CBC News
Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

Robbing coffee from the poor?

hildebrandt-amber-52.jpg
by Amber Hildebrandt, CBCNews.ca

Guatemala is no small player in the world of coffee. But you wouldn’t know it from the cup of Joe plopped on your table at most restaurants.

As I discovered on my recent trip to the Central American country, insipid watery brews abound. And I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was to blame?

coffee-cup.jpg
A cup of weak coffee at a restaurant in Antigua. (Amber Hildebrandt/CBC)

Most of Guatemala’s best coffee gets exported, with most going to discerning drinkers in the United States. (A large chunk ends up getting sold at Starbucks for several bucks a cup.)

Anacafe, the Guatemalan coffee bean growers association, reported last year that more than 3.7 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee beans were exported in the 2006-2007 growing season.

About 400,000 bags of lower-quality coffee was kept for local production.

The fact that locals get little opportunity to enjoy their superb coffee quickly became evident to my travel companion (a former Starbucks barista) and I as we travelled the country.

Every morning, we went out on our bleary-eyed search for the perfect cup. Soon enough we gave up on café quality, desperate for anything that resembled anything other than instant. Exceptions to the rule (thankfully) were found in touristy sites, such as restaurants run by foreigners or on the coffee plantations.

At one coffee plantation we toured near the colonial town of Antigua, white blossoms had just begun to appear on the shade-grown coffee bean trees.

Workers, meanwhile, scrubbed away at the machinery dirtied by the last harvest. In the warehouses, large canvas bags of green beans were piled high to the ceiling.

Tempted, I asked my guide if I could buy one. He laughed.

Despite having a hankering to steal away some green beans for myself, I couldn't escape the irony of ‘coffee, coffee everywhere and not a drop to spare’ for the local population. It does beg the question: how fair is it that we're hogging all the good stuff?

Don't the locals deserve to enjoy some of their high-quality coffee?

« Previous Post | Main | Next Post »

This discussion is now Open. Submit your Comment.

Comments

Lily Erlic

canada

Coffee in Canada is superb in the specialty coffee houses. I feel better when I buy fair trade coffee and I know the farmer is supporting her family. I can drink the coffee knowing that she can put food on her table for her and her loved ones.

Posted June 10, 2008 12:55 PM

wade

toronto

"Don't the locals deserve to enjoy some of their high-quality coffee?"

deserve it? Yes.

afford it? No.

Much like us and oil...

Posted June 10, 2008 03:52 PM

Starship

Montreal

Yes, you and I are to blame.
Your cup of coffee, shoes, clothes, etc. has been handled by the very less fortunate to be purchased by another bunch of less fortunate (us,as we get ripped off and get sucked into buying for outrageous prices...suckers!
However it's been as such for many many years.
My philosphy is that the true problem is us, the consumer. Because of our demands we created a non stop vicious cirle. We feed the powerful people and deprive the poor.
We have gone too far, disconected from reality and live in a material world.
Money is spent on the un necesities of life ,we don't value things as they used to in the old days.
There is too much out there.
If we boycotted or were careful about our choices it might make a difference.
Greed is the word.

Posted June 10, 2008 05:32 PM

Gregory Hunter

This is a common phenomenon. It is frequently difficult to buy good produce in the producing region, because the good stuff brings the best prices. Perhaps the locals would prefer to have the things that their coffee earnings can buy rather than the coffee itself.

Posted June 10, 2008 09:06 PM

Greg James

Ottawa

In economics this is known as opportunity costs: essentially, choices have to be made. They can consume it or they can sell it. The fact that they choose to sell it means that for them it is more valuable to have the cash than to be drinking nice coffee.

And that's fine. Plenty of people here in Canada make the same decision, choosing cash in the pocket instead of expensive coffee.

Remember, this is a cash crop. These are farmers growing a crop to sell. If we stopped buying it (lowering the price), they wouldn't keep putting the same resources into making nice coffee for the local market. They would switch to a crop that they could sell for the most profit.

Posted June 11, 2008 08:31 AM

Roger

I don't know how difficult it is to buy produce in the producing region, seeing as how things like shipping and middlemen aren't necessary. I think it's important to buy locally, and to try eating what's in season instead of importing so much. But that's beside the point. Regarding coffee, I think it's true that we have created a divide between us as consumers and poorer countries as producers, to the extent that they are unable to justify drinking coffee they could sell to feed their families. That's why things like Fair Trade and UZT Certification are so important, and hopefully people will be much more aware of what they buy, and be willing to pay a higher (and more just) price. Just like how "Organic" seems to be the hot trend.

