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BARCELONA, Nov 29 2011 (IPS) - Coffee aficionados say that one of the finest cafes in the world is Rome’s Sant’Eustachio, located in the city’s historic centre. Since 1938 it has been the site of coffee pilgrimages and a must for the most ardent espresso devotees. The line often stretches far outside the shop.

Numerous legends have sprung up over the years regarding the secret behind this coffee’s perfection of taste and extraordinary aroma. It is commonly known that the beans are roasted over a wood fire, but this feature does not go far enough to answer the question. Some argue that the unique qualities of the espresso derive from the water used in brewing, which is extremely pure and comes from an ancient aqueduct that is still in operation. This is well within the realm of possibility, given that numerous buildings in the ancient Roman quarter still get their water in this manner.

Others hold that the secret has to do with how the coffee is brewed, a notion supported by the fact that the two espresso machines used by the cafe are positioned in such a way that customers cannot see how the famous coffees are prepared.

But what no visitor to this Mecca of caffeine addicts expects to find out is that all of the coffee served there, thousands and thousands every week, is fair trade coffee obtained through the Italian organisation Altromercato, a long-time pioneer in the fair trade movement. It is through this group that Sant’Eustachio obtains the very best beans produced in Brazil, Ethiopia, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, the Galapagos islands, or Saint Helena.

Thus every bean used by Sant’Eustachio is produced in keeping with the norms of fair trade and organic farming. As the owners of the cafe recognise, buying a free trade item produced in solidarity with the growers and harvesters means paying a fair price that is higher than the usual market price and building long-term trade relationships that guarantee the financing of local projects for environmental and social development. In addition, in this case buying a free trade product established a direct relationship between the roasters and the farmers, which leads both to seek out quality product.

The example of this prestigious cafe -it would be impossible to list the number of famous clients that have frequented it- overturns certain misconceptions and serves as a paradigm and a model. It shows without a doubt that in contrast to what the various “market” gurus proclaim night and day, quality, commercial success, and social justice are not only entirely compatible; together they can produce results of the very highest order, including commercial.

We live in times of economic and financial turbulence rife with worry and uncertainty about the future. Whether because of a lack of awareness or a dangerous inertia, we respond by blindly applying the same formulas that lead us to this crisis in the first place.

A walk through historic Rome and a visit -metaphorical or not- to the Sant’Eustachio coffee bar show us that there are completely viable alternatives to the dominant economic and entrepreneurial model that make the human element a priority and indeed an added value. We should think about this, and hope to be able to change our behaviour before it is too late. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Manuel Manonelles is the director of the Foundation for the Culture of Peace, Barcelona.

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