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  • Writer's pictureJonMichael Lee

Coffee 101 | Ep. 1 The Beverage

Updated: May 4, 2022

To kick off our series on all things coffee, we want to first talk about… coffee, of course! The product. The beverage. What is it? Like…before it's ground up into a can, tossed into your coffee brewer, and enjoyed in your favorite mug. Our plan is to share with you all that is involved in the process or "life cycle" of coffee. Above is shown a picture of one of our first attempts at bringing clarity to this topic. This is the first design of a series we are calling "Harvest to Handle". We are wanting to do designs similar to this annually to help bring clarity to the community about coffee. The most important part is connecting the points of contact between the hands of the harvest (the farmer) and the hands on every beverage or mug (the customers). Our hopes are that this project emphasizes advocacy for the farmer and a growth in knowledge of all that is involved between our hands and theirs.

So what is coffee?!

You are probably aware at this point that coffee is a bean. Where does this bean originate from in its most natural state? A cherry-like fruit. Yeah, you read that right! We will go into greater detail in future blogs, but for now we will start with that. Within this coffee cherry is a seed that is pulled from the fruit, processed, shipped, and roasted before being ground up and brewed into your cup. Like tea, it takes HOT water to extract a substance from the roasted coffee beans. The different coffee beverages you see all vary according to how the coffee is brewed. These different styles of coffee drinks may be drip coffee (regular), cold brew (brewed in cold water), espresso, Turkish style, and the list goes on and on. It's pretty incredible the variety of drinks that can be made from one product and a lot of creativity over the years.

So who was the first to discover this beverage?

The actual crop is believed to have originated in Ethiopia, but the tale of how this crop was first used as a drink is… entertaining, to say the least. In 700 AD, a goat herder noticed his goats were very energetic after eating from a particular tree. They were so energetic that they would not sleep at night. He shared his discovery with a local Monk. The cherries of this tree were then made into a tea for the monks to drink to assist their prayer through the night. This could be true history or just a funny tale to share, but its the universally known story we typically hear! Later, the tea product began to be traded across the Red Sea into Yemen, Turkey, and Egypt. The original tea recipe was followed for brewing for many years by these countries. Eventually, roasting the seed within coffee and brewing it (like modern times) was discovered in Yemen. Through the next few centuries, it grew in popularity and made its way to England and then worldwide. This beverage grew in influence to the point that it is now the 3rd most popular drink in the world- behind water and tea.

The Coffee Economy

The coffee market is obviously of importance considering its popularity worldwide. The current market value of coffee is 102.2 billion. Presently, unroasted coffee is priced at $5.29 per kg or $2.43 per lb. That's up by over 90% from one year ago when it was priced at $1.39 per pound. The rising prices in coffee and across the economy result in larger scale companies having to lower what they can pay the farmer for the crop. Farmers are striving to maintain generational farms and keep them alive, but with all of the current price variables this is making it harder and harder. Typically, larger scale companies combine coffees from around the world priced at the lowest point possible into one batch. They then roast it very dark to cover the flaws and store it for a very long time to raise profit margins. This causes a snowball effect to where we are now in the market and it directly makes a difference negatively to the farmer long term. This is at the center of why we advocate for direct relationships with farmers! We want to value our relationships with farmers and invest in the one instead of the many. The more relationships we make, the better… but we know it starts with the one. Putting your care and attention into the growth and benefits of one leads to large scale change in the market. Do you want to find out how to join us in change? It starts with care! Just keep reading future articles and hopefully it cultivates conversation for us all.

3 Waves in the Coffee Market

Lastly, we wanted to clear the confusion of the variety of outlets you currently see in the coffee market. Coffee is seen and experienced in so many ways. The history behind the coffee market is typically dissected into 3 waves. We see these waves all around us in the market today. The first wave is considered “commodity coffee”. Its easy, in our kitchen, and probably what our dad told us “would put hair on our chest”. It was designed and survived all these years because of the ease of use and cheap price. It’s a result of poor quality coffee roasted very dark and stored for months after being ground. Typically the result is a not so tasty cup of coffee that “only real men can enjoy”(again quoting the dad). We know this is where what we love about coffee really started. So we can definitely appreciate the first wave for those reasons.

Next is the the second wave. It’s predicted that it was a result of some entrepreneurs in Pike Place, Seattle in the 70’s starting Starbucks. This was a big shift in how to enjoy your coffee. They created different ways to enjoy espresso with flavoring and milk and began to educate the world on the origin of coffee. This was a change for the better and more than doubled the impact coffee had on the market. Lastly, the third wave— this coffee movement started in the 80's. This small community was not satisfied with darker roast, lack of care, or conversation for advocacy of the farmer. They were passionate for roasting and developing tasty coffee. This niche group put their focus on the origin of coffee, a lighter roast, and worked to bring attention to the farmer. Third wave coffee would probably be who The Redbird Coffeehouse identifies with. We want to carry the story of our coffee partnerships all the way from the farmers harvest to the handle of your mug. We want the vehicle of our drinks to be quality coffee, not just flavors that cover up a below average taste. You can drink your coffee dark roasted, pre-ground in a can, a drive thru drink with whip cream and extra sweet, or a pour over that comes with a description card and in a fancy cup.

At the end of the day, what matters is what is meaningful and enjoyable to you. Coffee can look so different for most people but it really helps us to see the trajectory for the coffee market as a whole. If we continue down the course we are on, hundreds of thousands of farms will not survive the current market. Our hopes are that more and more people and organizations can see what the true lifeline of coffee really is: The Farmer. Without these individuals we cant truly enjoy the finish product at its highest potential. Lets fight to not only support these people, but go the extra mile to see them thrive!

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