Behind the bean and the fruits of journalism

First slide

My mom called coffee "life's blood." She was a home-schooling mother of three who often worked part time teaching deaf children, so I understand why she gave her caffeine-filled joe (with a splash of half-and-half, hold the sugar) such a lofty label.

I grew up with a coffee drinker and I grew into one myself, but before last week I didn't know much about the beverage. Interviewing local Catholic Daniel Velasquez, founder of Campesino Specialty Coffee, not only gave me a new appreciation for the brew, but also for a fruit of journalism: the satisfaction of learning and - if I do my job right - educating.

I learned from Velasquez that when it comes to coffee, "fair trade" certified does not always live up to its claims. The fair trade co-ops responsible for distributing earnings to coffee farmers frequently are corrupt and leave hard-working coffee growers and pickers shortchanged. Velasquez chose not to seek the fair trade certification and instead is trying a different approach with his U.S.-Colombian import business.

The 33-year-old also explained the coffee-making process, taking me step by step from the sprouting coffee plant to the bean to the brew at your local cafe. He discussed fermentation, a microbial reaction of yeast and bacteria breaking down sugars, which adds depth and complexity to coffee. And he described how to tell when a coffee fruit (yes, there's a coffee fruit) is ripe, and the differences between sorting beans by hand and machine.

As I sipped my office coffee this morning, I thought a little about its backstory, where it was made and how it arrived in my mug. It's not great coffee, but I'm grateful for it - and its power to keep me wide-eyed while I attempt to learn a little more and share it with the Arlington church.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016