Crafting quality coffee in a recession

By Chelsea Fiddyment

These dire financial times force everyone to change their spending habits. Recreational spending on things such as clothing, going out to dinner and music, will only decrease further in the months to follow.

Coffee drinkers may be feeling the recession pretty hard already. Since Moonstruck Cafe and Bar Giuliani closed their doors, campus-based caffeine addicts have to settle for Starbucks and Espresso Royale as places like Caffe Paradiso, Aroma Cafe and Cafe Kopi are out of their way.

So what’s a coffee drinker to do during a recession?

Now more than ever might be the best time to switch to brewing at home. You don’t need fancy, expensive brewing equipment to craft a fine cup of coffee. Just the basics will do: a coffee pot, a grinder, a standard-sized scoop and a thermal mug.

Of course, the most important part of all are the beans.

What most recreational coffee drinkers tend to forget is that altitude, climate, soil content and a number of other growing factors affect the taste and quality of the coffee that steams in their mugs every morning.

So, do the global economy and your stomach lining a favor by spending more on the beans you buy. We’re all in this recession together.

I say this because even up to the year 2000, middlemen working with companies like Folgers paid coffee farmers abroad approximately 35 cents per pound of coffee, and little has changed since then. Plus, Folgers’ packaging isn’t going to tell you much besides, “Inside this canister is coffee that someone grew outside of the U.S.” For all you know, the horrific instant substance contained within was grown in a field created by eliminating a forest and subjected to a wide range of pesticides.

Enter fair-trade coffee, the proclaimed darling of many coffee connoisseurs. A number of roasters offer fair-trade blends, including Espresso Royale, Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters from Vermont. Green Mountain tends to be popular with the social-justice-oriented subset, given that they offer 21 different types of fair-trade-certified coffee, most of which are also certified organic and cost $8.49 for a 10- to 12-oz. bag of beans.

The real benefit purchasing from Green Mountain is that they provide information regarding the small farms and co-ops through which they import coffee, all of which are paid a minimum of $1.26 per pound of coffee in keeping with their fair-trade standards.

It still doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well, the only step left to take aside from getting on a plane in search of your coffee beans is to try direct trade coffee.

Direct trade is a newer market philosophy implemented by roasters like Intelligentsia, whose 12-oz. bags of coffee can be purchased for an average of $13 at establishments like Caffe Paradiso and Art Mart in Urbana. For first-time bean buyers this might sound expensive, but consider that purchasing of a “grande”-sized cup of regular coffee at Starbucks every day translates to $11.20 per week. A 12-oz. bag of coffee is going to last you much longer if you’re drinking an average of three cups a day.

Plus, glancing at a bag of Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Classic Espresso will tell you that the coffee varietals are red and yellow bourbon grown at an altitude of 1,200-1,450 meters in Brazil and El Salvador from producers Sertao and El Borbollon.

They even give you a sense of the flavor: notes of dark chocolate, cherry and cane sugar. Finally, through direct trade relationships with farmers and co-ops, Intelligentsia also boasts an average 20 cents more per pound that they pay directly to coffee producers. Compare that with fair-trade wages getting caught up in exportation costs, and hopefully the choice becomes a little more clear.

So the next time you pass your once-favorite coffeehouse and need a fix, think of yourself and others. Invest in some beans instead.

Chelsea is a senior in English and creative writing and wonders if these plugs in her tear canals are going to work.