Coffee MayX Addresses Global Issues by the Cup

Coffee, now a $200 billion global commodity, has been a subject of social complexity and global economic pressure since colonialization. The Furman University MayX’s “Coffee Culture: Past to Present, Farm to Cup” program aims to teach students about the beverage’s roots in Central American and Mexican mountainsides. The program, led by Kelsey Hample, associate professor of economics, and Tuğçe Kayaal, assistant professor of history, takes students on a hands-on experience at coffee roasting facilities, Leopard Forest Coffee Company, and Calibration Coffee Lab.

The students also meet with Furman alumni in the coffee business, including Adam Kelly ’09, who owns Leopard Forest, and Micah Sherer ’14 and Sam Klein ’15, who have both traveled the world as green coffee buyers, working directly with farmers in the fields. Sherer has launched his own roastery, Skylark Coffee, in Brighton, England, which is 100% non-profit and transparent.

Kayaal, who is from Turkey, is intrigued by exploring social and cultural history through coffee. She believes that coffee has always brought people together but hasn’t always been good for society. In the 16th and 17th centuries, coffee houses were male-centric outlets for discussing politics and used to sexualize certain people and emasculate others. Coffee was the perfect commodity to trace through centuries because it was labor-intensive and difficult to produce yet affordable.

Most high-quality coffee grows in the global south on small farms at high altitudes and in rugged terrain where mechanized equipment won’t go. Farmers who pick 70 coffee beans for a cup of java might have received $1 to $2 a pound. Now, farmers are coping with changing climate cycles due to global warming.

Hample and Kayaal believe that the program has built a community among students, sharing knowledge among themselves while engaging in local and alumni communities. They aim to continue working with local companies like Leopard Forest, focusing on ethical consumption and fair trade.

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