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Coffee

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Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in todays society, to the extent that it has become an essential part to many people’s daily life. Global coffee consumption has doubled over the last 40 years, going from 4.2million tonnes in 1970 to 8.7million tonnes in 2015. This has meant that coffee has become the most widely traded agricultural product, and therefore the most valuable. It goes through a complex chain including the growers, the traders, the processors, the exporters, the roasters and the retailers before it finally reaches the consumer. Many farmers have no understanding where the coffee they have grown goes once they have sold it, or even how much it sells for once it reaches the commercial markets.

The coffee market is dependant on the of the eco-system in the location the coffee is grown in. Coffee availability is entirely dependant on weather conditions, disease, pests and anything else that nature could conjure up to affect coffee production; this is being made worse by the impacts of climate change, which has affected weather patterns and temperatures. Due to this, coffee is a constantly fluctuating commodity, with prices rising and falling in tandem with the above factors which can affect how much coffee is exported from its place of origin. This volatility has meant that the people who depend on coffee for their livelihood, primarily the millions of individual farmers living in the rural regions of coffee exporting countries, cannot predict their income for the approaching season. When prices of coffee are low, farmers do not have the means to invest in their farms and maintenance, then during the seasons in which they cannot break-even, they struggle to put food on the table for their families and pay the necessary bills and fees. Almost 125 million people worldwide depend on the coffee market for their livelihood, and yet many cannot rely on their seasonal income to provide them with enough to support them.

60% of the worlds coffee is produced by four countries – Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia; Latin America is the largest regional producer of coffee, followed by Asia and Oceania. These coffee exports are a crucial contribution to all the national economies of the 70+ countries that export it. The image below displays the coffee belt, the regions of the world in which coffee is grown – most commonly between 23 degrees north latitude and 23 degrees south latitude; the most premium coffee is grown within 35 countries in this zone.

The coffee beans that most people recognise are actually the seeds of a fruit known as a coffee cherry. The skin of a coffee cherry is thick and bitter, but the fruit that is found underneath represents the texture of a grape, but is actually much sweeter. The actual green bean that is then roasted for coffee is found underneath yet another layer. Most coffee trees need at least a year for the cherries to fully mature before the fruits, and therefore the seeds, can be harvested. When coffee cherries are ready for harvesting the skin goes a bright red; and harvesting happens at various times of the year, depending on the location of the farm. Harvesting can happen in on of two ways, stripping the branch of all the fruits or hand selecting the ones ready for harvest, the latter is a process that takes much longer and is usually reserved for the high quality beans, ensuring that every cup is as satisfying as it can be. North of the equator the harvest usually takes place between the months of September and March, and south of the equator the harvest happens between the months of April and May.