Coffee: The elixir of life for millions of people. For many people, the wakening hot drink is simply part of everyday life – some hardly function without it. But not all coffee drinkers know what is behind this popular drink.
Coffee in all its forms is an indispensable part of our everyday life – how would we get going in the morning without that encouraging sip in the morning? What seems so natural today has come to us from the Orient. It all began in Ethiopia.
The coffee plant
This is where the coffee bush, an evergreen from the Rubiaceae family, grows. The bush, which is as tall as a man, bears white flowers that open during the rainy season. Since the blossom is always triggered by rainfall, the coffee shrub can bear blossoms, ripe and unripe fruit at the same time. This makes harvesting the cherry-red coffee berries a matter that cannot be done by machine. Instead, pickers harvest the fruit, inside which there is a kernel consisting of two "beans".
From Ethiopia to the coffee houses in Europe
At some point Ethiopian shepherds are said to have observed the encouraging effect of the fruit on their goats and to have dared to experiment on their own. It can be assumed that it took several generations to refine the roasting process and the processing of the beans. From Ethiopia, coffee began its triumphal march around the world – first the Arabs discovered the vitalising drink. Coffee came at just the right time for them, as Islam forbids intoxicating drinks such as wine. Our word "coffee" is logically one of the many Arabic words that have been adopted in other languages and is derived from "qahwa".
And it was from the Orient that coffee consumption reached the Occident – where it quickly became a cult. In 1669, the Turkish ambassador is said to have first served coffee to courtly society in Versailles. Today, for example, Germans drink around 164 litres of coffee per person per year, and even in the home of tea drinkers, Great Britain, coffee is gaining in popularity. Even more coffee is drunk by the Italians (no wonder, they invented the espresso), the Austrians (where you find a coffee house on every corner) and – the Scandinavians! First and foremost, the Finns are particularly wakeful and consume almost twice as much coffee as the Germans.
Coffee cultivation: a global big business
This makes cultivation and processing an important sector. Ethiopia itself contributes only about 5% to the global coffee business, but this is because Ethiopians drink most of their coffee themselves. Around the world, coffee is grown in Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and Kenya, in fact everywhere in the tropical belt where the plant finds warmth and rain. Besides the well-known Arabica variety, the genus Robusta is also cultivated. At least 20-25 million families worldwide make their living from growing coffee, an estimated 100 million people. But do they live well from it? That is the question.
What are the working and living conditions in coffee growing?
In most cases, coffee is cultivated under conditions that are not very humane. The coffee-growing countries are all emerging or developing countries where human labour is cheap and even the children have to help out. Families who work on the plantations of the big producers have to accept the conditions as they are offered to them – and this includes not only low wages but also a high pesticide load. Self-employed smallholders who want to remain independent are their own boss, but in return they have to suffer poor harvests and the consequences of climate change.
Fairtrade and eco-labels and what is behind them
Consumers have a significant influence on the living and working conditions of these people, because there are now a number of approaches to producing coffee fairly and growing it in sustainable quality.
Anyone buying coffee with a Fairtrade label knows that their morning coffee has been bought from the producer at a fair and guaranteed price. This makes farmers less dependent on the fluctuations and imponderables of the market, promotes long-term business relationships and allows farmers to obtain advance financing through a futures contract.
Organic labels and quality labels on decent working conditions provide information on whether coffee plants have been sprayed with pesticides or not, and whether workers on coffee plantations are well treated and earn decent wages.
Our coffee can be worth a little more!
All this makes coffee more expensive, of course. A little bit. But be honest, isn't the brown delicacy worth the extra expense? We can make a contribution with the shopping trolley – and if we reach for a minimally packaged product and leave the coffee capsules behind, we are doing our bit to help the environment.
Although we at NIKIN are primarily concerned with sustainable materials in the fashion industry and fight against global deforestation, it is important to think sustainably in other areas of life as well. We want to motivate people to rethink their lifestyle and possibly make it more sustainable. Coffee is simply part of our everyday life. It is a particularly popular drink in offices – so we drink coffee from sustainable organic production certified by Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance. We don't want to advertise specific brands here, but simply tell our readers about sustainable, fairly grown coffee and its advantages. Just join in and have a coffee on it!