Thursday, June 08, 2006
Coffee at the World Cup
It is more a bit of a guide to the myriad of coffee producers whose national teams are competing in this year's FIFA World Cup that starts tomorrow. I personally absolutely love the World Cup, not as an excuse to "get behind the lads" or stick a St Georges flag out of my window, but because of the global football party it has become with minnow nations as passionately involved as the cynical "Eurogiants". Most of the coffee producing nations involved typify this - why not pick one to follow and enjoy the vibe with them. There are now so many blogs of people travelling to the World Cup that this will be an interesting way to get involved. I'll post any links to such blogs that fit the bill as and when I find them. Please do add any you find as comments to this post.
First up will be Costa Rica - Los Ticos get pride of place in the opening game against the hosts Germany this friday evening. Costa Ricans are football crazy and I am quite sure the entire population will not be at work tomorrow. Thank goodness it's not harvest time in the coffee fields. Cost Rica is a familiar producer to Hill & Valley Coffee drinkers and produces 100 % arabica coffees, almost exclusively by the wet method. The volcanic soil and high elevated valleys are ideal sources for some of the most flavourful and aromatic coffees of the world.
Straight after Costa Rica comes Ecuador, who open against Poland the same evening. Ecuadorean coffee has often been a real disappointment - too much earthy robusta and grossly irregular unwashed arabicas. I hear these days better coffees are available, but this stuff caused me problems in the past when I tried to trade some of into the middle eastern market, so I've never been tempted to inflict any on my roasted coffee customers. England might just have to beat them in the last 16 you know.
On day two England line up aagainst a country that masqueraded as a significant coffee producer throughout most of the 1980's. With International Coffee Organisation quotas in place, Brazilian coffee smuggled across the border into Paraguay from the neighbouring state of Parana acquired a different nationality for export dollars. England fans will certainly be hoping that their footballers are not "Brazil in disguise".
Saturday evening brings what I think may be THE game of the first weekend, Argentina v Cote d'Ivoire (it is against the law in that country to refer to them as Ivory Coast!). It is ironic that the Ivorians find themselves in the group of death in their first world cup - I once took a car ride through a very unsavoury suburb of Adidjan with some colleages that made me feel I might be in my own group of death. Never have I felt more menaced in a coffe producing country. Cote d'Ivoire produces harsh robusta coffee in vast quantities. Yuk! I never touch the stuff and leave it to our friends just across the channel. I think their footballers may just live through the group of death though.
Sunday afternoon should see Mexico dispose of Iran. Central / Northern America's largest producer has always provided the USA with a great quantity of "Primo Lavado" and "Alturas" for the monster roasters, but is now a major source of giant bean, organics and other boutique coffees. However prejudiced as I may be I have never felt I couldn't get better coffees by turning my eyes southwards. Their footballers are always rated in the world's to ten also - but do they ever live up to this? One thing is sure, the country is bonkers for it's footie and most of California as well will know what side they are on this sunday.
Angola come up last this weekend - against former colonial masters, Portugal. Did you know that.....(dramatic pause) until 1975 and the civil war, Angola was the largest producer of robusta coffee in the world and all traders of that era remember the demand for "Ambriz" in the markets of southern Europe. Nowadays I hear production is being revived, but I was associated will an ill-founded attempt to do this in the late eighties also. The truth is that the world doesn't need this type of coffee any more, certainly with Vietnam filling any excess robusta coffee demand these days. Sadly I think their footballers are also destined to be an also ran in their first world cup - but wouldn't it be funny if theye embarassed "big Phil" this sunday evening.
On monday three very minor producers can strut their stuff in yellow shirts. I've written about the boutique producers in Australia earlier this year in this blog, so don't need to build them up here. Most of us would just love to see them get crushed by Japan before giving the Brazilians a real fright later in the group stages. I don't think I could take it if they weren't back drinking coffee back home in NSW in 10 days time. The USA in coffee terms is pretty much the same with just the Kona producers on Hawaii holding up the banner. One thing though - percentage of production wise their coffee is probably the highest quality and most expensive in the coffee world. True Kona coffee is a unique and great pleasure to drink, and certainly in the Coffee top 6. Ironically so are their "Soccer" team, but with two first games against the Czechs and Italians, I think (hope?) they may have lost interest after 3 hours of play.
Ghana - yes they do grow a bit of robusta coffee, but cocoa is their big thing. I think the Italians will sort them out good and proper in their opener (Luca Toni is the secret weapon of my Fantasy League Team!)
And that leaves just two for tuesday. Little Togo and the behemoth Brazil. I'm talking coffee not football! Togo was a boutique robusta producer, beautifully prepared coffee much sought after in Italy and always able to command a premium against its neighbours. I have no idea how their first game against South Korea will pan out, but I'll be rooting for them then and when they face the French in the last match of the group stages. If only 2002 could be repeated....
What can you say about Brazil - they pretty much encapsulate all that is good and bad in the coffee world these days? Millions of bags of mediocre multinational fodder arabica and robusta and some of the brightest stars of the speciality coffee world, some of which we are glad to offer you week after week. Football, though is what they do even better than coffee. You have no idea what it can be like to have Brazilians around you when the national team is playing. So carefree, so musical, so rhythmic and KASHASA! They are also probably also set to break English hearts in the semi final before cynical old Italy "do" them in the final as revenge for 1994.
So that's 11 teams you can follow with your coffee mug in your hand. The African nations are probably even more passionate about their football than the Brazilians these days. I hope they can create mayhem amongst the big budget Europeans wherever they meet them. And a few crying Argentines wouldn't go amiss either.