Why is International Coffee Day Important?

By Peter Giuliano, Sr. Director of Symposium, SCAA

October 1 is International Coffee Day. The “international” part of the holiday is important- there have been national coffee days for some time, but the international version is different- this year orchestrated by the International Coffee Organization to emphasize the importance of internationalist solidarity in coffee.

As a political concept, internationalism emphasizes trade, exchange, communication and respect between and among people and nations. It respects all humans on the planet as citizens of the world, each with human rights. It promotes connection and solidarity across national borders. It is the opposite of nationalism and its extreme forms, jingoism and xenophobia.

Coffee is, of course, essentially and historically international. Indigenous only to East Africa, it made its way to Asia early in its history, and it was there it was first traded internationally- first by the Arabs, then by Europeans, and later in the Americas and throughout Asia.

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The trade of coffee, along with other foods like spices, sugar, cod, and cacao, helped create the trade network we still use today. Sadly, this trade often carried with it international abuses- the slave trade was a part of this same network, and much of the structure of international trade was built upon the framework of colonialism. When thinking of internationalism in coffee, therefore, we must recognize the history and potential for international oppression, and understand that the best remedy for that is positive international exchange, a commitment to international human rights, and increased communication.  Today, the specialty coffee community is one of the most international there is- it is frankly impossible to get coffee into a person’s cup without engaging in international trade in some way.

Therefore, on International Coffee Day, we are called to celebrate the benefits of internationalism in coffee while we recommit to rejecting its ills, and seeking progress towards enlightened international exchange and solidarity. Today, we remind ourselves that the only way to move towards better quality, true sustainability, and universal prosperity in coffee is to embrace the global diversity of our trade. Everyone can- and should- do this. How? I’m glad you asked!

Celebrate Internationalism Vertically– Wherever you sit on the coffee chain from coffee farmer to coffee drinker, you are a part of a connected line of individuals which grows up from the farm into the cup. This International Coffee Day, identify and celebrate someone else in that line. If you’re a barista, investigate the coffee you’re serving today; there was a farmer somewhere who grew it- and you might even know their name or their co-op’s name. Why not learn a little more? Do you know exactly where the coffee was grown? Can you pronounce the name of the town? Can you find their email- either by googling or asking the roaster- and thank them for their work? Can you tweet at them? If you’re a coffee lover- can you find out where the coffee came from, and see if you can contact them? This year, I plan to reach out to one of my favorite co-ops, CENFROCAFE in Northern Peru, to say hi and remind them that I look forward to drinking their coffee every year. I’ll also offer my help and solidarity. For those whom face a language barrier, why not use Google Translate to break down the barrier, which is the very purpose for which it was designed?

Celebrate Internationalism Horizontally- Whether you’re a coffee roaster, a barista, an importer, a consumer, or a salesperson, you have an international peer somewhere in Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, the Americas, or elsewhere. Today, why not rekindle that contact or establish a new one? Solidarity among coffee people transcends political boundaries- it’s likely that a coffee roaster in Europe faces many of the same challenges and aspirations as one in Australia. Why not reach out to one? I think I’ll email my friend and hero Yuko Itoi of Cafetime in Kyoto, who I’ve lost contact with in recent years.

Get involved in International Efforts- The most powerful things happening in coffee right now are international efforts to improve the coffee trade worldwide. World Coffee Events is behind the World Barista Championship and other global coffee competitions. Re:co Symposium is an intentional effort to bring international coffee leaders together for idea sharing and to foster innovation. World Coffee Events and the Coffee Quality Institute are international organizations dedicated to coffee research, development, and progress. The International Coffee Organization is the organization dedicated to economic internationalism, and is holding a Global Coffee Forum in Milan this very week. As you may have heard, the SCAE and SCAA– already international organizations themselves- are exploring ways to work together, to form the largest international coffee network dedicated to quality, sustainability and progress we’ve ever seen. If you care about internationalism, get involved in one or more of these efforts. As a first step, you could watch one of the Re:co talks on the subject- perhaps Paul Stack’s appeal for international cooperation, or the ICO’s own Mauricio Galindo’s talk about the international coffee market.

But, most of all, just recognizing the international effort it took to get delicious coffee into the cup is a critical first step. Have a great International Coffee Day, everyone.

Reposted from Peter Giuliano’s blog, Pax Coffea