Beans From Nicaragua

While inhaling the mild, sweet yet aromatic smell before taking my first sip of coffee this morning, it hit me: “The beans in this coffee came from Nicaragua. Nicaragua! But where even is Nicaragua?”

No longer the geographical savant I once was, I looked up Nicaragua on the map. Sandwiched between Honduras and Costa Rica, I learned that its capital is called Managua, and that the country is home to some six million people. Producing coffee is one of the main ways Nicaraguans earn their living, and some of them use a special “honey processing” method that leads to the sweet smell in my cup.

I also understood it would take me an 18-hour, 1,000-euro trip to even reach Nicaragua — yet I can buy the capsule that contains my coffee for just 50 cents. Astonishing!

We’re not always in the right frame of mind to realize what a long sequence of events we bring to its conclusion when we press the button on our coffee machine in the morning, but every now and then, it’s worth waking up before we’ve downed our first cup: Someone halfway across the world took care of a coffee plant until it bore fruit. Sometimes, that takes years. Then, they harvested the beans, peeled them, dried them, and carefully processed them until they went on a journey across the oceans. On a different continent, someone received those beans, ground them, and neatly filled them into perfectly portioned aluminum capsules. Those were then packaged, sealed, and, along with 10 other packages with 10 different kinds of coffee, shipped right to my house.

That last bit is, perhaps, the craziest part: When I open my kitchen cupboard, I don’t just see coffee from Nicaragua. I see coffee from Mexico, from Peru, and from Ethiopia. There’s coffee from China, Indonesia, and Kenya. Travel around the world in 80 days? How about in the span of an afternoon?

Every day, we hear about globalization in abstract terms in the news. “Africa’s exports are down.” “China-US relations strained.” We try to understand what they mean and how they’ll affect our future when, actually, we can see and feel the reality of globalization right in our homes.

Open your fridge. Chances are, almost nothing in it was produced within a 50-kilometer radius around your house. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a debate for another time. So is how many of those 50 cents I pay for my coffee the Nicaraguan farmer actually sees. But it is an amazing feat nonetheless for his beans to make it into my cup, and at the very least that I can respect and appreciate.

Look around you. Stop and smell the roses. Muse about where they came from, and cherish their arrival in your life. Despite everything being available, nothing is self-evident, and even the greatest cup of coffee doesn’t last. Let’s acknowledge it while it does.