The Best Coffee Is the Third World's Wine

20070912coffeebeanz.jpgReading Peter Meehan's terrific piece on "direct trade" coffee, which simply means that high-end, insanely discerning roasters buy their beans directly from growers and their cooperatives, I concluded that coffee has become the third world's version of wine.

Grapeheads make pilgrimages to Napa and Sonoma in the U.S., to Burgundy and Bordeaux in France, and to Tuscany and Veneto in Italy. Coffee freaks head to Nicaragua or Rwanda or Honduras, where the accommodations are not likely to be as luxurious.

Duane Sorenson, owner of Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, Oregon, describes a Nicaraguan coffee from the Las Golondrinas farm as having "mango, peach, cantaloupe, and jasmine flower flavors." Another obsessive coffee roaster and taster, Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture Coffee, Durham, North Carolina, instructed one of his suppliers to pick the coffee berries when "half the fruit is at a burgundy red ripeness and the rest when it's bright red."

We're getting perilously close to wine geek territory here, aren't we? Can "oaky," "buttery,"and "tannic" coffees be far behind?

What does this mean for the average Joe's cup of joe? I can easily imagine the following:

  • Starbucks will soon break the $10 price barrier for a cup of "direct trade"coffee. Said cup of coffee will be so brilliantly marketed we will be fighting over who gets to buy a cup before they run out each morning.
  • Food "show-offs" will be trotting out the $100 a pound coffee at dinner parties. Guests at these parties will be taught how to swirl the coffee in the cup before drinking.
  • Thomas Keller will introduce a coffee tasting as part of his yet-to-be-developed $500 "Beyond Taste" Tasting Menu. Servers at Per Se and the French Laundry will go to Rwanda on field trips to learn how to describe and serve the coffee.
  • The world's first $15 serving of tiramisu, made with "direct trade" coffee, will be sold at some high-end Italian restaurant somewhere.
  • The Slow Food movement will adopt "direct trade" coffee as their next cause.
  • Somehow Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's will find a way to exploit the "direct trade" trend. Direct trade-style coffee, anyone? $2 a cup.

Photograph from