14.3.2012businesslifestyle

Diamonds in the Rough

Looking at the tumultuous, profitable world of diamonds. A worldwide cartel controls supply and demand while labs try to mass-produce diamonds, squabbling between shareholders guts a successful jewelers, and the heist of the century that remains unsolved.

23.2.2012lifestylescience

What Neurology Can Tell Us About Human Nature →

Here’s Vilayanur Ramachandran talking to Edge (video and text) about his team’s study of apotemnophilia, a neurological syndrome that’s roughly opposite to phantom limb syndrome, where an individual, apparently otherwise healthy, has an intense desire to have a limb amputated. If his name seems familiar, it’s because he’s also done a lot of research on synesthesia.

9.2.2012photolifestyle

(Image via dlajholt/Flickr)

The World of Coffee

Coffee has experienced something of a revival of interest in the last decade or so, with a growing trend in actually enjoying coffee. For many, the caffeine injection is delivered via their Keurig or Nespresso, and caffeine-to-go is a big enough industry that even something as simple as the design of disposable coffee lids is endlessly patented and improved upon, and Starbucks generates enough discarded paper cups for it to be an environmental liability. But increasingly coffee drinkers are looking for something better.

That starts with good beans. Coffee is a fussy plant and very few regions on Earth have the right conditions to grow the best coffee berries: it requires tropical climates at high altitudes, with the right amount of rain and dry spells to flourish. Microlots across East Africa, South America and Southeast Asia grow batches of coffee to precise specifications, and they make up the bulk of the “high end” in coffee.

Peet’s probably set the trend for gourmet coffee, but they’ve long since jumped the shark, leaving a gap for  coffee shops like Stumptown in Portland and Blue Bottle in San Francisco to crop up, embodying a philosophy of good coffee in their bean sourcing and preparation methods. Running a coffee shop in a world with Starbucks is still a risky proposition, but many are carving out a niche among the growing segment of customers that want good coffee.

The demand is such that it’s driving the price of coffee up. In 2002, coffee was cheaper than it had been for over a century, with supply outstripping demand, but as retail sales went up, the amount the farmers saw went down, pushing many into poverty and the coffee supply to an all time low. On New York’s futures exchange, the price per pound of coffee hit a three-decade high and roasters and coffee shops across the country hiked their prices. Coffee is more stable now, but many gourmet roasters that pride themselves on sustainability take measures to ensure the farmers’ good treatment and pay, and that drives the cost up too. Combined with recent weather trends reducing coffee yields to their lowest for years, good coffee has become an expensive preference.

Further Reading

Coffee’s Mysterious Origins — Coffee’s origin story goes all the way back to 850 AD and a goat shepherd named Kaldi
The phonetic taste of coffee — The etymology of “coffee”
My Kushy New Job — GQ sends Wells Tower to Amsterdam to see what it’s like to work in a marijuana coffee shop
Pot of Gold — Joseph Brodsky’s journey to Ethiopia in search of the mysterious Geisha coffee
Todd Carmichael, American — Can you save Haiti with coffee?
How coffee created the modern world

(Image via dlajholt/Flickr)

The World of Coffee

Coffee has experienced something of a revival of interest in the last decade or so, with a growing trend in actually enjoying coffee. For many, the caffeine injection is delivered via their Keurig or Nespresso, and caffeine-to-go is a big enough industry that even something as simple as the design of disposable coffee lids is endlessly patented and improved upon, and Starbucks generates enough discarded paper cups for it to be an environmental liability. But increasingly coffee drinkers are looking for something better.

That starts with good beans. Coffee is a fussy plant and very few regions on Earth have the right conditions to grow the best coffee berries: it requires tropical climates at high altitudes, with the right amount of rain and dry spells to flourish. Microlots across East Africa, South America and Southeast Asia grow batches of coffee to precise specifications, and they make up the bulk of the “high end” in coffee.

Peet’s probably set the trend for gourmet coffee, but they’ve long since jumped the shark, leaving a gap for coffee shops like Stumptown in Portland and Blue Bottle in San Francisco to crop up, embodying a philosophy of good coffee in their bean sourcing and preparation methods. Running a coffee shop in a world with Starbucks is still a risky proposition, but many are carving out a niche among the growing segment of customers that want good coffee.

The demand is such that it’s driving the price of coffee up. In 2002, coffee was cheaper than it had been for over a century, with supply outstripping demand, but as retail sales went up, the amount the farmers saw went down, pushing many into poverty and the coffee supply to an all time low. On New York’s futures exchange, the price per pound of coffee hit a three-decade high and roasters and coffee shops across the country hiked their prices. Coffee is more stable now, but many gourmet roasters that pride themselves on sustainability take measures to ensure the farmers’ good treatment and pay, and that drives the cost up too. Combined with recent weather trends reducing coffee yields to their lowest for years, good coffee has become an expensive preference.

Further Reading