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Good (Coffee) Globalization

Globalization equals exploitation in the majority of the academic, literary, or political contexts in which I have encountered the term. My frequent tenancy at Square One Coffee has given me glimpses of an alternative connotation through conversations about visiting farms and through the interior design of their shop in Philadelphia, where photographs printed on canvas document the journey of the garnet coffee cherry from the farm to the glowing coffee cup in the hand of the barista. Last Saturday, as I became a first-time spectator of a regional coffee competition, Hadassah Wilson of Square One Coffee (who taught me how best to use my French press at a class at the roaster last year) gave me a story worth retelling.

Sitting at Square One Coffee, I live-streamed portions of the Specialty Coffee Association of America‘s Big Eastern Regional Barista Competition. Participants I saw discussed the origins of their coffee beans and the flavors of their beverages, but Hadassah did more: she expounded on overcoming stereotypes for the sake of five million people in a developing country. She began with a definition of stereotypes, related historical issues of producing coffee in Brazil, and explained the differences among three grades of coffee: the kinds served domestically, exported for grocery stores, and used in specialty coffee shops. Toward the end of her presentation, she showed a sample of each. She served espresso, crafted a cappuccino reminiscent of Snickers, and created a culturally aware sweet/tart signature beverage based on the Brazilian sugarcane/rum/lime cocktail the caipirinha. Hers is a drink over ice that inspires me with its boldness, consisting of steeped granny smith apple peels and homemade caramel sauce, a concoction I hope to drink. In her last minute of spotlight, Hadassah highlighted the people who produce coffee in Brazil and encouraged her audience to “eagerly anticipate the delicious results” of their work.

Unable to watch because of customers, the barista at Square One Coffee asked me about Hadassah’s presentation. “She was amazing!” I exclaimed, and I recounted what I had seen. The judges of the competition awarded her second place.

Although Square One Coffee is the coffee shop in which I have spent the most time, it is not the first to raise my global awareness. Coffee shops have been havens of global and local community for me since I found Fido (of Bongo Java Roasting Co.) in Nashville, Tennessee during college. I have visited every location of Gimme! Coffee in Brooklyn and Ithaca, New York (except on the Cornell University campus). I also made a few pilgrimages to Crop to Cup Coffee Importers‘ brew bar.

My excitement over Square One Coffee last weekend is deeper and more enduring than fandom. According to my mother, the It’s A Small World ride at Disney World was one of my favorites when I was four years old. I do not remember specifically what I liked about it over twenty years ago, but I believe in a world where it is possible for humans to empathize with each other despite differences in language and culture. Globalization is about connections between people, which can be for good or for evil. For me, watching Hadassah in the Big Eastern Regional Coffee Competition reminded me that globalization is good when it creates space for geographically distant people to thrive together, including me as a consumer celebrating with those who make what I am consuming.

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