Ann Arbor, we need to talk about coffee.
This city is undoubtedly home to a huge population of uniquely talented individuals and an above-average population of brilliant people. We’re consistently at the tops of “Smartest Cities in the US” lists, and for good reason. We’re a hard-working collection of high-functioning students and professionals, and the truth is, a lot of that focus necessary for a high-stress life can probably be chalked up to that little brown cup of bitterness so many of us drink every morning. I wouldn’t make it to many of my morning classes without a little help from my Keurig. This isn’t to say that our ability to study at such a great university is reliant on a java addiction, but it’s definitely helpful.
The average coffee-drinking American drinks three cups a day, which equals 21 cups a week and more than 1,000 cups in a 365-day year. Add in the fact that the average resident of downtown Ann Arbor is either a high-functioning student or a hard-working professional, and you’re guzzling down above-average cups a day. Ann Arbor has a coffee culture so deeply rooted that these figures aren’t so surprising, but they raise a serious question: How does the human race keep up this habit that depletes so many of the world’s resources?
The world (and us Ann Arborites) doesn’t need to kick the coffee habit, we just need to start making better choices in where we put our money. A great way to do this, and an option plentiful in Ann Arbor coffee shops, is choosing fair trade: the process of businesses justly compensating farmers and workers in developing countries instead of exploiting them for profit as many large corporations do. These businesses work directly with the farmers who grow the crops they will use and sell, ensuring that they’re grown sustainably and organically. Fair trade is, in a way, the epitome of anti-capitalism: the workers at the bottom of the production chain are paid fairly for their contribution to the business, instead of being dragged in the dust by the bigwigs at the top. While this entire process can seem so far from our daily routines and our simple need for a shot of espresso, it’s important to realize the power we can have all the way in Ann Arbor just by choosing sustainable options.
While it’s not practical to interrogate your local barista about the facts of where their coffee beans are grown and how much the farmers are paid per shipment, it’s not so difficult to do your research about which of your favorite coffee shops use fair trade ingredients. Fair trade options are plentiful in Ann Arbor, as long as you know where to look. Businesses who utilize fair trade are usually proud of this fact and promote it when possible, since it’s a pretty awesome business strategy: you’ll reel in people who consider themselves environmentally friendly and sustainable, and the people who could care less won’t think less of your shop because of it. Espresso Royale buys their coffee from “Crop-to-Cup,” an importer that buys organic beans directly from farmers in developing countries, and reward them with fair pay for practicing environmentally sustainable practices. Smaller shops like Elixir Vitae Coffee and Tea have fair trade options if you ask. The options are there if you know where to work, and the whole process is a win-win situation, win-win-win if you think about the workers who benefit from fair wages.
Coffee isn’t a luxury for many people. It’s a necessity. Coffee fuels our work, our successes and keeps us functioning for our 8 a.m.’s as well as our nights out with friends. Coffee drives our educations, our artistic endeavors and, occasionally, our failures. For a beverage so present in our lives, we might as well make choices in our purchasing histories that may have little difference for ourselves, but could greatly change the well-being of someone working in agriculture a world away. Fair trade is the building block for building up poor communities, starting with families, then communities and then finding the power to change entire populations for the better. It’s a small step, but every one of us has the power to help a community just by our pre-class choice of where to pick up a latte.