The buzzing would not go away. Without opening my eyes, I hit the clock radio. My brain managed to hold one coherent thought: caffeine.

I staggered into the kitchen to brew a cup of coffee. It took 100 beans -- about one-sixtieth of the beans that grew on the coffee tree that year. The tree was on a small mountain farm in the Antiquia region of Colombia. The region was cleared of most of its native cloud forests at the turn of the century...Farm workers wearing shorts, T-shirts, and sloshing backpacks sprayed my tree with several doses of pesticides synthesized in Germany's Rhine River Valley. Some of the chemicals entered the farm workers' lungs; others washed or wafted away, only to be absorbed by plants and animals.

Workers earning less than a dollar a day picked my coffee berries by hand and fed them into a diesel-powered crusher, which removed the beans from the pulpy berries that encased them. The pulp was dumped in the Cauca River. The beans, dried under the sun, traveled to New Orleans on a ship in a 132-pound bag. For each pound of beans, about two pounds of pulp had been dumped into the river. As the pulp decomposes, it consumed oxygen needed by fish in the river....At New Orleans, the beans were roasted for 13 minutes at 400 degrees F. The roaster burned natural gas pumped from the ground in Texas. The beans were packaged in four-layer bags constructed of polyethylene, nylon, aluminum, and polyester. They were trucked to a Seattle warehouse in an 18-wheeler, which got six miles per gallon of diesel. A smaller truck then took the roasted beans to my neighborhood store. Two hours after I finished my morning cup, my body had metabolized the coffee. Most of the water and some nutrients passed into the Seattle sewer system.

I drink two cups a day. At that rate, I'll down 34 gallons of Java this year, made from 18 pounds of beans. The Colombian farms have 12 coffee trees growing to support my personal addiction. Farmers apply 11 pounds of fertilizers and a few ounces of pesticides to the trees this year. And Columbia's rivers will swell with 43 pounds of coffee pulp stripped from my beans.

(Stuff: the Secret Lives of Everyday Things by John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning)

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