Posted June 11, 2008 08:56 AM

Joe

Drawing from personal experience - my girlfriend's father happens to be a coffee farmer in Coban, Guatemala - we drink nothing but the best while we're there, straight from the farm. Aside from what is sold onto the market, a few bags 50 kilo bags of green beans are held onto to for personal consumption and to be sold to locals, primarily friends, and friends of friends.

So, good coffee is available for local consumption, just not on a large scale. As was mentioned earlier, this is an issue of opportunity cost. You keep what you and your friends need, and sell the rest. Finding that "perfect cup" in Guate is definitely a matter of who you know.

And just to put the cost of things in perspective for everyone, Starbucks pays $1 per pound (green beans) for certified shade grown, hard-bean, fair trade coffee from Guatemalan farmers. 1lb of beans ends up making about 20 to 30 cups of coffee at Starbuck's where we pay $2 per cup. They make $40-$60 per pound, making the margins astronomical.

Posted June 11, 2008 01:18 PM

Michael

The canonical response to this is "the shoemaker's children have no shoes". With almost any commodity you can name, it is more profitable to sell it elsewhere than keep it for yourself. Whether we talk at the micro scale with the proverbial shoemaker or at the macro scale like Guatemalan coffee or Canadian oil the maxim proves itself fairly robust.

Posted June 12, 2008 04:58 AM

Stan Harris

Joe wrote:

"Starbucks pays $1 per pound (green beans) for certified shade grown, hard-bean, fair trade coffee from Guatemalan farmers. 1lb of beans ends up making about 20 to 30 cups of coffee at Starbuck's where we pay $2 per cup. They make $40-$60 per pound, making the margins astronomical."

When you say "margins" I assume you mean profit margins.

In fairness to Starbucks and other retailers, there is much more than the cost of the raw or roasted beans that goes into the cost of operating a business, like rent, wages, utilities, non-food supplies, taxes and so on.

All these costs have to be factored in before determining the profit margin. Starbucks profit margins would be good, else why bother to run a business? Their profits would not, however, qualify as astronomical.

Posted June 16, 2008 03:58 PM

Mary Anne Goodman

A Brazilian collegue has told me the same thing about fruit in her home country.
It would seem they export all the good stuff.
But just to play the devil's lawyer:
Canada is the largest grower and exporter of mustard seed in the world - the French import it from Canada to create their famous Dijon mustard - It's unfortunate that Canada does not produce anything really marvelous with our
'cash crop' that would make us world famous for the mustard we grow. I'd like to say they prefer bad coffee like Canadians prefer bad mustard - but we all know that's not possible.
A good cup of coffee is a good cup of coffee.

Posted July 7, 2008 08:02 AM

Josh

Same scenario applies to Peru and Bolivia. While known more for Cocoa teas than Coffee, both countries produce excellent coffees. However, when you travel within them you will be hard-pressed to find anything other than instant coffee... or "nescafe" named after the popular brand of instant coffee by Nestle. I buy green beans from both countries often and was pretty bummed out about the lack of fresh coffee while traveling down there.

Posted August 13, 2008 04:17 PM

« Previous Post | Main | Next Post »

Post a Comment

Disclaimer:

Note: By submitting your comments you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that due to the volume of e-mails we receive, not all comments will be published, and those that are published will not be edited. But all will be carefully read, considered and appreciated.

Note: Due to volume there will be a delay before your comment is processed. Your comment will go through even if you leave this page immediately afterwards.

Privacy Policy | Submissions Policy

Food Bytes »



About the blog

From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.

About the writers

Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

Tara Kimura Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.

Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

Jessica Wong Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.

Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.

Related

Food features

Recent Posts

Chinese banquet dinner
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Share your Easter recipes
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Ode to the sandwich
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Sweet treats and salty science
Monday, April 6, 2009
Peeking into your kitchen
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Subscribe to Food Bytes

Archives

April 2009 (6)
March 2009 (10)
February 2009 (9)
January 2009 (9)
December 2008 (16)
November 2008 (13)
October 2008 (12)
September 2008 (11)
August 2008 (9)
July 2008 (12)
June 2008 (10)
May 2008 (16)

Categories

Agriculture (12)
Amber Hildebrandt (22)
Amuse-bouche (32)
Andree Lau (24)
Culture (43)
Elizabeth Bridge (7)
Health (13)
Industry (26)
Jessica Wong (26)
Kevin Yarr (15)
Leigh Felesky (3)
Politics (11)
Tara Kimura (29)
Trends (33)
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

World »

Iraq PM pledges to root out ISIS militants
Iraq's outgoing prime minster pledged Monday to turn his country into "a big grave" for Sunni militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and commended security forces who achieved a rare victory over insurgents by ending the siege of a Shia town.
Ukraine crisis: Separatists soften stance on independence video
Pro-Russian rebels softened their demand for full independence Monday, saying they would respect Ukraine's sovereignty in exchange for autonomy — a shift that reflects Moscow's desire to strike a deal at a new round of peace talks.
Photos Burning Man 2014: Caravansary wraps up in Nevada desert
Burning Man, the arts and culture festival held annually in the Nevada desert, attracts some 60,000 people from around the world who spend a week camping and exercising what organizers call radical self-expression on a dry lake bed.
more »

