BBC 6 minute English-The story behind coffee

BBC 6 minute English-The story behind coffee

BBC 6 minute English-The story behind coffee


Transcript of the podcast

NB: This is not a word-for-word transcript

Rob: Hello, I’m Rob. Welcome to 6 Minute English. With me today is Neil. Hello, Neil

Neil: Hello Rob

Rob: In this programme we’re going to be talking about coffee

Neil: Coffee? I’ve actually got one here in front of me, Rob

Rob: What kind of coffee are you drinking

Neil: It’s a skinny latte. What’s yours

Rob: I’ve gone for a flat white today. (Sound of sipping). Mmm. That tastes good

Neil: Looks good too! The market for the world’s most popular drink has come a long way since the days of instant coffee, when we just added boiling water to some brown powder

Rob: Yes, that’s very true, Neil. After that came the giants like Starbucks and Costa Coffee who made coffee drinking trendy and a lifestyle statement. People are far more aware of what they’re drinking these days

Neil: But Rob, I don’t think we should forget what lies behind the coffee we enjoy every day. It’s a hugely complicated business

Rob: Yes, it’s the second biggest commodity in the world, after oil. That means the price of coffee is changing every day, every hour even, as traders speculate about the price

Neil: It means farmers in countries like Ethiopia, Costa Rica and Brazil are dependent on the deals that are made in commodity markets thousands of miles from their farms. It makes them extremely vulnerable

Rob: Let’s listen to food journalist Sheila Dillon as she explains the impact of coffee markets on local growers. She uses an expression that means “has a big effect”. Can you tell me what it is


Sheila Dillon, Food Journalist

What happens in the coffee markets makes waves around the globe. Entire national economies depend on the price of coffee. It’s the key to whether individual farmers can provide for their families, face unemployment and ultimately whether whole communities stay on the land or trek to the cities

Neil: She said “makes waves”. This means have a big effect

Rob: She also used the expression “provide for” their families. This means the farmer’s family have enough income to live comfortably. Good. Right. So what about our quiz question today? Neil do you know many cups of coffee are drunk worldwide each year? Is it

a) 38 billion

b) 400 billion

c) 950 billion

Neil: Well, it’s going to be a huge number, of course. But I still think I’ll go for the lowest figure, which is 38 billion

Rob: Well, we’ll see if you got the right answer at the end of the programme

Neil: Now, the price of coffee has soared – that means gone up quickly – in recent years, Rob. Surely that’s good for everyone involved in the business? I believe the profit margins for coffee are among the highest in the world. I can’t see what all the fuss is about

Rob: Well, Neil, just because the price is high, it doesn’t mean that everyone benefits. It all depends on how the profits are distributed. You see there are countless transactions between the grower and the drinker. A grower can have a really good crop, but the amount he makes stays the same – or can even fall

Neil: Mmm, I see the problem. I expect most of the profits go to the commodity traders and very little to the individual growers of the bean. It sounds like the growers have no control. That’s what happens in other agricultural sectors

Rob: I’m afraid so. Of course, some people are trying to distribute the profits more widely and they have been having some success

Neil: Yes, I heard about some small-scale projects where the company takes charge of the whole process from field to shop

Rob: Yes, these organisations tend to farm organically. This is very labour intensive – that means a lot of people are employed – and it creates a lot of jobs for people within the local community. In this way they are not victims of market fluctuations. Let’s listen to Leo Virmani, who runs a small plantation like this in Costa Rica. What’s the verb he uses for putting the coffee in a box before selling it


Leo Virmani, Coffee producer

For our plantation, the approach we have is to go through every step of the way – every step of the process – so that we grow it, we pick it, and we process it in the mill. Then eventually we’ll roast it, we’ll package it, and we’ll sell it as the small plantation we are. And that would allow us to stay or be profitable at the end of the day

Neil: So, he used the verb “package”, which means “put a product in a packet or box before selling” it

Rob: And he said his community can stay “profitable” – this means they can always maintain profits – or make money

Neil: Well, it’s good to know that small growers can live reasonably comfortably despite what the world markets are doing. The next time I grab a takeaway coffee I’ll try to remember all the politics involved in the production process

Rob: Yes, me too. So, shall we have the answer to the quiz question now

Neil: Yes. You asked me how many cups of coffee are drunk worldwide each year – ۳۸ billion, 400 billion or 950 billion. And I guessed 38 billion

Rob: I’m afraid you’re wrong – the answer is actually 400 billion

Neil: That’s incredible

Rob: Yes, it is an extraordinary statistic. Well, we’re almost out of time. So, let’s remind ourselves of some of the words we’ve said today, Neil

Neil: commodity speculate fluctuations vulnerable makes waves provides for labour intensive package profitable

Rob: Well, that’s it for today. Do visit to find more 6 Minute English programmes. Until next time. Goodbye

Neil: Bye

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