Coffee or tea in northeast Africa?The Vancouver Sun here has an informative but confusing article about northeast African caffeinated drinking habits. The headline refers to former tea-drinkers switching to coffee, something that appears to be happening in big cities with fashionable coffee shops. The opening paragraph of the article refers to the abandonment by young people of the practice of men (and only men) drinking an Arab-style bitter coffee called kahawa chungu. The article as a whole discusses the problem of coffee-producing countries where most people drink black tea, a legacy of British colonialism. Kenyans consume only 3,000 tons of the 50,000 tons of coffee grown in their country. Ugandans drink only 8,400 tons of the 198,000 tons of coffee grown in their country. In contrast, Ethiopians (whose only time under colonial rule was briefly under coffee-loving Italians) drink half of the coffee grown in their country.
Ethiopian coffee ceremony
Three Ethiopian women residing in Seattle recreated the Ethiopian coffee ceremony at Seattle's Burke Museum here.
Chewing the narcotic khat leaf: should Americans think of it as like coffee or cocaine?
Khat is chewed legally as a social tonic and stimulant in the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East, but it is illegal in the USA. In America khat users are members of the Ethiopian, Somalian, and Yemen immigrant communities. Although it is unlikely that other Americans are likely to chew khat, it is possible that they may eventually use it in other forms. For instance, young Israelis who frequent clubs have begun to experiment with a pill known as "hagiagat," a Hebrew word that may be translated as "party khat." A Somali immigrant, Starlin Mohamud, is writing a dissertation on khat at San Diego State University. Apparently it focuses on social problems associated with khat use among immigrant groups in the USA. For more, see here.
Noncommercial alcohol as a problem
The International Center for Alcohol Policies recently released a report, Noncommercial Alcohol in Three Regions, that looks at central and eastern Europe (such as Belarus and Ukraine), subsaharan Africa (such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe), and South Asia (such as Sri Lanka). For more, see here. The report defines noncommercial alcohol as "traditional beverages produced for home consumption or limited local trade and counterfeit or unregistered products."
Eighteenth-Century Coffee-Houses and coffee today (book review)
Bee Wilson reviews in the Times Literary Supplement, 31 October 2007, Markman Ellis, ed., Eighteenth-Century Coffee-House Culture, 4 vols. (Pickering & Chatto, 2007). For the review, see here. Putting her review in a contemporary context, Wilson begins with references to the film Black Gold and Ethiopian farmers.
Coffee empire: how honest are Starbucks' claims to treat Ethiopian coffee growers fairly?
For a critical look at the Starbucks claims that the American company treats Ethiopian coffee growers fairly, see here.
"Black Gold" coffee documentary film and Ethiopian poverty
Earlier released in the USA, the documentary film "Black Gold" (created by brothers Marc and Nick Francis) has now reached the United Kingdom. The London press has offered generally favorable reviews, including Emma Love in the Observer, 10 June 2007, here; Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, 8 June 2007, here; and Wendy Ide in the Times, 7 June 2007, here. The film focuses on the contrast between the high prices for coffee paid by consumers in the West (and their comfortable lives) and the very low prices received by desperately poor small coffee farmers. (Coffee is the rare commodity which small farmers can grow as cheaply as can big plantations.) Coffee in grown around the world (Latin America, Vietnam, Indonesia, for instance), but the film looks at the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia, and in particular a part of southern Ethiopia where a farmer's cooperative, managed by Tadesse Meskela, attempts to improve the lives of the producers. In part, the strategies are quality and skipping parts of the coffee commercial chain to sell directly to roasters. The film includes a barista competition in North America, an interview with the head of upscale Illy coffee in Italy, the New York City coffee exchange (which with London's sets the price for most coffee), a World Trade Organization meeting in Mexico, and a predictable visit to a Starbucks and many glimpses of coffee drinkers (almost always women) carrying Starbucks cups. Although the film is fuzzy about the meaning of fair trade and organic, its heart is in the right place. Coffee farmers in Ethiopia and elsewhere have little bargaining power unless they are supported by middle-class coffee drinkers in the West. By the way, the film notes that the major coffee buyers refused to cooperate with the making of the documentary, so the absence of their perspective is their own fault.
Agreement between Starbucks and Ethiopia
Starbucks has made an agreement with Ethiopia that acknowledges its right to trademark some of its varieties of coffee in order to increase the price that they obtain on the world market. For more, see here.
"Black Gold" film
"Black Gold" is a new film in which advocates of Ethiopian coffee farmers criticize Starbucks and other coffee retailers in the eighty billion dollar industry for the low prices paid to farmers. For more, see here.
Ethiopian coffee trademark dispute may leave Starbucks with nasty taste
"Ethiopian coffee trademark dispute may leave Starbucks with nasty taste" is the title of an article by Madelein Acey in Timesonline, 27 Nov. 2006. It summarizes the arguments of an Oxford academic, Douglas Holt, criticizing Starbucks in its dispute with Ethiopia which wants to trademark its coffee bean varieties to get a better price for the crops. Holt warns that Starbucks' customers, mostly educated and middle class, will side with poverty stricken Ethiopia. Coffee provides 90% of Ethiopia's exports and 54% of its GDP. The GDP for Ethiopia is $11.2 billions which can be compared with Starbucks annual revenues of $7.8 billions. For more, see here.