Monday, April 29, 2013

Do you take cream and sugar?

Photo by Benjamin Getz
Do you start your day with a fresh brew of coffee? 

As you may know, I am a self-proclaimed Starbucks addict. I am not sure when my fascination with the brand began, but I rarely miss a day, which is why some years back they sent me a “Gold” Starbucks card engraved with my name.

As a child, I watched an early television show called “I Remember Mama.” It was produced by Maxwell House Coffee, which they promised was good to the very last drop. Later, Joe Dimaggio came along and peddled Mr. Coffee machines. Today we have a Keurig in our kitchen. A fancy little thing that allows you to make just one cup at a time. I rarely ever use it, but Corrine loves it.

The other day, NPR had a little segment with author Mark Pendergast about his book, Uncommon Grounds: The history of coffee and how it changed the world. It was a fascinating interview! I never realized all of the social, political and economic complexities associated with a cup of coffee.  

The truth is that I haven't read the book and its five hundred pages, but my interest was piqued by some of the quick snippets from the interview. It’s reported that John Adams, following the Boston Tea Party, wrote to his wife proclaiming his love of tea and lamenting that he would have to learn to embrace coffee instead, because drinking tea had become unpatriotic.

Apparently coffee also started to sober up America by replacing taverns with coffee shops. In fact, some of our early ancestors would begin the day with beer soup and continue drinking all day. Coffee shops soon developed into socially acceptable places to gather with friends and colleagues, instead of “Ye Ole Tavern.”

There is also a dark side to the coffee industry, which historically involved slavery and other injustices. Pendergast noted that coffee laborers earn an average of only $3 a day. Seems there is still a bitter taste about the poor treatment of coffee growers in the world. That is why there are many proponents for what is called Fair Trade coffee, which attempts to balance the scales of justice for coffee growers.

But what is Fair Trade? In a Fair Trade system, producers receive a fair price that allows for a living wage. There’s also a serious prohibition against forced and exploitative child labor. It puts the value of people over the mad grab for a cup of Joe.

I checked to see what kind of coffee we brew at Sardis. It’s not Fair Trade. We actually did a study in 2008 about the merit of Fair Trade and made the switch. But then we stopped using it. Many church members had complained about the taste, and others found it inconvenient to prepare because it didn't come in pre-measured packages. And it was a little more expensive.

I wonder if we might not want to revisit Fair Trade certified coffee to see if there are some “taste” improvements and give it a try again.

Gosh, never knew there was so much that went into a cup of coffee, other than cream and sugar… 


  1. A little ironic that I had a cup of coffee in my hand from my keurig when i opened up your blog today! :) You know, Starbucks makes K-cups. I am all for revisiting Fair Trade coffee at Sardis! MCT

  2. I also have a cup of coffee next to me as I write this! I have never been happy with Starbucks' lack of commitment to Fair Trade coffee...they have a real opportunity to make an impact. The food choices we make have SO many implications! I switched to Fair Trade coffee at home some years ago and think the taste is fine. I would love to see Sardis revisit buying Fair Trade coffee.

  3. No cream or sugar for me, but I, too, am a self-proclaimed Starbucks addict who might even rival your addiction, Tom. Only the darkest, boldest brew will do for me so I am probably not a good one to ask about trying Fair Trade coffee again. I do know that Starbucks Italian Roast is Fair Trade.