Andrea Illy.JPG

This gent, Andrea Illy, youngest of four siblings, runs Illy, his family's coffee empire from its headquarters in Trieste. Agricultural products grown in Africa, like coffee beans, destined for markets in northern and eastern Europe have long passed through the port of Trieste, at the northern tip of the Adriadic.

Suave, cultivated, impeccably turned out, Illy is in Seattle this week for a trade show, seminars & meetings, during which he extols coffe as "the beverage of happiness." As it happens, the highest per capita consumption of coffee is in Scandinavia, which also happens to be home to the world's most contented people. Coffee stimulates and inspires, Illy points out, simultaneously creating optimism and a caring social structure.

Coffee is by nature bitter, and humans have evolved to seek foods (like fruit) that are sweet. So why is coffee so popular? It's a combination, says Illy, of culture and aroma.

In his book, "A Coffee Dream," Illy writes, "Coffee must not be neither a luxury or a status symbol, nor must it underscore differences." The ancient Greeks used the word Eudaiemonia to signify the coming together of virtues, of which hedonism--a love of pleasure, such as a perfect cup of espresso--is but one. (He calls it a "virtuous circle." More on his blog.)

Parenthetically, Illy rejects the California judge's recent argument that coffee is carcinogenic, a decision totally unjustified by science, he says. On the other hand, the real threat to coffee, he continues, is climate change, and he joins his industry colleagues in tripling the investment in efforts to mitigate its effects on coffee farms around the world.

And in the meantime? "Live hapilly," he says. (Get it? Two "l"s.) Good advice.

Mermaid.jpg

Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love, showed itself to be a cauldron of intolerance last week. And not just the barista or the store manager who called the cops because a couple of visitors had the audacity of hoping they could use the bathroom before they ordered anything to drink. Somewhere along the line, someone realized that the "optics" of the situation were tenuous and tenebrous at best.

But because Philadelphia's Finest, once they did show up (in bicycle helmets, no less) refused to take "never mind" for an answer. Someone heard the word "trespass," and we know what that means: "You, out!"

In a better world, the senior police officer at the scene would have had a quiet sit-down with the senior Mermaid at the scene, along the lines of "Ma'am, it's your candy store, and we'll cuff 'em if that's what you want, but frankly, we've got better things to do than play Paul Blart, Mall Cop."

But that didn't happen, did it? The Philly police chief didn't help things by staying he stood by his officers. The CEO of Starbucks, who just barely survived a pummeling at the company's annual meeting by environmentalists, is now going to close every company-owned store in the US for "racial bias education day" to ensure this sort of thing never happens again. Good luck.

The real challenge comes from California, where do-gooders are again shooting themselves in the foot The latest is a so-called Prop 65 warning, which requires businesses to provide patrons with a "clear and reasonable warning" about materials or ingredients that may affect their health.

Acrylamide, identified as a cancer-causing chemical that is a byproduct of the coffee-roasting process, is one of more than 900 toxic substances that fall under proposition 65.

California's Council for Education and Research on Toxics argued in a 2010 lawsuit that coffee producers should notify consumers that the "known carcinogen" acrylamide is produced during the coffee roasting process.

Couple of weeks ago, a judge ruled ,yup, gotta do that.

Not so fast, said the Mermaid, along with industry colleagues Caribou Coffee, Folgers, Keurig Green Mountain, and Gold Peak Tea & Coffee (owned by Coca-Cola). Their attorneys argued the very contrary, that a different set of studies show "coffee consumption does not increase the risk of any chronic disease and is independently associated with a decreased risk of several major chronic diseases." [Italics mine.]

Ya mean, coffee is actually good for you?

The coffee industry's leading association of producers holds its annual conference in Seattle this week. We'll be there.

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