For those who believe life begins after coffee, the story of its origin will definitely sound familiar. Coffee grown worldwide can trace its heritage to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau, where legend says the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans. It is said that Kaldi discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night. Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and slowly knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread.
Now photographer Sebastiao Salgado takes readers deep into that grind with his latest collection, The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee that looks at the landscapes and labors behind the $100-billion-a-year business in ten countries around the globe.
It’s hard to imagine a better guide than the Brazilian-born Salgado. His parents owned a coffee mill, and he began his career as an economist at the International Coffee Organization in London. As he writes in his forward to this book, “photography would prove stronger than coffee.” But Salgado never forgot his roots — or the agricultural commodity that loomed so large in his development.
There are so many images with babies and kids — how much do they remind you of your own childhood?
There are 25 million families that work and live around coffee. It’s basically a family industry, and when it’s a family, they are together and children are all around. I came from a coffee family. My father had 15 mules, and he transported coffee to a train. I love very much to do these pictures and return to my own life. Most of the coffee comes by mule in many parts of the planet. What made me a big pleasure to see [since] we live in an urban planet. When you climb a mountain and see coffee is produced the way it was always, it’s one way to come back.
What do you hope readers can learn through these images?
You can get it in a café and have the impression that it was made in the backyard. So I hope they understand where it comes from and the importance of this product. The way coffee is produced is at peace with nature. There is respect for soil and ecology. It’s a very important product in this sense.
What image should people have in their minds the next time they drink coffee?
If they see my pictures, respect the people. It’s a product produced by a group of people together. Coffee is the most human product on this planet.
Read more of the NPR article.