Quelling your coffee jitters

Don’t let the economy prevent you from drinking fine coffee — just look for the right beans.

ItâÄôs getting to be that time of year: Cafes have filled their patios with iron furniture and studying bodies speckle their spaces. Of course, this scene implies a certain occasion and its impending vice of choice: finals and coffee. As part of our morning routines and afternoon agendas, the beverage is a familiar antidote. We become under-rested and over-caffeinated as we rely on its affects to pull us through the final kick of the marathon of our education. When the jitters settle into the wee hours of the morning as we study for exams and crank out the last few paragraphs of the research essay weâÄôve refused to write all these months, we realize coffee is like our best friend: ItâÄôll give us a swift kick in the pants when we need it. According to an annual survey released by the National Coffee Association in March , more than 150 million Americans drink coffee on a daily basis. ThatâÄôs more than half, and most consumers average 3.1 cups each day. In line with our increase of caffeine during finals, young adults are the fastest growing group of consumers. Though IâÄôm sure the academic work of this semester is no different from any other, the âÄútough economic timesâÄù may have convinced you otherwise. Penny pinching and cutbacks only begin the list of grievances of which weâÄôre supposed to be taking note. But coffee is not the place to make your budget cuts. I have no intent to make light of the financial trouble in which many American families find themselves, but I do mean to advocate the other families affected by our habits as Americans. As most of us have made drinking coffee a daily habit, youâÄôd think we would know more about the second most highly traded commodity in the world. More often, we canâÄôt even identify the tree. Frankly, we need to know what weâÄôre drinking âÄî or at least from where it comes. Its chain of supply is more intricate than many presume. By nature, coffee plants are rather delicate and are most commonly picked by hand as their crimson berries ripen and plump. An efficient picker is able to fill a sack with cherries weighing between 100 and 200 pounds each day, and families are often seen picking together; kids are taken out of school for the harvest. These sacks of coffee âÄî after being properly de-pulped in a wet mill, washed, sun-dried and packaged, then transferred to a dry mill and de-husked and repackaged for export âÄî translate to roughly 20-40 pounds of green coffee sent throughout the world. Then roasting, delivering and packaging costs are incurred by the importing company. Even with this ReaderâÄôs Digest version of the chain, it is easy to see that the money we pay for coffee must be distributed among those who grow the coffee and also those who make the packages and drive the vans in which it is delivered. DonâÄôt skimp on coffee This doesnâÄôt mean you have to buy a âÄútriple grande, soy, sugar-free vanilla latte,âÄù or an âÄúextra mocha, no whip, one-shot venti mocha frappuccinoâÄù every time you walk into a coffee shop. There is something to be said about the nuances of a simple cup of coffee; indeed, there is more to the flavor of a well-pulled espresso or French pressed pot than the simple sludge often presumed. On the six oâÄôclock news, WCCO reported a trend from âÄúfancy to FolgersâÄù in coffee consumption, focusing on a Minneapolis man who realized he was spending a significant part of his income on coffee shop purchases. In line with this, the NCAâÄôs study indicates that people are changing the kind of coffee they drink. According to the National Coffee AssociationâÄôs 2009 National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT) market research survey, âÄúat-home consumption rose five percentage points âÄî now 80 percent of past-day coffee consumers drink coffee at home.âÄù This is the highest level since 2003 and matches the 5 percent rise in sales of bulk beans. So where do you start? WhatâÄôs the difference between a light and dark roast coffee? Which actually has more caffeine? What coffee makes the best espresso? Must coffee have a stamp of approval or certification label to be sustainable or of high quality? What do those labels even mean? Is Fair Trade really a fair trade? Does organic coffee really pose a better option for my health, or is it simply better for the environment? What the heck is âÄúshade grown?âÄù DonâÄôt plants like the sun? Rainforest alliance? Utz certified? So what? YouâÄôre not alone. Most people donâÄôt know where to start, but donâÄôt be afraid to look for the answers. Why bother? Well, youâÄôre looking for good coffee, right? The label on the package wonâÄôt always tell you; the story is in the bean. If youâÄôre going to pay a higher price for your coffee, donâÄôt simply ensure it is certified by a particular organization unless you truly understand their modalities. You want to support those growing, but you want a quality product as well. People often wish to make a direct monetary comparison between what farmers are paid and what people are charged for their coffee. Though there will always be those who take the cheapest product on the shelf, I might encourage the comparison of coffee to wine. Different kinds of coffee cherries yield different kinds of coffee beans, just like grapes. Certain grapes yield better quality wines, and it is the same with coffee. A different location or drying process might lend a note or flavor unique to the place in which it was grown. Certain methods of roasting enliven an otherwise covered sweetness. But unless you develop a palate for good wine, youâÄôll never know the difference. So intricate, too, is coffee in flavor, process and sustainability. Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected].