On The Table
This morning, did you sip a Sidamo from Ethiopia, hit back a Huehuetenango from Guatemala, or maybe tipple a Tarrazù from Costa Rica? Did your coffee come from Africa, Asia or South America?
These single-origin coffees, alongside current industry issues, were on the table in Washington this week. NCA brought coffee – the beverage and the business – to the halls of Congress. At the biennial NCA Coffee on the Hill event, members joined members of Congress, their staff members, foreign diplomats and executive branch personnel to meet, greet , enjoy coffee and discuss related issues.
Coffee on the Hill is an event designed to afford NCA members an opportunity to interface with their legislators and legislative staffs to discuss industry-wide as well as local issues affecting their business. The event also puts the U.S. coffee industry front and center in the eyes and ears – not to mention palates – of government decision makers and influencers. Also invited to the event are diplomats and diplomatic staffs of coffee-producing countries, as well as Executive Branch officials from agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Trade Representative’s Office and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The October 23 event took place in the Gold Room of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. The building is one of several that house offices of members of the House of Representatives and Senate. The tables were lined with pots of freshly brewed and served coffee, identified by their country of origin. Along with the brewed coffee, samples of the green beans and roasted beans were also on display.
Bringing a flavor of a different kind to the event were demonstrations of “cupping” and “pourover” coffee preparation. Cupping is the process by which highly trained experts taste coffees to determine their flavor profiles for the purposes of buying coffee beans or for determining which coffees to use in a roaster’s proprietary blends. Pourover is the latest craze in coffee brewing, consisting of deceptively simple-looking equipment used with great precision and expertise. The filters are wet with 200 degree water, freshly ground coffee is added, a quick water soaking is administered followed by a timed pause to allow the coffee to de-gas, which increases its absorptive properties, the remaining water is filtered through the grinds, and finally the coffee is robustly swirled in the carafe to homogenize the extraction outcomes.
Visitors to the event also received a detailed primer on the significance of the coffee industry to the U.S. and world economies, as well as a description of the key issues currently facing the coffee business. This year’s highlighted issues included: Congressional acknowledgment of the distinction between coffee consumption and caffeine ingestion in energy products at a time when government officials take a look at overall caffeine consumption; Congressional support for U.S. agricultural programs that support sustainability; Congressional funding of the Foreign Agricultural Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (FAS) and USAID to support efforts promoting coffee production that sustains farmers and the coffee supply chain; Congressional support for federal legislation that would establish a national standard that affirms the safety of foods developed using bioengineering technologies; Congressional dedication to working toward the passage of Free Trade Agreements with other nations and support for treaty provisions that would confer U.S. origin on coffee roasted in the U.S.; and continued Congressional commitment to an active role for the U.S. as a member of the International Coffee Organization (ICO). NCA is part of the official United States delegation to the ICO.
The event attracted about 500 participants, including several members of Congress and foreign dignitaries. Coffees on hand included those from Brazil, Burundi, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Hawaii, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Rwanda.
So, next time you sip that Sidamo or tipple that Tarrazù, you may well ponder on the universe of individuals, nations, cooperative processes and governmental issues that make up the world of coffee. Perhaps, too, you’ll reflect not only on the complexity of the flavor, but also the complexity behind its arrival in your cup.