Coffee and the Coffee Culture in the US
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I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.
At La Colombe coffee shop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you can enjoy a tasty cup of coffee as you read the newspaper or meet with friends. The shop is very busy and lively.
The people who work there can quickly make excellent espresso or drip coffee drinks. La Colombe is a good example of how important coffee culture has become in the United States. Join us as we explore the culture, history and business of one of the world's favorite drinks.
In the United States, the number of specialty coffee shops has increased greatly over the years. In nineteen ninety-five there were an estimated five thousand shops and sellers specializing in coffee. By two thousand six, there were almost twenty-four thousand. It is hard to walk down a street in an American city without coming across a coffee shop. And, chances are, that coffee shop might be a Starbucks.
The Starbucks company started in the West Coast city of Seattle, Washington, in nineteen seventy-one. Today, there are more than twelve thousand Starbucks around the world. Starbucks has helped make coffee culture a popular part of people's daily lives. The stores sell all kinds of coffee. They sell special hot and cold coffee drinks like Frappucinos and White Chocolate Mocha. They also sell food, music and books. Starbucks has helped educate people about the world of coffee.
But there is much more to making and enjoying coffee than Starbucks. In fact, many people criticize the aggressive expansion of Starbucks and its impersonal coffee shops. The company has made business difficult for smaller, independent coffee shops. But these coffee shops have a strong and loyal following. There is a certain pride in the coffee industry among the smaller, more personal coffee sellers.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America holds a yearly competition for the people who prepare coffee drinks, known as baristas. The best baristas from different areas of the country gather to make three coffee drinks. A group of coffee experts judges them. The baristas take their job very seriously. They have fifteen minutes to make three kinds of coffee drinks: an espresso, a cappuccino, and a specialty drink of their own invention.
"A big round of applause for Melanie's espressos!"
The best baristas in the country then compete for the national award. There is even a World Barista Championship. This year it will be held in Tokyo, Japan.
Doug Wolfe recently competed in the Mid-Atlantic area barista competition. But to really see him work his coffee magic, you must visit him where he works, at La Colombe.
"My name is Doug Wolfe, and I am from Philadelphia. I am with La Colombe Torrefaction. I'm going to be making an espresso and cappuccino for you guys."
To make an espresso, Doug packs freshly ground coffee into a filter that attaches to a shiny La San Marco espresso machine from Italy. The machine forces heated water at high pressure through the coffee. The resulting espresso has a strong, smooth and flavorful taste. He makes a cappuccino by adding perfectly heated milk to an espresso. This may sound easy. But making a perfect espresso requires several things: the right amount of fresh coffee and expert control of water temperature, pressure and timing. La Colombe roasts its own special coffee mixtures at a factory nearby. This way it can control the high quality and freshness of its product.
You might enjoy a cup of coffee at your local coffee shop. But coffee is part of an international industry. Research shows that as many as one-third of the people in the world drink coffee. Some people drink coffee for its rich smell and taste. Others like the awakening effect of caffeine, a chemical in coffee. But not everyone may know the story of coffee and how it is produced.
One popular story about the discovery of coffee long ago is about Kaldi, a keeper of goats Kaldi was taking care of his goats in the highlands of Ethiopia where coffee trees have grown for centuries. He noticed that his goats became very excited and active after eating small fruits from a tree.
Kaldi reported this discovery to a group of religious workers. When they made a drink out of the fruit, the religious workers realized they could stay awake for long hours of prayer. This knowledge about coffee soon spread all over the world.
Coffee trees are native to eastern Africa and areas of the Arabian Peninsula. Coffee was first grown and traded in the fifteenth century. Most coffee came from what is now Yemen. Soon, coffee was in high demand all over the Middle East. By the seventeenth century coffee had been introduced to Europe. European traders started bringing coffee plants to other parts of the world. The Dutch brought coffee to the islands of Indonesia. And by the twentieth century, most of the world's production came from Central and South America. Today, Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world.
Most people know what a coffee bean looks like, but what about the plant? Coffee trees can grow up to nine meters high, but they are cut short for production. These trees have shiny dark green leaves that grow on opposite sides of each other on a stem. The plant produces a fruit that is called a coffee cherry.
When the coffee cherries are ripe and ready to pick, they are bright, red and firm. Inside the fruits are the green coffee beans. After these beans are roasted at high temperatures they are ready to be made into a drink.
The two most important kinds of coffee plants are the arabica and the canephora, which is commonly known as robusta. Arabica coffee makes up about seventy percent of the world's production. These trees produce a fine and mild coffee with a rich smell.
Robusta has a more caffeine than arabica. It is usually mixed with other coffee beans or used for instant coffee. Most of the world's robusta is grown in Central and Western Africa. It can also be found in parts of Southeast Asia and Brazil. Robusta is less costly to grow because it is more resistant to diseases than the arabica plant. Also, robusta plants can survive in a warmer climate.
There may only be two main kinds of coffee plants. But geography and climate differences have a big effect on the many different ways coffee can taste. For example, coffee grown in Ethiopia is known for its lively, sharp taste and its flowery smell. Coffee from the island of Sumatra has a full body with an earthy and intense taste. Coffee roasters combine beans from different areas to make coffees with different tastes and qualities.
Coffee is the second most heavily traded product in the world after oil. A coffee bean goes from a series of producers, exporters, importers, roasters and sellers. This long chain of production has major social and political effects. For example, some coffee producers and drinkers are concerned about the Fair Trade movement. The aim of this movement is to make sure that coffee farmers around the world get a fair price for their harvest. Poor farmers are organized into groups called cooperatives. They are guaranteed money under this system. Even if the market price for coffee drops, these farmers can earn enough money to live.
Critics of the movement say coffee farmers still do not receive a fair amount of money for their work. And some economists argue that Fair Trade creates too large a supply of coffee.
There are also environmental concerns within the coffee industry. Industrial coffee production can have a bad effect on nature. The chemicals used on large coffee farms can hurt soil and water sources. These large farms also cut down many trees to make room for coffee plants. This threatens native plants and birds.
Environmental organizations have worked to create rules for producing coffee in environmentally friendly ways. Many coffee drinkers buy this coffee to support their efforts.
So, the next time you enjoy your morning coffee, you can think about its rich history and wide popularity. And you can imagine the long distances it traveled to end up in your cup.
This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein.