When Coffee’s Bitter

Or, “That Time NPR Stole All My Ideas and Ran “Coffee Week” on an Established National Platform Before I Could Independently Publish My Book.”

NPR Coffee Week Me
Coffee Quiz: Discover The World In A Cup Of JoeApril 22, 2013 Gas may fuel factories and automobiles, but many humans run on coffee. All this week, we’re exploring the world of coffee. Test your knowledge of this vital brew with our coffee quiz.coffee-quiz-promo1 Coffee Survey 

Part of the job of any traveler is to be an ambassador for his/her home nation, so part of my job here is to represent the United States to Costa …

How Coffee Brings The World Together
Workers separate beans in the coffee warehouse in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. Coffee originated in Ethiopia, but now grows in more then 50 countries around the world.

April 22, 2013 Coffee is social stimulant, solitary pleasure, intellectual catalyst. It also connects us to far corners of the globe. From small specialty farms in Guatemala to large, industrial operations in Brazil and unexpected corners of the world, like Vietnam, the world’s morning cup of joe makes quite a journey.

Humanity of Commodity  May 21, 2012

This is how we experience coffee, as avid consumers. What are the stories of the people who cultivate such an integral part of our own culture?
This is how we experience coffee, as avid consumers. What are the stories of the people who cultivate such an integral part of our own culture?
Journey Of A Specialty Coffee Bean, From Cherry To Cup
Coffee beans are raked to dry in the sun in western Guatemala.

April 23, 2013 That tasty cup of java from your favorite gourmet coffee shop began life on a farm thousands of miles away. Farmers who cater to the specialty coffee market compete on quality. And some use the higher prices their beans fetch to reinvest in their businesses and improve conditions for workers.


December 10, 2012

Cedral is a small mountain community in southern Costa Rica with a school, two tiny stores, a church, a Boy Scout/Girl Scout troop, a community center, two soccer fields, tended …

Coffee For A Cause: What Do Those Feel-Good Labels Deliver?
Luis Fernando Vasquez has been a coffee farmer in the central valley of Costa Rica his entire life.

April 24, 2013 It doesn’t take much effort to find bags of coffee with labels that promise social and environmental improvements. But each one of these certification programs promises something different for the farmer and the land — and every promise involves some compromises.

Feb 11, 2013 If your coffee comes with a tag of organic or fair trade or single origin, do you believe it? If you do, who does that mean you’re trusting? No matter … see also Tea & Coffee Trade Journal cover story  “To Certify or Not to Certify”

Masterpiece In A Mug: Japanese Latte Art Will Perk You Up

April 25, 2013 You think clovers and hearts are impressive? Wait till you get a load of these Japanese latte drawings. A culture that values the beauty of the ephemeral has brought us a new level of art in foam.

Feb 19, 2013  Coffee is in many ways comparable to wine (see Wine is to Coffee), but it separates itself as the more labor intensive of the two beverages in the final stage: …

Exploring Coffee’s Past To Rescue Its Future
Eduardo Somarriba is a researcher at the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Education in Turrialba, Costa Rica.

April 26, 2013 Today’s commercial coffee production is based on only a tiny slice of the genetic varieties that have grown since prehistoric times. And that’s a problem, because it leaves the world’s coffee supply vulnerable to shocks like climate change, or the leaf rust currently ravaging Latin American coffee farms.

April 24, 2013 The climate might be changing, but coffee won’t go down without a fight. National Geographic put addicts on edge last November with its article “The Last Drop?” boldly stating that …

VIDEO: The NPR Virtual Coffeehouse
NPR latte art

April 26, 2013 All this week on The Salt and on Morning Edition, we’ve explored the stories behind your ritual cup of joe. Watch archived video of our Coffee Week conversation in our first Google+ Hangout.

VIDEO: Faces and Flavors Jan 10, 2013

NYC Coffee Tasting. Photo Credit: Adrienne Glasgow
NYC Coffee Tasting. Photo Credit: Adrienne Glasgow

NPR’s “Coffee Week” left a bitter taste in my mouth. No, it’s not the Colombian instant coffee I just drank (writers on a budget can’t drink single origin espressos every day, even coffee writers who can usually finagle a free cup or two in the name of “research”). Nope. It’s “Coffee Week.”

The blurb before the online survey posted on Day 1 reads as follows:

 “Coffee is woven into the fabric of our lives. It’s a morning ritual, social stimulant, a solitary pleasure, an intellectual catalyst. All this week, along with our friends at Morning Edition, we’re bringing you the stories behind the coffee in your cup – from the farms of Guatemala to the corner coffee shop. And we’re exploring how coffee changes people’s lives.”

Maybe it’s not the taste in my mouth that’s bitter; maybe it’s just me. Because “coffee week” rings as hollow as “Black History Month.” Coffee doesn’t only have stories behind it the week you pay attention to it any more than Black people only have histories during the month of February. If we’re really going to combat systemic racism we need to be conscious of what we think and say and do every single day, and if we’re going to improve the quality of what we pour into our bodies and the qualities of lives for those who bring those products to us, we need to be cognizant of the stories behind our food and drink every single meal, not just for one week when there’s nothing else on the calendar.

For the millions of people who make the coffee we drink possible, every week is coffee week.

I’d also argue that to really “explore how coffee changes people’s lives,” you’d have to really know those people, spend some time with them, get to know them; heck, maybe even live and work with them, maybe even go so far as to have your life changed too, to be changed by coffee and to maybe even be the cause of some change yourself.

But NPR goes get people to think, and more people thinking more about coffee is not a bad thing. The Virtual Coffee House at the end of the week was really well done and brought together voices from across the coffee industry in a really cool way. Their articles and broadcasts were accurate, if surface skimming. Because radio programing and online articles are not meant to delve into all the nuanced folds and details. They’re not books.

So I guess I’ll swallow the bitterness and be happy that NPR doesn’t write books. Because mine is coming, and  it does peer into shadowy corners and overgrown forests and vibrant homes of coffee farmers that NPR didn’t make it to. It might even delve into the folds of the coffee fabric and tease out stories between that farm and that corner store in a way nothing quite has before.

"When Coffee Speaks" logo draft...
“When Coffee Speaks” logo draft…


  1. i like your connection between black history month and coffee week. its bullshit. making good choices and being conscious is every day, not once upon a broadcast.

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