The sheer joy of that first sip of coffee in the morning â€“ for me, like many others, the day is punctuated by coffee, from the morningâ€™s first cafÃ© au lait in a comforting Shanagarry Pottery mug, to a frothy cappuccino dusted with chocolate mid-morning, to the rich dark expresso enjoyed with a truffle after dinner.
Good coffee is one of lifeâ€™s exquisite pleasures and often when I enjoy a really good cup and smell the roasted beans, my mind drifts off uneasily to the coffee farmers of Mexico, Costa Rica and Vietnam.
Coffee grows in two narrow areas around the world in tropical and sub-tropical lands.
Even though I pay 18 Euros a kilo for my freshly roasted beans, the reality is that the global coffee market has collapsed. As ever itâ€™s a case of over-production with new growers flooding the market. The official price per pound of coffee has crashed from a high of $6 in 1977 to a 100 year low of 42 cents last year.
For many of the worldâ€™s 25 million coffee growers, the future is bleak. In the recent past half a million have abandoned their farms in Latin America alone, unable to make enough money to stay alive. Both in Mexico and in Costa Rica, there have been mass protests, where millions of tons of beans have been burned or crushed for fertiliser in an effort to highlight the plight of coffee growers.
For years, the International Coffee Organization, founded in 1962, and made up of 60 nations had the power to set production quotas, but after the fall of Communism the US left the ICO, which then effectively lost its clout to enforce quotas and eventually stopped trying. The global coffee supply is now over-running demand by about 1.2 billion pounds, despite a sharp increase in global consumption.
From its initial discovery in Abyssinia in the 6th Century AD, coffee has become a million dollar business. Of the more than 50 known varieties just two make up the majority of the worldâ€™s production, Arabica indigenous to Ethiopia, and Robusta discovered in the Congo.
Arabica is the most sought after and highly prized by coffee connoisseurs. This bean accounts for 70% of the worldâ€™s production. It is grown at approx. 1,000 â€“ 2,000 metres above sea level, but the higher the altitude the better the quality. Beans grown at 1,500 metres can be labelled as Supreme, AA or Estate. Interestingly, top quality Arabica beans contain about half the caffeine level of the lower quality Robusta beans.
The latter makes up about 25% of the worldâ€™s output and is found in the highest quality expresso blends as it helps in the development of the â€˜cremaâ€™ on top of the expresso.
The four top companies that dominate international coffee purchases, Proctor and Gamble, Sara Lee, Kraft and NestlÃ©, have all devised ways to improve the taste of blends ground from robusta beans even when the beans are poor quality.
Flavoured coffees have also become increasingly popular and flavours like vanilla and hazelnut help to mask the sometimes gritty taste of robusta, consequently the big players have been buying more cheap robusta beans from big growers, particularly Vietnam and less of the superior arabica from the traditional growers in Latin America.
The situation is becoming increasingly desperate, but recently Nestor Osorio, a hugely committed Colombian diplomat, has become executive director of the ICO and launched a clever new campaign to control production, targeting falling quality, rather than price â€“ alas it is difficult to get the despairing coffee growers to agree on anything.
However, as the US and other nations are becoming increasingly aware, this whole issue will have far wider implications, it is not just about a cup of coffee. It has produced furious protests all over the globe by desperate and increasingly militant coffee farmers. At recent ICO meetings Mexican officials have noted that the map of rebel activity in Mexico roughly traces coffee growing regions. Colombia is warning that coffee farmers are increasingly turning to coca to in a frantic bid to make a livelihood to feed themselves and their families. The crisis has at last got the attention of the US Congress which recently passed a resolution to study the coffee crisis and to consider membership of the ICO, so we can but hope.
Meanwhile, what can we do at home in our own kitchens. Well, the best solution is to seek out Fair Trade Coffee.
Bewleys sell fair trade coffee under the name of Bewleys Direct and itâ€™s available through most supermarket chains and through Bewleys Cafes.
Cafedirect another fairtrade coffee is available through Superquinn, Health Food Shops, Oxfam Shops and Trocaire Shops â€“ if your local supermarket doesnâ€™t stock Fairtrade Mark products, just ask the manager, the Fair Trade organisation even have a letter on their website (see address below) which you can send to your local store manager.
