Guide to Buying Espresso Coffee
Apart from using a quality grinder, nothing improves the quality of espresso more than using fresh, high quality Arabica coffee beans...
Types of Coffee
There are two types of coffee: Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica is the best grade of coffee. It has 50% less caffeine than Robusta and is milder and more aromatic. It's cultivated in the Americas as well as parts of Africa and Asia. Around 70% of all coffee grown today is Arabica.
Robusta, as the name suggests, is a more robust plant than Arabica, so it's easier - and cheaper - to grow. Cultivated primarily in Africa, Robusta contains more caffeine than Arabica and has a bitter taste.
Espresso coffee is a blend of several different types of coffee beans from different countries. Espresso blends primarily use Arabica, however some roast masters will blend in some Robusta as a crema enhancer.
Freshness is very important. If possible, buy coffee from a roaster who will ship within a day or two of roasting the coffee.
Apart from the health and environmental issues associated with the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and to some extent genetic modification, organically grown coffee is worth buying simply because it tastes better.
Fair Trade Coffee
Of the 25 million coffee producers in 70 countries, over one third are small farmers. Typically, each has only two to five acres of land. Since each coffee bush provides only a pound of coffee per year, the farmers must tend thousands of bushes. These farmers are at the bottom of the long food chain from farm to supermarket and cafe and usually get no more than 10% of the retail price. This means earning as little as $5 a day.
Unable to export directly, they turn to dealing with mid-level traders or coyotes as they're called in Latin America. With their monopoly, coyotes force farmers to sell at a low price and charge extremely high interest on loans.
Fair trade benefits farmers in the following ways:
- Guaranteed minimum price of $1.26 per pound, which covers the cost of production and basic living costs. If the world price is higher than $1.26, importers pay a premium of $0.05/lb more.
- Direct trade/reduced reliance on the middlemen.
- Pre-financing by the importer to the producer if requested, which helps avoid debt traps.
- Long-term contracts: So producers can invest in social and ecological development projects such as organic or shade-grown coffee which is healthier for the environment, workers and consumers, produces higher quality beans, and allows families to inter-plant fruit trees and vegetables at the same time.
- Under fair trade, consumers pay a more realistic cost, which acknowledges the farmers' basic human rights, environmental concerns, and sustainability in return for quality coffee. Through the skills learned from direct fair trade, farmers know the value of their coffee and get a higher percentage of the world market price even on their conventional market sales.