Will Frith
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» As it cools

Specialty coffee in Vietnam: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) coffee shops, roasters, and baristas, and Dalat green coffee farmers, processors, and evangelists.


I am making a pivot to Vietnam, and the lead-up to a fast-approaching departure has predictably made me assess my growth, my achievements, the evolution of my perspective. What I hope to do in Vietnam is enough for its own post... I have to exercise restraint so I can be receptive to information that may guide me better. I am recently coming off of the high of immersion in Specialty Coffee.  Being involved in the US Pacific Northwest Specialty Coffee scene, I not only learned about coffee science and craft, I gained perspective. I learned about community, social justice, equal rights, technology, climate awareness, and the importance of cultivating a culture of sharing. I learned about Transparency and the effect of extreme politics. I learned, in perfect cliche overtones, a lot about myself.

Coffee is such a brilliant vehicle for the cultivation of culture. I'm not certain about many things, like globalization, but I do value the exposure cultures have to one another in the medium of modern communication. It's just a shame it isn't more just.

Under the current system (globalized capitalist economy), we at least have a choice to apply our values to our participation in it. The people who have problems with the system(s) are still a part of it, and in ideal conditions would be highly valued participants. Whatever ideological qualms I may have with said system can be my impetus to act - to work towards correcting them.

Where does coffee fit into all of this? As one of the most important food products, in its current state, it has tremendous dependencies upon a global marketplace for its existence. How do I contribute to the correction of injustices? At all levels, of course, but also in finding where I fit so I know where to get started. One place that I see in need of help is at the grower level.  Not that I feel that I can change that by myself!  Coffee has no Messiah, no Superman, just a bunch of people working together on projects that often outlive the participants, which is why I feel the need to find a way to contribute what I can.  The poverty cycle that has classically powered The West's commodity consumption survives in global agriculture today, perhaps more than ever, and many producers barely break even, while many more are in debt.

What I've learned from the Specialty approach is that sustainability (however co-opted the term) can lead to an improvement in economic empowerment on the grower level.  Justice can come from a well-supported alternative system.  Quality Control + Justice = Sustainability?

Win-win? I want to study the interaction between the West and Global South. Is direct communication and transparency even possible with socioeconomic differences so large? Even if I acknowledge my position of privilege, is it possible for me to fully understand what I witness? Will my participation, as observer or direct participant, ultimately skew my perspective and values?

Of course, there's one way to find out - do something, anything. Learn as I go, as I have before.