Traditionally, coffee has been treated somewhat like cotton: It's a commodity to be bought and sold in bulk. Such a system leaves coffee growers largely at the mercy of middle men and the market, and leaves consumers with beans of dubious quality.
But in recent years, the Fair Trade movement, the Cup of Excellence program, and serious roasters have challenged the status quo. Some are establishing direct relationships with individual growers and co-ops, helping them improve the quality of their beans and paying them significant bonuses to produce high-quality beans.
As prices climb for the consumer, how can a coffee lover tell when they're getting the best espresso for their recession dollar? We asked Mother Jones' own in-house coffee expert, Richard Reynolds, to demonstrate the perfect cup.