Congo is one of the last frontiers in a global scramble for the world’s best-tasting coffee. The rise in demand for specialty coffee, which accounts for one of every two cups sold in the U.S., has encouraged exporters, roasters and retailers to go places where the potential is huge—and so are the risks. ... The many challenges of doing business in Congo include death threats, kidnapping and extortion. Government officials often concoct new taxes on the spot or forge documents to demand more money than what is owed. Last year, at least 175 foreigners and Congolese, many working for aid organizations, were abducted and held for ransom, according to Human Rights Watch. ... Most of the kidnappings happened in areas near where specialty coffee is grown, though no Western coffee prospectors have been abducted. ... Specialty coffee is a fast-growing segment of the approximately $175 billion-a-year world-wide coffee market. Specialty coffee is made from the highest-quality arabica beans, sells at a premium and has gone from the fringe to mainstream. In the U.S., 31% of adults drink specialty coffee every day, up from 16% in 2006, the National Coffee Association trade group estimates. ... Congo’s best beans regularly get at least an 85 and fetch a wholesale price of about $3 a pound, about double the price on the ICE Futures U.S. exchange in New York.
Because: after Howell dropped out of Yale in 1967 (“the whole world was exploding at that point”) and met his future wife, Laurie, and moved to Berkeley and visited the first Peet’s Coffee, changing his conception of coffee shops forever; and after he then tasted a cup of lighter-roasted coffee made by the Bay Area Capricorn Coffees, which changed his conception of coffee further still; but before he moved to Boston and started his café company, the Coffee Connection, where he invented the Frappuccino and pushed light roasts and sourced single-origin beans when the whole world was drinking anonymous dark-roasted muck; and before he sold the whole kit and caboodle to Starbucks for $23 million in SBUX stock in ’94; and before ... He was, at the time, mostly preoccupied with the beauty and power of the psychedelic yarn paintings that the Huichol made as a part of their shamanic religious practices in those remote Mexican mountains. ... mostly they talk about his pragmatically mystical conviction that a higher truth of coffee exists, and that we can figure out how to get to it. ... These are boom times for fancy coffee. You can buy locally roasted bags of expensive Ethiopian varietals in small American towns, and every major city with a recently gentrified neighborhood is now home to at least one coffee bar serving pour-over made with single-origin beans and a small roaster setting up shop in a industrial brown zone near a canal.