Posts Tagged With: North Carolina

Congo Kivu

This morning, outside, it has been raining most of the night and the humidity is as high as humidity can be measured before humidity becomes precipitation. This is what I personally detest about weather in certain places: excessive humidity. Other than where I presently live—that is, in a “port” city where no port should really be; a city built atop a silt swamp complete with human-made beaches to lure tourists (false beaches constructed at enormous cost and maintained at an expense of about $18 million every few years to combat the natural erosion of such a geography, so that people can come here to conspicuously consume in order that the beach-building costs are justified… never mind the state of nature and its processes, which are, in such a scheme, merely an aggravation to the financial planning). The only other place I’ve spent time that is consistently more humid that here is when I lived in New Orleans (a curiously-constructed place, no doubt, but which has its origins in temporary trading posts dating back to the pre-Arcadians of the area). At least in NOLA, there is the French Quarter and Garden District to while away such afternoons that measure F90°+ / 95%+ humidity.


Another place that reaches such extremes in both humidity and heat (which I have never physically been) is the geographic source for the coffee I’m drinking this morning. Congo Kivu is in my cup and deep in its dark heart is a complexity that has left me, even after my third pot of it this week, unsure about how I would describe it. But more on the taste of this coffee in a moment. Let us first—via our electronic computerized scrying mirrors—metaphorically travel to that place and examine a few facts about it.

When I first began thinking about this review two weeks ago, I was re-reading Conrad’s famously infamous novella, and how its contents and influence lay buried in my subconscious for more than two decades before it writhed it way up into my conscious thoughts and offered a framework for a great number of other factors I have both independently and academically studied (for more about Conrad, the Congolese, and me, see the linked essay when it goes live in a bit). I wanted to place Conrad’s two rivers with two views of the Congo’s place in international perspective and commerce. But in the meantime, I’ve come across issues far more contemporaneous and just as brutal as Leopold’s sans-handed attempts to make the Congo looks like the myths of Antwerp. This article discusses the United Nations condemning M23 rebels in the eastern Congo [to be politically precise, the Democratic Republic of Congo], for their role in the rape warfare that has been expanded beyond all previously known horror to include victims as young as 18 months old!

Uninvolved in Africa

Leaving aside the terribly irony of the UN condemning what it has been consistently proven to have either ignored, not challeged, or actively participate in sexual slavery and human trafficking (see such works as Blue Helmets and Black Markets: The Business of Survival in the Siege of Sarajevo by Peter Andreas, and myriad references in any close examination of the UN’s involvement in Rwanda, pan-African conflicts, and Bosnia), this condemnation of such heinous actions—sadly and simultaneously—illustrates a number of current and on-going problems in the world.

Farther in the past than the debates of Plato and Socrates, there has been this question that is usually deemed unanswerable, that involves never fully understand something until we comprehend the why of it. I posit that is is not an unanswerable question but rather the sort of question that we-as-a-collective-society do not want to answer. Answering questions brings about understanding—as Umberto Eco writes in The name of the Rose, “learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do”—and with understanding comes the responsibility to act upon that understanding. So answering the question why inherently causes a moral/ethic self-awareness that most people are terribly uncomfortable in achieving. Because responsibility is even more uncomfortable. It demarcates the difference between talking and doing, the difference between social media internet compassion and acting compassionately in the world of actual inter-human relations. After a great tragedy—the Boston Marathon bombings, Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City, 9/11, 11-M, 7/7, Arab Spring, the assassination of an Archduke on a street corner on a Sunday morning in June—the invariable question is why? And that question is usually deemed too complex to fathom. And so the cycle continues. But this response is self-delusional.

Why would any reasonable sensible creature rape an 18-month old baby?

Well, reasonable, they are not. Nor are they animals. I’m no active zoologist, but I’m not certain that there is any animal, or even insect, that would rape another of its own—or any other—kind. Kill, eat, attack, perhaps, but not rape. This is (I believe) a uniquely human characteristic. And the answer to the question why? is deceptively simple to conclude, and immensely difficult to combat. The answer is Incessant Greed.

In what amounts to earning pennies on a century note, the M23 Congolese militia are willing to resort to raping year-old infants to define their claim on a geographic territory that has been found to be essential to world trade and commerce. This area holds numerous resources that are integral to the progress of civilization—i.e. “modern life”.

Be it ivory, rubber, copper, diamonds, gold, cobalt, columbite–tantalite (coltran), or, ehem, coffee, the Congo has been the focus of exploitative barbarity since the Portuguese, Dutch, and Brits decided to start “civilising” this “untamed wilderness”. Mind you, bringing civilization and religion to the Congolese has, for the overwhelming majority of all instances, been a façade for grabbing up a personal stockpile of the estimated $24 trillion of wealth in natural resources the Congo provides. When nations and corporations are willing to pay a working a dollar a day to mine coltran, then make hundreds (if not thousands and/or millions) of times that amount in returns—and the people mining either earn that dollar a day or nothing at all since the profits are rarely or only minisculely invested back into the region, people who are willing to rape an 18-month old are going to be in place to take those pennies on the century note. And yes, in my opinion, since international corporations have long known these were the sort of people they were buying their diamonds, coltran, and gold from, they are culpable of being accessories if not outright employers of the rapists.

Does this include Starbucks, Pete’s, Caribou, Contra coffee chains? In a major why, yes. They, like other corporations, have done little to aid in the infra-structure of the region (farmers may grow crops to sell, but if there are no roads to take those crops to market, they spoil and the farmers go without earning a wage that allows them to continue being farmers…so they go to work mining minerals with hand tools for their dollar a day; as Jello Biafra sings, they’ll “work harder with a gun in [their] back for a bowl of rice a day”). The exploitation of King Leopold did not ceased with that homo excreta‘s demise, it merely took his blueprints for sanctimonious corporate lust for financial wealth at the expense of human life and limb. But coffee is one resource that could, with international investment rather than merely international consumption, begin to break this cycle of Kurtz’s horror. Alas, less than a year ago, SOPACDI coffee workers were slaughtered while taking their crop to market. Those who slaughtered the plantation workers reaped the financial benefits from selling the coffee to those aforementioned coffee chains. Such coffee plantations in the Congo have sometimes sold their beans in exchange for food, soap, and clothing. Money, as may be evident from attempting to eat, proves to have no nutritional value.

So what about this coffee? How does it drink in the cup?

This Congo Kivu, from Schuil Coffee Co., is, as I stated above, complex. That’s the first adjective that springs to mind, but I’m not sure I can place delicious immediately next to it (although, to be sure, it is an excellent tasting coffee), because it also has a bite to it that has nothing to do with bitterness. I’d attribute it to a psychological shading of the taste, except it has been un-solicitously mentioned by another in tasting it. It’s partly a earthy bite, much like the Sidamo coffee of Ethiopia, a bit to the north, and partly a bite of coffee strength, like some of the Kenyans I’ve had. I suppose, since this is the morning of writing the review, I shall add the descriptors: curious and hesitantly inviting to the rating.

Rating: Distinctive and complex, curious and hesitantly inviting.

After brewing and pouring, I sip this distinctive coffee and can barely taste the blood.



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Brazil Daterra Bruzzi

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 deliciousTimor 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.

Categories: Coffees, Sunday Soliloquy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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