Pop quiz: Most popular beverage in Germany? If you guessed “beer”, you got it wrong. Germans drink more coffee than beer.
Worldwide, coffee production and consumption are at an all-time high. The European Union, which includes countries with stereotypes of beer-guzzling Germans, hot chocolate-sipping Dutch, and tea-totaling British, is the world’s largest coffee consumer, using 2.7 million tons of beans in 2013-14 (worldwatch.org).
In the U.S., we came to a little over half that figure (1.5 million tons). The country with the largest production of coffee, Brazil, had the largest per-capita consumption of the beverage, with 1.2 million tons total, or about 6 pounds of coffee for each resident.
Although South America is still the biggest supplier, trends are shifting. Developing countries, mainly in Africa, have entered the global market and coffee from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and others is becoming available on a growing scale.
Another stereotype to be discarded: Rice production isn’t the most important agricultural activity in Vietnam. This once war-torn country has advanced to the No. 2 spot in coffee production for the world.
Coffee gourmets will enjoy the fact that production in Africa and Asia favors the Robusta bean, which is different from the Arabica bean we get with an ordinary “cup of joe.” Robusta is grown in lowlands and has a more bitter (some say “richer”) flavor than the high-altitude Arabica.
Along with increased agricultural output, and the chance for economically troubled countries to heal their finances, comes the concern for environment and workers. There too, the signs are encouraging.
Brazil, with the world’s largest resources of tropical rainforest, continues to lose thousands of square miles each year to deforestation. But the pace seems to be slowing.
Coffee production is extremely labor-intensive, with its own set of dangers. Tropical environments are home to snakes and other animals with levels of venom not seen in the U.S.
As coffee prices fluctuate as wildly as gasoline, small producers are always at risk of going broke. New cooperatives have formed in Ethiopia, Costa Rica and India, protecting farm owners and workers against financial disaster.
Here in North Georgia, coffee enthusiasts are anxiously awaiting the first harvest of Yonah Coffee, a crop that started as an experiment by Georgia State professor Richard Stafford. If all goes well, a brand grown right here in the Peach State should become ready at the end of this year.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.