I don’t just like coffee, I love it. Ask anyone who spends a lot of time with me and they’ll tell you I drink enough coffee each day to send an elephant into cardiac arrest. As a co-worker recently asked, “doesn’t all that coffee make you feel sick?” No, it makes me feel like a god. There’s a whole field of dubious research on the health benefits of coffee, and I cling to its most favorable findings by summoning the most powerful confirmation bias I can muster.
All joking aside, I genuinely appreciate the artisanal quality of a finely roasted coffee bean. Did you know that coffee goes from a green “raw” bean to fully roasted in just 12-22 minutes? The difference between an exquisitely roasted medium-dark espresso and ash-flavored compost can be a matter of seconds, or a degree or two of peak roasting temperature, or the rate at which air moves through the roasting chamber. Fascinating.
In case you need another reason to love coffee, consider the role it played in helping Rwanda recover from genocide. Rwanda was a very poor country prior to the 1994 genocide that resulted in the death of as many as 1 million citizens, but this human rights tragedy further reduced GDP by an estimated 58%. In its aftermath, out of necessity many surviving Rwandans converted farm land used to grow coffee to grow food instead, which inhibited economic recovery.
The US response to the Rwandan genocide was too little, too late, and to this day is a stain on our record of defending human rights globally. One bright spot in the otherwise tepid US response, however, is the money and related assistance USAID provided to the Rwandan agriculture industry, where a major export today is…coffee. Not only did this investment help restart coffee production, it also enabled Rwandan farmers to grow a higher quality coffee bean that fetched higher prices in global exports. Rwanda’s geography, both in terms of its latitude and its acidic volcano ash soil at high altitude, is ideal for growing delicious arabica beans.
One more benefit: many of these farmers were then, and are today women, so the investment went a long way to promoting gender equality. In addition to being a right and good thing on its own, economically and politically empowering women is an effective way to prevent state violence. At 64%, Rwanda’s parliament today has the greatest representation of women of any national legislative body. I like to think that coffee, in some small or indirect way, played a role in making that happen.