It’s 6 am Sunday morning in North Carolina and I am drinking a Brazilian coffee and reading the partially erased narratives of history barely legible beneath comments like drinking Brazilian coffee in North Carolina on a Sunday morning…narratives that involve the Middle Passage slave trade, the American Civil War, Portuguese colonialism, mestiza culture, rampant and abject poverty as an expense of corporate gluttony, the massive uprising of civil demonstration, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
It’s quite a busy and complex, this cup of coffee I am sipping.
I spent all week researching East Timor and the surprisingly delicious† Timor Maubesse [currently unpublished review] coffee I had been supping for the past ten days as I prepared my initial review for the Black|Coffee|Light|House, but that review grew too vast and deep too quickly, and I haven’t been able to complete it. Plus another order of coffees came in yesterday, and this Brazilian single estate coffee has commanded my attention, so here goes this review…
Ask most people—especially Americans—about slavery and images (usually falsely-inhanced via Hollywood depictions, complete with Foghorn Leghorn Southern accents, and usually a token white abolitionist fighting the Good Fight®) of Antebellum Plantations with ruthless Southern slaveholders single-handedly whipping the slave trade into the genocidic proportions it did truly attain. However, even with an ascendence to genocide, the idea that the American South was the singular driving force behind the Middle Passage slave trade is one that is no closer to validity than the modern turn of holding Saddam Hussain responsible for the felling of the World Trade Center towers. To be clear: the percentage of slaves brought across the Middle Passage to the American South numbers in the single digits; 6-8%. Conversely, the percentage of African slaves through the Middle Passage to Brazil (and other Portuguese colonies) nears 40%.
These figures are used not to exonerate anyone, but to complicate the discussion of the Atlantic slave trade and its cultural aftermaths.
Why is it that the U.S. grapples so guiltily with placing and taking the blame for slavery when they were by far not the most culpable in trade nor benefit? Rhetorical question, as the U.S. has, since at least the mid-point of the 20th century, willfully and deliberately taken its position as the Empire of Empires for this planet. America likes to be the strongest bully on the playground as well as the most guilt-ridden and eagerly-charitable-to-allay-that-guilt—for America is the “land of overconsumption that loves to cry for the less fortunate;” the country wants to live in “piggish splendor and be ecologically responsible … to have the highest principles but win the popularity contest”‡.
During the Culture Wars of the 1990s, the idea of being an African-American came into vogue. But do the slave decedents in Brazil demand being called African-Brazilians? If everyone calls themselves by an ethnicity that may or may not have clear and direct links, what will be the distinguishing declarative between an African-American born in Atlanta and who has never stepped foot on the African continent and someone born in Cameroon and has emigrated to Denver? Are they not an African-American? This is a cultural debate that has been going on far longer than the blackness debates of the Culture Wars, the Black Panthers, the Harlem Renaissance, or even Négritude, and I am certainly not going to miraculously solve it this morning writing about my cup of Brazilian coffee. But I will discuss it in connection with such…and that involves the question of how Brazil came to be an ethically integrated mestiza culture while the “melting pot” of America is, evidently, far more divisive along those lines. The similarities involve class hegemony and imperial positioning.
The corporate class of the empire in both places rule over the subalterns and the great unwashed masses. These have been the benefitting parties of the Atlantic slave trade and its cultural aftermaths. The Empire Never Ended, as Phil Dick was wont to often say. And the two hundred years the Portuguese held a monopoly on the slave trade paid dividends for their empire (Timor was a colony of theirs, as well as their more famously-known South American low estate). But even with two centuries of solo trade, the Portuguese managed only a few percentage points of the total trade; the over-whelming majority of slaves were bought and sold by that “scarred old slaver who was doin’ alright” under the British flag in the late 17th—and throughout the 18th—century.
Under Empire, a small ruling class disproportionately and exponentially benefits from the direct labor of a majority subaltern class. And to be sure, the ruling class wishes it to be known that running an empire [corporation] is far more demanding and financially valuable than the mere worker who produces material goods. How dare a farmer claim their back-breaking labor should be valued in any commiserative way as a bureaucratic manager!? Such audacity! We should pine for the days when such unruly tongues could be scolded into silence!
Coffee is one such material product that involves considerable labor in the cultivation and harvesting, and yet to hear Starbucks explain this week that they had to raise their coffee prices by 12-20% amidst a considerable fall in world-wide coffee prices because they, Starbucks, have far more overhead to cover than just coffee. Which they indeed do, having spent all that money on attorney fees in recent years to combat the nation of Ethiopia from claiming designation of origin for Ethiopian coffee. The indecency of a nation claiming trademark rights for their own product! Don’t they know that Starbucks invented coffee!?
(Okay, that the second interrobang I’ve used in this philippic review, so Im probably not allowed another one for a few weeks.)
And yet even with their significant share of the US $140 billion/year industry, Starbucks (and others) refuse to pay point-of-origin farmers any kind of living wage to provide the cherry pits for that massive multi-billion dollar-a-year business. The CEOs and marketing people deserve all the credit for the sale of coffee, certainly not the farmers who grow and pick it. Consumers have shown they are willing to pay more money under the belief that “Fair Trade” coffees actually provide some of this immense income to the source workers, but this World Trade Organization status is, at best, controversial, and has yet to be consistently verified to work. As much evidence suggests it does not as has been provided that it does. A hegemonic dichotomy that is found throughout the structure of society and exampled by the massive demonstrations in Brazil this past week in advance of Brazil’s hosting the World Cup next year.
But damnit, man, didn’t you say you were drinking Brazilian coffee!? What about that! Isn’t your coffee cold by now?
Well, it would be, but my cup is empty. Give me a moment, and I’ll pour us a second cup over which we shall discuss this heady brew.
Daterra Estate in Cerrado, Brazil—like its mestiza country—is a collective of small farms each producing a different varietal of coffee. As Daterra describes it, the “plantations, settled in different areas, are divided into 215 mini- farms and further subdivided into 2.816 blocks called ‘quadras’, each of which is planted with a specific coffee variety.” Daterra is a sustainable farm and is Brazil’s first Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee. The particular coffee in my cup this morning is a medium roast called Daterra Bruzzi from Schuil Coffee Co.
The beans are of various sizes (so much so that I thought it was a peaberry coffee upon first glance). Previous to looking into its particulars and after smelling the beans, I commented that from its complex aromas it would seem to be a good candidate for our Bosanska kafa (which is one of the more complicated and delicious methods for brewing, and subject of a future post). This impression was only strengthened by research and tasting.
This coffee has chocolate tones throughout, an uncommon richness, and dry finish. The taste is foreword on my palate, and the flavor leaps up from there. There is little-to-no acidity—but that belies the caffeinated kick it delivers—and the creamy taste lingers but does not coat the tongue. There is no bitterness amidst the honeyed carmel accents, but that sweetness never tasts command of the flavor.
This is quite simply an excellent coffee that would undoubtably pull well as espresso, will be tried in a Turkish grind for Bosanska kafa, and may spur me to delve into my storage unit to retrieve my Bodum Santos vacuum brewing apparatus. One of the best coffees I’ve had in a long time.
Rating: a complex and delicious little pirate.
† The ratings here will not involve numbers that compel one-to-one comparisons. So far I have named three: the two mentioned herein, and disappointingly delicious.
‡ Bogosian, Eric. “Introduction.” Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1996.