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Explorations in Just Living

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Welcome to the blog of the Enough for Everyone program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). By "just living" we mean both justice-based living and just simply living – freeing ourselves from the clutter of stuff so we can focus on living faithfully and living well. Join us in the exploration!

About the Author
Bryce Wiebe coordinates Enough for Everyone, a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. He loves slow food and is fascinated by the way things are made.  He is excited to dive into experiments in simplicity with you.  His sacred cow of consumption: kitchen gadgets.

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February 10, 2014

$100 a Cup

A Hundred Dollars A Cup

CJ Clapp, Hunger Action Enabler,Washington Presbytery


How much do you think your cup of coffee should cost? I’m talking about really good coffee. Mountain grown, shade grown, organic, fair trade coffee? Before you come up with an amount (which I guarantee will be too low!), let me tell you about some coffee farmers I met last month in Nicaragua.


While on a Coffee Delegation trip co-sponsored by Presbyterian Hunger Program and Equal Exchange, I was lucky to stay a few nights with a farm family up on the mountain outside of Boaco, (an hour or so out of Managua) and learned a thing or two about coffee farming. The first of which is IT IS HARD WORK TO FARM ORGANIC COFFEE!


Our farm family invited us to share their very modest home which sat on the top of the lush, green, jungle-like mountain.  We were surrounded by citrus trees, coconut palms, cacao trees, gardens of corn and other vegetables with a vista of such breathtaking beauty! No indoor plumbing, no farm tractors, no electric stoves. Our day began at 5:00 am with the crow of the rooster, when the wood fire was stoked and the corn for tortillas was ground on stone and shaped into discs which became delicious, smoky, crusty vessels for the salty, homemade cheese which toped it. Coffee is brewed, rice and beans are served and animals are fed (chickens, geese, cows, pigs, horses, dogs, birds, guinea pig). Everyone prepares for the day in the coffee patches, it’s the beginning of coffee season!


We hike for an hour down the steep, muddy mountain to the coffee patch that needs picking today. In the middle of nowhere,  a beautiful, healthy green patch of coffee plants appears, a bit like blueberry bushes with large shiny leaves. They grown in the rich, black soil under a canopy of much larger trees and are covered in bright red coffee cherries. We strap baskets around our waists and get to work.


Carefully, carefully we pick with the farmer’s instructions – pick only the red berries, don’t pick the full cluster, pick one at a time, don’t pick any cherry with a black spot, if a cherry falls retrieve it immediately so it won’t get a black spot, pick clean without twigs or leaves. And pick fast because there are so many bushes to pick! (this whole procedure repeats itself about every 12 days until the end of the growing season which lasts about 3 months). There were 10 of us and we picked for an hour or so which resulted in 2 buckets of coffee cherries. A real coffee picker is able to pick 8 buckets a day which earns him 300 centavos. That’s less than 50¢ US.


Once picked, the cherries are bagged and carried to the wet mill on the side of the mountain, where they are weighed, washed and placed in a hopper to remove the husks.  (This water must be hauled down the mountain.) The beans are then spread out on large screen trays to dry before they are carted back up the steep, muddy mountain where they catch a bus to the local coop.


After several stops, these beans eventually arrive at a large dry mill where again they are spread out to dry and tested for humidity, color, acid content and quality. Women sit at a conveyer belt and hand pick the millions of beans so that only beautiful, perfect beans are shipped.


After all these steps the beans are now ready for export all over the world. Beans are shipped green and will be roasted at their final destination where they finally become someone’s delicious cup of coffee.


Hopefully, this gives you some idea of how your delicious, organic, fair trade coffee ends up in your cup.


So, let’s try this again. How much do you think your cup of really good mountain grown, shade grown, picked by hand,  fair trade, organic coffee should cost? If it was up to me….. it would be $100 a cup!

Categories: Fair trade, Just Living, Nicaragua

Tags: cj clapp, coffee, delegation, fair trade, nicaragua, washington presbytery