It started with the rust.
Like cities decaying from the loss of manufacturing, a pervasive corrosion, a disease known as coffee rust, was settling upon many of the mountainous regions that supplied coffee to the world. Delicate coffee trees became almost metallic, as if to be a living metaphor for the times. Communities impoverished by corporate exploitation found themselves losing vast portions of their crop.
But the rust was only the start.
The climate was changing. It was easy to get fixated on how many degrees global average temperatures would rise by. It wasn’t this that killed the coffee, though. The weather just became too wild, too unpredictable. Heatwaves when it was meant to be cold. Deluge when it was meant to be dry. We lost so much of the land that could yield us coffee. At first, higher altitudes could sustain more crops, but who among the small growers and coffee co-ops could afford new land?
And at the start, most of us were unaware. Drinking our damn fine cups of coffee. We didn’t really notice the unfolding fate of our growers, or register the new research into the hybrid coffee that we were going to become totally reliant on. If we did, it felt more like big tech developing a new gadget than what it actually was – the entire future of coffee.
I’m writing this because I want to record a sad moment. I have only a few grams of my favourite Colombian arabica left. Enough for one coffee. You can criticise me for caring so much about a drink, when we look at the utter devastation that has befallen this world. But the coffee economy was huge, and dependent on people who have lost everything. And the fact remains that every day, that rose-gold cafetiere slowly brewed what was to me like captured sunlight, roasted and darkened. Most days it was the best thing that happened all day.
Now, most growers have been forced out of business, and the experts are still trying to hybridise the West African wild coffee, to become a realistic successor for the global coffee industry. Supply is scarce and prices are insane. So I’m raising my cup to the times when coffee was a daily ritual for most of us, when none of us could quite appreciate enough what we were about to lose.