along and new ways of transporting the beans and suddenly when the beans arrived in Europe, they no longer had that “musty” taste and were rejected by the Europeans as “not real coffee”. So the process of creating Indonesian Monsoon beans was created!
I’m not retelling the story very well, but trust me – it’s a fascinating story.
The best part of the experience is knowing that the Merchants are here promoting a sustainable way of growing, roasting and distributing a commodity that we all want … they are concerned about the consumer and want the consumers to know how coffee is prepared from the minute it’s picked from the tree to the first sip. Coffee beans, when roasted, are only good for up to 5 days – and then they go stale. And once they’re ground, they’re only good for about 3 days max. So pretty much the coffee that you get at Starbucks, Second Cup – you name it, is not fresh but stale. Not only that, but the environmental impact of growing and roasting these beans is devastating to some of our most precious forests such as the rainforest in Brazil. Here are some interesting facts about the coffee trade:
- Every cup of coffee consumed destroys roughly three square centimeters of rainforest, making coffee the 2nd leading cause of rainforest destruction.
- Coffee is the 2nd most heavily pesticide sprayed crop in the world.
- Coffee is the number one cause of water contamination in most producing regions.
- Supply chain inequities exploit millions of small subsistence farmers.
- Small farmers produce the highest quality coffee.
- Fresh coffee, consumed one to three days after roasting, is dramatically superior in taste to any other coffee.
There was so much information to soak up over the two hour session – and not a dull moment to be sure. But if anything, I learned that we have to be more conciously aware of the coffee that is being served out there. Look for the Fair Trade sign and organic labels.
There are numerous certification organizations throughout the world. For fair trade, look for coffee certified by members of the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) such as TransFair Canada and TransFair USA. For organics, look for coffee certified by members of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movemenbts (IFOAM) such as the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA). For shade and biodiversity, look for coffee certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre (SMBC) and Rainforest Alliance.
One last tidbit, when you buy your coffee – see if there is a “roasted on” date … if not, you can be sure that the beans in your hands have been sitting there far longer than the 5 day limit.
For more information – definitely check out their website: merchantsofgreencoffee.com. Their location may be a bit out of the way (it’s just north of Queen, west of Broadview – you can see it from the Don Valley), but it’s worth the trip for sure. They do have coffee classes that give you a more indepth look at the trade and bean that has become so imbedded in our culture, and they havea fantastic store set up for you to browse and sample various coffees. You can also become a member of the Merchants and recieve 30lbs of coffee over the year (delivered straight to your door) plus recieve a free roaster of your own! Be sure to check out the many stores around Toronto that offer Fair Trade and organic green coffee beans. There are tons of them out there.
Now if only I drank coffee…