All the main coffee roasters in Ireland also have a Fairtrade Mark coffee for the catering market so its easy to change to fairtrade â€“ encourage your restaurant or canteen in your workplace to use it â€“ it makes a difference â€“ Bewleys direct, CafÃ©direct, Johnsons Costa Rica Fairtrade Blend, Percol Fairtrade, Robert Roberts Fairtrade, Tiki Caffee and the Viking Direct catalogue â€“ contact details are available on the website www.fair-mark.org/products 0r tel 01-475 3515. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
For 350 producer groups representing some four and a half million producers and their families in 36 countries selling to the Fairtrade market across 17 countries in Europe and North America, Fairtrade means â€“ guaranteed better prices, decent working conditions, fair wages and the security of long term trading relationships.
Chocolate and Coffee Mousse
Merrilees Parker gave me this yummy recipe.
5Â½oz (150g) good quality dark chocolate
3 tbsp expresso strength coffee
3Â½ oz (100g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into small cubes
3 free-range eggs, separated
2 tbsp caster sugar
Melt the chocolate with the coffee in a bowl, over a pan of gently simmering water.
Add the butter, a piece at a time stirring continuously until completely melted.
The bowl should be warm so the butter softens but does not split and turn to oil.
It should become the consistency of thick cream. Add the egg yolks, one by one, beating them until the mixture is very smooth.
Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then add the sugar and beat to glossy soft peaks. Carefully fold into the chocolate mixture to retain as much air as possible, making sure no white spots from the egg whites remain.
Spoon into individual glasses and chill for at least 2 hours.
Serve with cream poured into the top of each glass.
Sueâ€™s Coffee and Pecan Biscuits
This delicious recipe was given me by Sue Cullinane, one of our teachers here at the school, we are always delighted when students or staff share one of their favourite recipes with us and we include it in our repertoire of recipes.
4 oz (110g) butter, softened
4 oz (110g) muscovado sugar
5 oz (150g) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon coffee essence
1 Â½ oz (35g) pecans, chopped
For the icing
2 oz (50g/ Â½ stick) butter
5 oz (150g/1 Â¼ cup) icing sugar
1 teaspoon milk
1 teaspoon coffee essence
10 x 7 inch (25.5 x 18 cm) swiss roll tin, well greased
Preheated oven 180ÂºC/ 350ÂºF/Gas mark 4
Put all the cake ingredients into a magimix or food processor. Whizz for 1-2 minuntes to amalgamate. Spread the cake mixture evenly in the well buttered tin and level the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes approx. The cake should be well risen. Allow to cool in the tin.
Meanwhile mix the ingredients for the icing together. As soon as the cake has cooled, spread the icing evenly over the top using a palette knife. Sprinkle toasted pecans over the top. Cut into squares and serve.
This dessert originated in Venice and is now very popular not just in Italy. The name means â€˜pick me upâ€™, not surprising considering the amount of booze in it. This is our version which always gets rave reviews.
38-40 Boudoir biscuits
8 fl oz (250 ml) strong espresso coffee (if your freshly) made coffee is not strong enough, add 1 teaspoon of instant coffee)
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons Jamaica rum
3 ozs (85g) dark chocolate
3 eggs, separated, preferably free range
4 tablespoons castor sugar
9 ozs (255g) Mascarpone cheese *
Unsweetened Cocoa (Dutch process)
Dish 10 x 8 inches (25.5 x 20.5cm) with low sides or 1lb loaf tin (8 x 4 inches (20.5 x 10cm) lined with cling film
Mix the coffee with the brandy and rum. Roughly grate the chocolate (we do it in the food processor with the pulse button). Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until it reaches the 'ribbon' stage and is light and fluffy, then fold in the Mascarpone a tablespoon at a time.
Whisk the egg whites stiffly and fold gently into the cheese mixture. Now you are ready to assemble the Tira Misu.
Dip each side of the boudoir biscuits one at a time into the coffee mixture and arrange side by side in the dish or tin. Spread half the Mascarpone mixture gently over the biscuits, sprinkle half the grated chocolate over the top, then another layer of soaked biscuits and finally the rest of the Mascarpone. Cover the whole bowl or loaf tin carefully with cling film or better still slide it into a plastic bag and twist the end. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours - I usually make it the day before I use it.
Just before serving scatter the remainder of the chocolate over the top and dredge with unsweetened cocoa.
Note: Tiramisu will keep for several days in a fridge, but make sure it is covered so that it doesn't pick up 'fridgie' tastes.
*Mascarpone, a delicious rich creamy cheese which originated in Lodi in Lombardy is made by curdling cream with citric acid. It is often used instead of cream with fruit and pastries