This year, Daily Coffee News resumed its “Three Questions” reporting series, in which inspiring and progressive coffee industry leaders are invited to share some thoughts on their respective journeys in coffee.
During the process, they are also asked the same three questions: 1) What inspires you most about coffee? ; 2) What about the coffee that bothers you the most? ; and 3) What would you do if there had been no coffee?
We hope to expand this series over the coming year, but we need your help. Is there someone in the cafe who inspires you? An unsung hero who deserves the attention of the coffee world? Someone for whom coffee is not a career, but a vocation? If so, feel free to name that person here.
Below is an overview of our favorite answers to the 2021 “Three Questions”. Note that some answers may have been shortened for clarity.
[Editor’s note: This feature is part of our ongoing 2021 year-end coverage. Click here for additional stories, updated daily through Dec. 31.]
These answers were provided during our interviews with IWCA Executive Director Sarada Krishnan, Salt Spring Coffee co-founder Mickey McLeod, African Coffee Club founder Mukurima Muriuki, Café Lucia photographer and documentary maker. Bawot, the “Bean Queen” of the Democratic Republic of Congo Linda Mugaruka (interview translated from French) and Marcus Young from Cropster.
What inspires you the most about coffee?
McLeod: I’m really inspired by the way coffee connects us to people and the environment. The growing conditions behind, the weather, the soil – they all play such an important role in shaping the flavor that ends up in our cup.
Mugaruka: What inspires me in coffee is being able to communicate and advise producers, heroes of the industry. I call them heroes because they work tirelessly, sometimes even sleeping in the fields to produce the best possible coffees.
Young: Our industry, like all others, has serious issues with diversity and inclusiveness, but many specialty coffees have refused to accept the status quo. This work takes place at every step of the supply chain: farmers work alongside NGOs to increase incomes on the farm and for agricultural workers; baristas and roasters strive to create more inclusive cafes and businesses; and others are striving to diversify all levels of specialty coffee. We have groups dedicated to environmental action and a future for coffee in the face of climate change and other factors.
Baouot: I think we would all agree that there is something supernatural about coffee, a magnetism that brings people together. Once you enter the coffee industry, you are beautifully trapped. Plus, the coffee industry is constantly reinventing itself, and that’s what excites me.
What about the coffee that bothers you the most?
Mugaruka: What bothers me about coffee is being around people who don’t recognize the value and the difficulty of working down the supply chain to deliver quality coffee.
Muriuki: What bothers me about coffee is seeing all the smiling faces of people drinking coffee, but they have no idea of the suffering that some coffee producers go through. I am troubled that the people who taste a tasty cup of coffee and pay extra for it don’t know that the farmer responsible for that great coffee never received his fair wages.
Young: I am troubled by the inequalities in coffee and the fact that despite years of efforts by so many people, we continue to fail on the most basic promise of a fair industry. The reality of a volatile and often speculative C-Market that excludes many producers and the downward pressure on prices from multinational roasters, as well as profit-driven vertical integration, pose real challenges for producers and consumers alike. local communities dependent on seasonal income from coffee production.
Krishnan: The impact of climate change on coffee is of great concern. That is why I am a strong advocate for the conservation of coffee genetic resources. We need these resources to make culture resilient for a sustainable future of culture and all those who depend on coffee for their livelihood.
Baouot: Something that bothers me about coffee has to do with how some coffee trees – and I include myself because I have done this in the past – think we know the whole truth, that coffee should be drunk. ‘in a way… Our goal should be to get more people to drink coffee, enjoy it and fall in love with this industry, not so much [to enforce] how people drink it.
McLeod: Our world faces a monumental challenge in the form of climate change. For the coffee industry, this means that rising temperatures and extreme weather events will increasingly affect the areas where we can grow coffee and the livelihoods of the original producers.
What would you do without the coffee?
McLeod: If I wasn’t running Salt Spring Coffee, I would probably be doing something food and farming related. Like coffee, food has a way of connecting consumers, producers and the land. These industries – coffee, agriculture and forestry – remind us to take care of the land. These are the types of businesses that interest me.
Krishnan: If I hadn’t turned to horticulture (and coffee), I probably would have turned to accounting. I like the numbers. At one point in my career, I even took accounting classes at the local community college and worked one season for H&R Block in taxation. I am grateful for this experience, but I am happy to be in the coffee business.
Muriuki: I help businesses and individuals resolve conflicts by showing them how to clarify their interests. I would also talk more about the African continent and help people relearn the continent.
Baouot: I would probably do photojournalism for newspapers or magazines, covering social issues around the world.
Young: Over the past few years I have started making natural wine with my wife Devorah and my mate Valerian. The results have been delicious. We do not add yeasts or sulfites; we don’t filter; and we do all the production by hand at home.
Mugaruka: If I was not in the coffee industry, I would still be in another sector related to agriculture and work to improve food security in parts of my country. I love helping people and being useful, and food security and women’s empowerment are challenges that I would like to help solve.