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In my first essay, I mentioned how I am personally related to coffee through my current Barista position at Saxbys. Being around coffee so much I’ve noticed how we, as a developed industrialized society, take for granted just how easy it is for us to have a cup of coffee. It interests me to learn more about how this crop became a such a leading commodity in today’s world. I have discovered that the coffee industry has a long line of history which can be traced back to the 15th century to its origin in East Africa, which we now refer to as Ethiopia.
Legend has it that a goat herder, by the name of Kaldi, was the first to discover the coffee bean. He witnessed that his goats ate berries off a specific bush and tended to have more renewed energy afterwards. Curious about the situation, Kaldi tried the berries for himself. He soon experienced the same energy boost from the berries and this legend is believed how the coffee bean came about.
The coffee trade expanded shortly after beyond Ethiopia to Egypt. Trade grew quickly, beginning with Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire then rapidly spreading throughout the vast majority of Europe. The Americas and Asia were actually the last to be exposed to the new trade due to the European continent. This industry would soon become a vitally important business for people in South America and India.
Most coffee is grown by less-developed countries and is seen from the perspective as a way of living rather than a luxury item.
Coffee is a long commodity chain involving production, exporting, importing, roasting, distribution and retail. When the coffee production first began in South America, slavery increased greatly. Great Britain had a dominant power over the coffee trade at the time, and cultivated more negro slaves in order to satisfy what they considered to be “needs”. A periodical that was written in April 1832, describes the stark contrast that existed and the indifference to slavery at the time. It notes how more fortunate people were thankful to not be oppressed in their own homes, but, without hesitation, continued to support and contribute to the slave trade by purchasing coffee, sugar, cotton, etc.
As scary as it may sound, the circumstances haven’t changed much since the 1800s. Yes, slavery has obviously been abolished for quite sometime now, but in terms of our wants and needs we’re just as self conceded. Growing up in America, most of us have learned quite well to unknowingly turn a blind side towards problems that do not personally affect us. Many of the leading businesses within the coffee industry root from America and the market is extremely competitive for speciality beans. Still today, the major producers of coffee beans are Brazil, Latin America, Africa, etc. Brazilian coffee farms, in particular, have been advertising false claims to draw in more workers. Promising higher wages and decent working conditions, more people started to flock to these farms to work.
These cheap labor and unhealthy practices have been in place for a long time. Nestle, McDonalds, and Dunkin’ Donuts have all been at fault for these deteriorating working conditions. Most of these big companies, were not aware of the working conditions of these farms. In order to keep the commodity trade process moving, connective businesses are put in place in order to network coffee smallholder farmers to the leading industry buyers. Connective businesses are the main source of information to the larger corporations allowing these terrible conditions to be hidden. Smallholder farmers are the base of the whole coffee economic pyramid and as prices are fluctuating constantly and most of their cash income comes from coffee production, many them face insecurities for basic needs during some months every year. Their whole livelihood is on the line based on weather conditions along with political events which have big potential to disrupt production.
Saxbys strives to assure fresh coffee for every cup and they set standards we have to follow in order to achieve this goal. After researching this huge industry, I can’t even begin to fathom how much waste we actually go through as a cafe. For example, we cannot use an espresso shot if it’s not pulled between a 20-30 second window and our drip coffee has a life of 2 hours before we’re required to re-brew it. Personally, I believe if some of these standards were more lenient we would cut down tremendously on waste. Learning how some families are unable to receive basic needs sometimes because of the greed of big leading companies makes me feel even worse. I’ve seen multiple unopened 5 pound bags of beans be tossed because they were “expired” according to company standards. Just to think how long those bags probably took to fill by farmers that were never opened is heartbreaking.
In conclusion, I think there are both pros and cons to the global coffee industry. Even though I mentioned most of the cons that occur, there are pros to the whole process as well. More developed countries may be more much more fortunate and greedy than less developed producing countries, but if we did not consume as much coffee as we do then it wouldn’t of become the 2nd leading global trade commodity today. Also, this is how a lot of families are making living in South America, Africa, etc. so if we chose not to drink coffee anymore their livelihood would suffer to even greater depths. There is no fine line between what the right or wrong decision is in the coffee industry. I definitely believe it could be improved in some areas and I can now perceive why the view points differ between the producers and consumers.
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