Why I Care about Coffee: Intro & Alex
Why I care about coffee.
This is a part of a blog post series centered around why the employees of Honeybee care about coffee and what they do to express that care.
The coffee industry is many-faceted, and our employees have diverse areas of interest. We hope that these posts offer some insight behind the scenes and a glimpse into the passions and motivations of our staff.
Why Alex Cares about Coffee
Coffee is ubiquitous in our culture. Instagram is flooded with photos of latte art and stylish cafés. People wear sweatshirts announcing their unabashed addiction to caffeine. Laptops are peppered with stickers pledging allegiance to local shops (or giant corporate chains). Even the television show with the largest budget in history let a coffee cup slip by, because it is simply everywhere. Coffee is a given for most of us. We expect to have it every day multiple times a day. And yet how much do we really know about it? How far past the barista taking our order does our perception penetrate? The barista working hard to steam our milk and pull our shots is an absolutely essential and likely undervalued position, but they are the tip of an enormous iceberg. I care about coffee, truly care, because of that mass of the iceberg that lies below the surface.
Good coffee has to grow at high altitudes, often on steep slopes, under the canopy of shade trees, and protected by an undergrowth. All of these factors added together makes coffee incredibly labor intensive. Although many industrialized mega-farms are structured into neat rows in direct sunlight, this is not where specialty coffee (the coffee Honeybee serves) grows. People, 125 million of them actually, have to wake up every morning and grow, pick, sort, and process our coffee beans before those beans even get on a boat headed our way. These people, the ones on the ground in Colombia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Peru, and a dozen other countries, the ones filling heavy baskets and meticulously sorting beans, these are the people that deserve the most attention. And they likely get the least.
If you've read any of my previous blog posts, you know I like to harp on the commodity price of coffee, but that's because I think it's the biggest threat to the livelihood of the bottom of that iceberg. The commodity price is currently the lowest it's been in over a decade, hovering around 89¢/lb. That price is dramatically too low. Many coffee farms would operate at a net loss if forced to accept that price. We're seeing some of the consequences now with Brazil hording beans to try to push the price back up. Coffee farms operating at a loss or extremely slim margins translates into millions of people losing jobs or working unsafe hours for very little pay. People working long hours for low pay with no alternatives is unacceptable, especially for a luxury good. And coffee is just that, a luxury. We do not need it. We could live without it. So if we want it, we have to be willing to pay what it costs. Behind every cup of coffee is a chain of 50-100 people that got it to us. Those people, all of them with no exceptions, deserve a livable wage and a healthy life. We cannot turn a blind eye to the true cost of coffee. When we buy a cheap cup of coffee we are pushing that true cost farther down the line, making someone else foot our bill.
The area of coffee that I care the most about is making sure we, the consumer, are paying what coffee costs so the bottom of that iceberg gets taken care of. As Honeybee's wholesale manager, I try my best to do this through maintaining the highest quality possible. If I want people to pay a fair price for coffee, then that coffee better be excellent. Excellent coffee respects every link of the coffee chain. Why should a farmer work hard to grow great coffee if we're going to mess it up in the roastery or at the café? Why should a customer pay $3 for a cup of drip if it doesn't taste any better than the 79¢ cup at the gas station across the street? I work closely with our roaster, Aaron, to order great coffee beans through reputable and ethical importers. We know good coffee is going in, so we have to make sure good coffee is coming out. We taste it repeatedly, dial in the roast, and tweak the brew variables to get great coffee to serve. I write these blog posts to raise awareness about the bottom of that iceberg. I communicate to all of our wholesale partners that ethical coffee cannot be cheap and that they can rest assured our beans contribute to a better world.
I am admittedly an idealistic person. I believe that actions guided by morality rather than practicality are possible and bring real change to the world. Do I think I can change the whole world? No, of course not. But I might be able to make an impact in the coffee world. If I can bring great coffee to our customers and communicate why our coffee is great, then the bottom of that iceberg is a little better cared for, got a little more attention, and has a chance at a happier and more successful future.