coffee, tea, fair trade

I went to a Uganda Studies Programme Reunion this summer. When I was there, I received a bag of Bancafe Coffee from a friend. It was straight from Uganda. I was very excited to receive this huge, whole-bean bag of soon-to-be liquid joy. I had never heard of the brand before. A google search turned up it was a coffee shop and roasting group out of Kampala (Nakumatt too- a Kenyan version of Walmart).
I was bummed to discover that this bag of coffee was just not that good. Something, somewhere down the line went wrong- the beans smelled acrid, grinding them and brewing them proved to make them a little better- but the smell was still there. Perhaps I am not as skilled of a coffee connoisseur as I had believed- maybe this is how the coffee was supposed to be. Nonetheless, we have an excess of coffee that we don’t feel good about brewing (since this post, we have finished it).
I never really drank coffee in Uganda. Because it was a country hugely influenced by Britain, we drank tea all the time. It was a way of life. Coffee was available but tea was always the way to go. I embraced tea because I already had a love for black tea from the chai I had recently fallen in love with as a college student. I would drink this tea with sugar and sometimes with milk and I really grew to depend on it. Coming back home and living life here in the States I had a huge supply of tea leaves from Uganda. I would (and still do) make something of a tea drink like I had in Mukono, but with subtle changes. Here is my tea drink:

about 3/4 cup water- boiling or pretty close
Tea Masala spices (typical chai ingredients like black pepper, cardamom, ginger and cinnamon)
about 1/2 cup milk
about 1-2 teaspoons of loose black tea or 2 black tea bags
sugar to taste- but if you want Ugandan style- try at least 2 teaspoons of turbinado sugar

What I do is this: first I microwave the water (maybe 2.5 minutes) and then add the tea and spices to that. I let it steep quite a bit- maybe 5 minutes. Then while I’m waiting I microwave the milk more a minute or so. I then put the sugar in a mug and pour the milk over that. Then I get a strainer (I have a small plastic one that I found in UG but they have them here all over, something like this: that fits over the mug and pour- CAREFULLY- the tea through that into the milk. This prevents you from drinking the tea leaves. I then stir it all up and it gets a little frothy and I drink it. It reminds me of Uganda every time.

But like I first said- I never drank coffee in Uganda- and I never really did before that either. There was one exception to this. Meredith came home from a trip to Nicaragua and for Christmas that year the family had a bag of Joy Bean Coffee.
We brewed some every day and with that- I had my first experience of really enjoying the act of making, preparing, and enjoying coffee on a regular basis. From then on, I had coffee from time to time as needed.
In this stretch of time since Uganda and graduating college- I have begun a deeper examination of the things I buy- food especially. I have started to learn about fair trade, organic, non-GMO, certified humane, and a lot of other things. I have looked into different diets- Flat-belly, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian, and Freegan. I think I will talk more about these things later…

I have come to the conclusion that I have not arrived at any final conclusions. Ha ha. There is still so much to explore. A few things I have learned are these:

– If you can buy Fair-trade anything- do it. I want to go to work and get paid for what I do most all of the time- so those people that work to get me a luxury item like chocolate or sugar (much harder labor and usually people more in need than me) ought to at least be paid fairly for that.
– If you can’t find good (quality or otherwise) things to eat- look for an alternative or go without.
– It is a good thing to question what you have learned, what you think is truth, and to keep looking.
– Make it yourself- 9 times out of 10 you will be SO much more satisfied with the results and you will have probably saved money in the process.

Meredith and I have come across a great site for fair-trade coffee, tea, and cocoa. It’s called Equal Exchange.
What I love is that they source their cocoa from a fair-trade cooperative in the Dominican Republic called Conacado. There was an article featured in relevant magazine about the lives of these workers.
My own experiences overseas in the D.R. and elsewhere make me feel like these efforts are something I can have confidence in as being good solutions- perhaps not complete but well on their way to sustainable development that changes lives.

I recently bought a 5-lb bag of cocoa from Equal Exchange- let me tell you: it is amazing! I am still trying to figure out how to store all of that but meanwhile, I am enjoying using cocoa like this. We have also bought coffees from Congo and Ethiopia and we are excited to try those soon.

So this has been our adventure- we come across something new and innovative and we try it. Sometimes it is store-brand Fair trade, sometimes it is Rain Forest Alliance certified, or it’s from a group like Project 7- The point is- we are looking for alternatives- ways to honor God with our money and our hobbies. We want to stand by the values we uphold in all areas of our lives (Lord give us grace). As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Sometimes we tried out just regular old Dunkin Donuts and Seattle’s Best at church and at Bible studies. If I’m offered a shot of espresso (Cafe Bustelo- at work I can’t turn it down but I’m waiting for a chance to maybe be the one to buy some Fair trade for the next time around. I’ve learned that Starbucks sources from sustainable, fair-waged farms but without the certification…

We weigh the choices and decide. We look at ratings on and learn and think. It has not always been easy- but it’s been fun, eye-opening and more than worthwhile.

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