Making a Cup of Coffee

Making a Cup of Coffee

It’s a time-honored tradition, performed unthinkingly by millions of people every single day. Maybe you’ll get the water boiling for a cup of pour-over. Maybe you prefer classic drip coffee. Maybe you’re more of an espresso person. Perhaps you started the night before and are looking forward to a glass of cold brew. Whatever your method, you measure your beans, grind them just the way you like, and put a filter into your coffee maker. You wait patiently as the aroma fills your kitchen, then pour the brew into your favorite cup and take a sip.

Simple, right?

But that cup of coffee you’re holding is actually the culmination of thousands of hours of work performed by thousands of workers. And it’s a perfect example of why Labor Day matters.

It all starts in Brazil. Or Vietnam. Or Colombia, Ethiopia, or Hawaii. In the many places the process may start, harvesters wake at the crack of dawn, picking fruits off rows of coffee trees. The task is usually done by hand – since even cherries on the same branch can ripen at different rates – and the work is long and tiring. Many workers will pick the fruit from sunup until sundown. Some will do it in the blazing heat, others at high altitudes. Some may be compensated fairly, but others will make hardly any money at all. (Usually, the workers receive payment by the basketful rather than by the hour.)

From there, the coffee cherries are delivered to a mill. While modern machines usually separate the seeds – what we would refer to as the bean – from the fruit, it still takes human hands to wash and dry them, raking the beans regularly to ensure they dry evenly. Workers also sort the beans by size, density, and color. Then, professional graders will evaluate and grade the beans.

From here, another set of workers will prepare the beans for shipping by filling and loading 150-pound burlap sacks onto steel shipping containers. Truck drivers will then transport the beans to the coast, sometimes driving steep, narrow, winding roads just to reach the nearest port.

From these ports, the beans will be shipped across almost every ocean in the world. The ships themselves may be crewed by two dozen sailors. They will face rough weather, extreme conditions, and physically demanding work that may keep them from home and family for weeks at a time. When the ship reaches its destination, dockworkers will unload the containers. Drivers will transport the beans to a warehouse, and then again from the warehouse to a roastery. Specially trained coffee engineers will monitor the roasting process before turning the beans over to yet another set of workers to pack the finished beans into five-pound bags. Finally, a fleet of truck drivers will deliver the bags across the country to stores, coffee shops, distribution centers, and even right to your doorstep.

As you can see, that steaming cup of coffee you’re enjoying is brought to you by thousands of people who ensure a single bag of coffee beans gets to where it needs to be. And we haven’t even discussed the hundreds of buyers, logistics managers, health inspectors, and baristas who all play pivotal roles in getting the perfect beverage into our hands. The point is: those delicious, glorious mugs of coffee many people enjoy, those shots of caffeine that wake us up and get us going and those artfully layered foam lattes we post pictures of on Instagram? They are all the product of one thing – Labor.

When we wake up and make a cup of coffee, we do it with the push of a button, the pull of a lever, or the flick of a switch. But for that to happen, laborers in our country and all around the world must do their job reliably and well for anyone, east or west, rich or poor, to enjoy a single, magical cup of coffee.

As humans, it’s natural to focus on the final product: the food we eat, the cars we drive, the phones we use, the clothes we wear. Everything from the paper you’re holding right now in your hand to the house it was delivered to is the culmination of thousands of people and thousands of hours. All because of labor.

This, to us, is why Labor Day matters. It’s a day honoring, recognizing, and appreciating the contributions of laborers. A day for looking around and seeing how everything we consume, rely on, and enjoy is the result of labor. A day to marvel less at the products we use and more at the producers who made them. A day for reminding ourselves to value the work that goes into a thing as much as the thing itself.

Labor Day, when you get right down to it, is a day to value each other.

On behalf of everyone at True Wealth & Company, we wish you a happy Labor Day and an excellent cup of coffee.