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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 03-09-2006, 06:13 PM Thread Starter
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Politics and coffee

Absolution in Your Cup
The real meaning of Fair Trade coffee
Kerry Howley

Oakland, California, 1990: A mundane meeting of coffee cognoscenti dissolves into a spectacular clash of personalities. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) represented an undeveloped but rapidly growing industry, a loose collection of young entrepreneurs just learning the gourmet coffee trade. The three-day conference was meant to hash out pretty dry stuff: where to buy raw beans, where to store them, how to ship them—the nuts and bolts of a gourmet industry in its infancy. A day into the meeting, roaster Paul Katzeff burst into the hotel lobby with dozens of fellow protesters, banging drums and shouting about Salvadoran death squads. They underscored the message by pouring a dozen “buckets of blood�—watered-down red paint—on the steps of the Claremont Hotel.

The demonstration was, in the words of one participant, “calculated to produce rage.� Another recalls an audience half stupefied, half infuriated. “We just wanted to talk about coffee,� he explains.

Katzeff wasn’t the only overcaffeinated maverick trying to inject political controversy into the industry, but he was by far the loudest. A strong supporter of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, Katzeff earned notoriety in 1986 by suing President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George H.W. Bush, and Attorney General Edwin Meese over the embargo on Nicaraguan goods, a policy he considered illegal. He had defied the sanctions by shipping Nicaraguan beans through Canada, carving deep rifts into the turf of the then-new gourmet coffee world. By 1990, he was insisting on an industry-wide boycott on coffee from El Salvador, where landowners stood accused of stoking civil war. He was, says former SCAA chief Dan Cox, a “walking time bomb.�

Today it’s legal to buy coffee from Nicaragua but illegal to trade with Cuba, so Katzeff sells an “End the Embargo� dark roast with Che Guevara’s image on the bag. Katzeff has done as much as anyone to force social concerns into the coffee market; 15 years after he dumped mock blood on the steps of the Claremont, politics and gourmet coffee are inextricable. “I went from being a pariah to being an icon,� he told me with characteristic understatement—and to some extent, he’s right. Roasters like Katzeff have transformed politics into yet another marketable attribute, pitching a clean conscience alongside a clean flavor. The phrase “Fair Trade coffee� has percolated into the vernacular, and the label it represents pervades the business at every level.

If the movement has shed some of its intensity since those heady days of conference crashing, you can chalk that up to the complacency of success. Fair Trade certification, intended to raise the living standards of coffee farmers in Nicaragua and elsewhere, has grown into a complex bureaucracy and an industry in itself. Starbucks, the longtime Enemy No. 1 of the Fair Trade crusaders, agreed to purchase a limited amount of Fair Trade certified coffee days before a planned protest in 2000. The company bought 10 million pounds in 2005. In 2003 Dunkin’ Donuts agreed to make all of its espresso drinks certified. Nestle, one of the biggest coffee companies on Earth, launched a Fair Trade line in October 2005; the same month, McDonald’s agreed to test Fair Trade in 658 outlets. High-end specialty coffees are the fastest growing sector of the industry, and Fair Trade is the fastest growing specialty coffee; demand for it has ballooned by around 70 percent annually for the last five years.

You’d think this confluence of social responsibility and double lattes, good business practices and lefty politics, would make Katzeff a happy man. But he and a growing number of roasters say the Fair Trade movement has lost its way. The movement has always aroused suspicion on the right, where free traders object to its price floors and anti-globalization rhetoric. Yet critics from the left are more vocal and more angry by half; they point to unhappy farmers, duped consumers, an entrenched Fair Trade bureaucracy, and a grassroots campaign gone corporate.

read the remainder at reason.com
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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 03-09-2006, 06:31 PM
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RE: Politics and coffee

coffee tastes worse than beer.

This signature removed to protect the innocent.
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post #3 of 4 (permalink) Old 03-10-2006, 12:24 AM
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RE: Politics and coffee

BBC2 Friday March 10th

7.00pm Not-So-Fair Trade?

The Money Programme investigates why increasing numbers of people are prepared to pay higher prices for Fair Trade goods. Reporter Libby Potter explores whether the movement can satisfy its growing band of critics, and asks if the extra cost really represents money well spent.


OK Bot,be here by 6.45,bring a six pack!
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 03-10-2006, 12:34 AM
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RE: Politics and coffee

Coffee propels - Beer dispels.
Politics - best not argued under either influence I guess...Holy water anyone?.
ineon: you deserve a good oral flushing!.
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