An end without its beginning

Coffee and chocolate are fruits

Micah Lim, Guest Writer

Fruit on a table in equador. (Courtesy of Micah Lim)

Coffee is a little red berry with waxy skin and a thin layer of flesh. It tastes somewhat like lychee and apricot. Cacao is different. It is a big yellow pod with an almost bark-like texture. It contains bulbous fruit that is slime covered and larval looking. The taste is sweet and complex with notes of mango and citrus. 

They are both fruits, but we know them differently. It is the crumbly brown product of fermentation and roasting that smells like the sickly sweet scent from the Theo chocolate factory or the nutty burnt steam rising from a K-cup brewing. 

Coffee is the world’s most popular drug, and chocolate is our greatest indulgence. Widely consumed, mass produced and obsessed over, they permeate our food and dessert culture despite being neither nutritional nor necessary. As products of developed society, coffee symbolized a gesture of revolt against Great Britain after the Boston Tea Party, and, during the roaring twenties, chocolate became a decadence of wealth.

Now, they are everywhere. The commodification of sugar and caffeine serves every price range. For every siphon brew of Kenyan single origin specialty roast, there is a scoop of Folgers, and, for every Kit-Kat, there is a chocolatier’s confectionery.

There will always be more to desire when it comes to the cheap stuff, but companies like Nestle and Starbucks are undoubtedly authoritative to our consumption. Their ubiquity reflects how deep the desire runs. 

 Northern Europe is the worst culprit. Each Finn drinks four cups of coffee a day and each Swiss consumes nearly 20 pounds of chocolate annually. The U.S. is not so far behind, with Seattle being the top coffee-drinking city, but there is commonality between coffee and chocolate’s top customers.

For Coffee: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Canada. For Chocolate: Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, UK, Norway, Sweden, Australia, Netherlands, United States and France. All of these countries are white and western.

Coffee and chocolate will never have authority over anyone because they are plants. We pick our cravings, and if the customer is always right, who isn’t? 

The bean belt stretches 25 degrees north and 30 degrees south of the equator. Similarly, cacao can only grow between 20 degrees in either direction. They fit snugly between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn: Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Thailand and Vietnam. 

Nothing similar can be said between any two places. But from bean to brew, from cacao to cocoa, we omit parts of the story because coffee can be so much more than an Americano: Vietnamese coffee, brewed through a phin filter, stirred with condensed milk and served over ice. Barraquito, a Columbian drink of espresso, liqueur, frothed milk and lemon zest. Arabic coffee that is bright, piney and sweet from cardamom. In Ecuador, they drink hot chocolate with cheese.

I have been living in Quito, Ecuador for 10 weeks now. I am surrounded by its mountains and forests of eucalyptus. The city is concrete. Every day, I ride a crowded bus to my internship, and after, I take the same bus to my Spanish class. A lunch of soup, fresh juice, rice and meat costs $2.50, and an Uber is no more than $3. I have lived with Maria Jimena and her son Juan, and I have lived in an apartment with seven other guys. I miss home, and I’m craving pho. But to my surprise, Quito has Korean food, and through many meals I have made friends from Ecuador and friends from the states. 

Ecuador and I have nothing to do with each other. And really, when I imagine where a bar of chocolate or a cup of coffee comes from, neither substance has anything to do with me either. But I am here. I am in Quito, cracking open cacao and tasting its sweet flesh. Likewise, cherimoya, naranjilla, granadilla, babaco, mora, pitahaya, guanabana and taxo exist in Ecuador and not in the states. 

From across the world in places far away, we find our fascination. So who is to say anyone has anything to do with anything? Coffee and chocolate have stories, and from fruit comes trees.