Canada »

B.C. teachers' strike: Premier's tweets blaming teachers add fuel to fire video audio
Not only are the two sides in the B.C. teachers' strike too far apart to even begin mediation, on Sunday - in what is arguably a new low for relations between the government and the B.C. Teacher's Federation - Premier Christy Clark furthered inflamed the heated negotiations with a series of tweets blaming teachers for the failure to resolve the crisis before the new school year.
Analysis Stephen Harper takes big words, small stick to NATO summit audio
Stephen Harper is only the latest Canadian prime minister to offer stirring rhetorical contributions to the Western alliance without having much firepower to back them up. But this week's NATO summit in Wales will expose that gap between words and deeds.
Tomasz Gladkowski, 39, dies trying to rescue drowning son from Lake Huron
The body of a Mississauga man who tried to rescue his drowning son in Lake Huron has been found, according to the Huron County Ontario Provincial Police.
more »

Politics »

Analysis Stephen Harper takes big words, small stick to NATO summit audio
Stephen Harper is only the latest Canadian prime minister to offer stirring rhetorical contributions to the Western alliance without having much firepower to back them up. But this week's NATO summit in Wales will expose that gap between words and deeds.
Go Public Canadians expose foreign worker 'mess' in oilsands video
Canadian tradesmen from a huge oilsands construction project are waving a red flag about safety hazards and near misses, which they blame on the use of foreign workers who aren’t qualified and can’t speak English.
Tom Mulcair attacks Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau at Labour Day Parade
Thousands of people marched in Toronto's annual Labour Day Parade this morning to show their support for local unions.
more »

Health »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Arts & Entertainment»

Jennifer Lawrence among celebrity victims in leak of nude photos video
Intimate images of dozens of celebrities, including Academy Award winner and Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence, have been leaked online by an anonymous hacker who claims to have stolen materials from more than 100 actors and singers.
How country music is sidelining female artists
One needn't look far to find evidence that country music's gender imbalance has grown wider than the brim of a Stetson — take the nominations for this year's CCMA Awards, or the "standard rule" about not playing female artists back to back on radio.
TV viewers snack more during action shows, study finds
Given access to piles of candy and other snacks, TV watchers ended up eating far more when watching an action movie than when viewing the public-television interview show Charlie Rose.
more »

Technology & Science »

Salaries paid in bitcoin a growing trend in Canada
A small but growing — and surprising — number of workers are rejecting Canadian dollar salaries for bitcoin, according to an Ontario payroll firm.
Neanderthals created cave art, researchers discover
Belying their reputation as the dumb cousins of early modern humans, Neanderthals created cave art, an activity regarded as a major cognitive step in the evolution of humankind, scientists reported on Monday in a paper describing the first discovery of artwork by this extinct species.
Analysis Vanadium battery technology could transform power grids
Batteries made of the metal vanadium have the potential to transform electrical grids and our ability to make use of green energy such as wind and solar power, CBC's David Common reports.
more »

Money »

Salaries paid in bitcoin a growing trend in Canada
A small but growing — and surprising — number of workers are rejecting Canadian dollar salaries for bitcoin, according to an Ontario payroll firm.
Finance Canada now sees middle-class families in rosy hue
Finance Canada has issued a rebuttal of a politically embarrassing report on middle-class economic woes compiled last fall by Employment and Social Development Canada, now finding Canadian middle class incomes have grown strongly since 1976.
New Arctic Economic Council will try to shape development in North video
The first meeting of the Arctic Economic Council begins Tuesday in Iqaluit, with the new group aiming to lay the groundwork for businesses seeking opportunities as climate change opens up the North.
more »

Consumer Life »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Sports »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Eugenie Bouchard succumbs to Makarova, heat at U.S. Open
Appearing worn down by the sweltering conditions in New York, Canada's Eugenie Bouchard lost to Ekaterina Makarova 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the fourth round of the U.S. Open on Monday.
Video Ricky Ray youngest CFLer to pass for 50,000 yards video
With a 37-yard completion to Jason Barnes with a little more than eight minutes left in the Argonauts' 13-12 loss at Hamilton on Monday, Toronto's Ricky Ray became the youngest CFL quarterback to reach the 50,000-yard career passing mark.
The Mattingly Line Dodgers' infield shift goes extreme
Needing to retire a pull hitter to escape a jam in extra innings, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly stacked the right side of his infield in an extreme example of baseball's trendy defensive shifts.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »