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Articles by Michael Hebb

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When I jumped on a plane one year ago and headed off to Guatemala with Seattle-based coffee roaster Caffé Vita, there was little more than the occasional blog post telling “the story behind coffee.” The majority of the writing about coffee I could find was focused on the history of the bean-like-seed: stories of cunning Dutch merchants, over-caffeinated whirling dervishes, and besieged Austrians, but nothing talking about the places and people that presently grow the second most valuable crop on the planet.

When Vita and I dropped down in Guatemala City, I didn’t know a damn thing about the bean: where it was grown, the politics that drive it, the human factor that shapes it, let alone the variety of ways it is processed, tested, sold, shipped, and ritualized. I simply knew that I adored the stuff when it was prepared in a careful manner. Now, with trips to farms in Ethiopia, Brazil, and Guatemala and with several thousand of my own words under my belt I can honestly say — I still really don’t know a damn thing about the bean. But I am happy to refer authors who do. Here are a couple of books that might not make The New Y... Read more

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  • Tales from a trek to Ethiopia with a Seattle coffee roaster

    I have spent the past year traveling the globe with Seattle coffee roaster Caffé Vita in their search for coffee, and I have the more enviable and slippery task of seeking out stories. Many Grist readers know that coffee is the second most heavily traded commodity on the planet, but unlike the elephant in the pole position (oil), we hear very little about the realities of the cherry-red fruit on which we are also dependent.

    As long as Grist lets me, I will throw out some thoughts from the coffee road, and the other "tablemaking" adventures in which I routinely find myself. Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of coffee (although Yemen likes to take credit as well) and many a book could be written about what separates coffee production in Ethiopia from the rest of the bean-producing countries. Coffee is essential to the culture -- over 50 percent of the crop stays in country. It is not a colonial crop, and the passionate relationship to the bean results in some unprecedented global showdowns. But today I am pondering the tension between the two main stimulants in the land of Sheba.