I started drinking coffee after college, and when I did I went straight to black, sometimes with sugar. It took me that long because my taste buds weren’t ready for the bitterness of black coffee. And yet when I did try to start drinking it regularly, it never occurred to me to use sweeteners, beyond a little sugar. I figured if I was going to drink coffee, I should like the taste of the coffee itself and not try to mask it with cream. Admittedly this logic is faulty, but it’s why this comic struck a nerve.
My wife, who’s part Swedish and embraces all things hygge, cherishes the coziness of the whole coffee drinking experience, special cream included. But I, embracer of my Finnish heritage and its concept of sisu, enjoy the pure, raw burn of good black coffee.
Ten mugs hang safely on the mug tree that sits next to our coffee maker on the small Ikea table by the kitchen window. Every few weeks I rotate which mugs get to be on the tree for coffee duty. I didn’t know when I put those eight there that they would end up survivors, the silent witnesses of their brethren sitting dutifully in the middle cupboard before on a Friday afternoon tumbling out of the cupboard after the plastic pegs holding up their shelf gave way.
Had I known, I would have been much more selective, would have made the impossible decisions about which darlings to save and which to let die. The process would have been anguishing—more than it ought to be, realistically, but we are Mug People, so we are not realistic about our mugs.
But I didn’t know. Mugs that were filled with meaning—inside jokes, souvenirs from faraway places and unforgettable experiences—that were for some unknown reason not the Chosen Ones cascaded to early deaths in a flash, and there was nothing we could do about it. It didn’t happen like Jenga, after placing one too many atop each other and seeing the tenuous heap collapse before my eyes. Then I would have, might have, been able to avert an avalanche and save a few more mugs from shattering on the floor. But it happened during the day, while we were at work and none the wiser.
I got the pictures from my wife: shards of ceramic and glass littering the counter and kitchen floor. I could make out some of the designs and logos and familiar features of our reliable morning friends in the larger fragments that stood out amidst the particulates. Didn’t matter. They were dead and gone, and the remainders were accidents.
We don’t get to choose. We can just say goodbye after it’s too late.
The world doesn’t need more thinkpieces about Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I’ll just say her advice about thanking the things you give away for the meaning they provided in their time of service… it’s good advice. Especially for Mug People who lost most of their mugs against their will.
So yesterday Elise and I got the chance to visit As Green As It Gets, an independent Guatemala cooperative that works with local farmers to produce all kinds of products, coffee being it’s primary bread and butter. We talked with Franklin, the founder (who is originally from Wisconsin), and he gave us a tour of the place. This guy was so full of facts, statistics, and lots of interesting anecdotes about everything from coffee production to the chemical make-up of hazelnut oil.
We got to talking about the world of non-profits and he explain how the industry is hopelessly corrupt, especially in Guatemala but also in the States. We found it interesting that, according to Franklin, fraud among Christian mission organizations is perhaps the most profound. He also had little good to say about Fair Trade coffee, other than that their very good marketing campaign disguising what is otherwise a very profit driven company that doesn’t actually help the local coffee farmers in the least.
It wasn’t a totally depressing afternoon though. We took some spades and went a’weeding in the coffee fields for a good hour and a half and Franklin told us a lot about the world of social entrepreneurship and how it can work well and how it can often not. Elise was especially interested in these issues from the social worker’s perspective. A few times Franklin jokingly asked if he had turned us into cynics yet.
On a happy note, I tasted my first official coffee there. Franklin said the brew that we tasted wasn’t the best of the best, but even the worst coffee in Guatemala beats anything offered in the States. Having tasted fresh Guatemalan coffee straight from the source, I don’t know if I can lower myself to go to Starbucks.
Anyway, you really should check out As Green As It Gets. It’s the real deal. They rely solely on word of mouth to get business, and 100% of their profits goes straight back to the farmers, the people who actually need it. They sell a lot more than just coffee too. Necklaces, shampoo, soap, purses, castor oil, and much more. So order a pound or a hundred for you and your friends.