Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's in a cup?

Going into the teachers’ lounge today made me depressed.

On this blustery fall morning, the toasty smell of brewing coffee and the burbling sound of the percolator should have been welcoming. But all I could do was stare at the coffee pot and think, “Why?”

Because I’ve drunk that coffee before. And I know it tastes like burning plastic. It’s from some cheap canister of bitter Robusta coffee beans grown for maximum quantity and low price. Or so I’ve always thought.

After all, why would we subject ourselves to this weak, acrid swill if not to save money? Adding the non-dairy creamer and cheap sweetener on hand does nothing to lessen the toxic taste. Rather, then it tastes like burning plastic plus chemicals. Mmm, delicious.

As I gathered my lesson plans and prepared for the day ahead, I imagined a different scene. What if I walked in the lounge to the rich brown smell of Arabica coffee? What if there was actual milk in the fridge? Call me crazy, but what if we had actual sugar?

Why do we do this? I asked myself again. Is it simply the status quo, because this is what all offices serve? Is it because these products are what’s available at the office supply store? Is it because it’s the cheapest option? That must be it, but the financial gain seems like cutting off our nose to spite our face. We’re saving a few cents, I presume, but forcing ourselves to drink a nasty, unhealthy mix of synthetic ingredients and cheap, low-quality coffee. Is it really worth it?

I wondered how much the typical office saved by cutting these corners. A little investigation proved that the average cup of office coffee costs between 30 and 40 cents. Twenty-nine cents for a scoop of your average Robusta beans; 4 cents for a scoop of non-dairy creamer (main ingredient: corn syrup solids); 5 cents for refined white sugar or 9 cents for Splenda if you prefer. (Main ingredient: who knows.)

Next I researched the alternative. Grounds for Change offers their organic, fair trade, shade grown Arabica beans in five-pound bags for $42, which comes out to about 18 cents a cup. I was shocked. Eighteen cents, for a delicious-sounding “bright, nutty flavor and subtle sweetness that is enhanced by a delicate medium roast,” produced by an environmentally sustainable all-women cooperative in Mexico. For almost half the price of Folgers? I couldn’t believe it.

As for the add-ins, a gallon of whole milk from Homeland Creamery, our local dairy, sells for about $4.50, or 2 cents per splash. Realistically, I know an office might not go through a gallon of milk before it goes bad. (Thus the corn syrup solids…) But if we must go non-dairy, how about a small carton of soy creamer? A 16-ounce carton of Silk Creamer retails for $1.99, or 6 cents per coffee. As for sugar, raw turbinado sugar from comes out to 5 cents a cup. Same as the refined white sugar for sale at Office Max, and plus lots of vitamins and minerals. And minus some bleaching.

Well I’ll be darned. That comes to 18 cents for a cup of black eco-groovy coffee, 25 cents with the works. That’s a half to two-thirds the price of the rain-forest slashing, farmer-robbing, stomach-irritating slop we’re all subjecting ourselves to.

So why are we doing it?

by Sadie Kneidel

No comments: