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A trip around the world of the coffee bean: 400 billion cups consumed globally

Economy / -

PG le tazzine di caffè nel mondo
@Richard Levine_Demotix_Corbis

After petroleum, coffee is the second most traded product with an annual production of 148 million 60 kg bags. Mugs, demitasses, cups and sacks are commonly cited in statistics and as profits, but few realize that it is not only a matter of macro or micro economics, but also one of style.

Italian roast coffee consumption has doubled
Both the consumption of Italian roast coffee and the sales of moka  (Italian stovetop coffee-makers) and espresso machines have doubled in just a few short years in Germany (the largest market in Europe according to market research institute GFK) and this trend is spreading throughout the world. Even in Asia, where tea is sacrosanct, the consumption of coffee is increasing by leaps and bounds, according to the International Coffee Organization, with a 4 percent annual increase year after year.

Similar name, the price less so
While the name is comparable all over the world, there are as many ways of making and enjoying coffee as there are variations in price. For example, in Australia  the price of coffee has increased more than 15 percent in a single year, while in the United States for two years it has been falling. Coffee, grown in the Ethiopian province of Caffa, is called Qahwa in Arabic, coffee in Anglo-Saxon countries, Ca Phe in Vietnam (the second largest producer and exporter in the world), and kopi in Malaysia. Local variations with similar-sounding pronunciations; today the term “espresso” has also become more widely used.
 
Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia have in common that they each share the custom of drinking the beverage with others in a social setting. This communal habit has endured wars and even the most disastrous world crises.  While 200 million workers are employed directly in coffee production, there has been a sharp increase as well in the sectors of processing, consumption, catering and local establishments where it is served, that has created an incredible and growing number of jobs – estimated between 20 and 23 million.
 
From gossip to Cuban cigars
The strongest example of conviviality comes, surprisingly, from Germany (with more than 7 kg of coffee per person drunk each year) where the term for a get-together for coffee, particularly when referring to a group of women,  is Kaffeklatsch, or “gossip over coffee.” Sipping the aromatic beverage alone is less enjoyable and that’s why from the beginning the first coffee bars began to offer cakes and pastries (in Cuba, on the other hand, it is almost a requirement to smoke a strong-smelling cigar) to entice a pleasant mix of men and women. These local public places started in the 1800s in Constantinople, Venice, Vienna, Paris and London where they quickly multiplied, where the fashion of making and drinking the dark beverage was adapted to local customs which rapidly became the norm at home as well.

Meditating under Bedouin tents
For centuries, in Bedouin tents around Dubai, coffee was prepared in three phases both to help meditation and in honor of guests, utilizing a boiling technique. “The first time is strong like life, the second like love and the third like death.” Even though it’s a stimulant, the dark concoction has been used since the 1400s by Sufi mystics to assist in concentration. Coffee was made by infusion in Europe, North Africa and Africa where it was common to add – according to the individual drinker’s taste - salt, sugar, honey, butter, cardamom, whole cloves or cinnamon. In Cuba, at the noted cafè  Escorial, the ritual of strong black boiling-hot coffee was further enhanced with a selection of fine cigars.

With sugar and pistachios
Of course, the most ancient styles of making coffee come from the Middle East and Africa where it originated, although only 12 percent of the world’s supply is produced there. All of Africa, particularly North Africa, has seen double digit increases in consumption (more than 50 percent in eight years), but with a negative element: exports have not seen the dynamic growth curves found elsewhere primarily due to local warfare.
 
For centuries, coffee has been synonymous, both at home and in public houses, with the Turkish beverage served in metal cups, heavily sweetened, with two fingers of coffee grounds (to leave at the bottom) and flavored with pistachios, most famously at the Ark Kahveshi in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. A curious fact is that Turkey’s coffee consumption is very low at barely 550 grams per capita. In the Arabian peninsula the three phase coffee ritual that entails frequent shaking of the boiling-hot urn, starts with an additional step: to calm guests’ fears of any nasty surprises, the host is the first to taste the beverage.

Coffee to combat northern chill
The most avid coffee consumers are not, as one would think, Italians or Arabs, but rather the residents of northern Europe, with Finland in first place with an annual consumption per capita of 12 kg, followed by the rest of northern Europe. Masses and religious ceremonies typically end with drinking coffee in such abundance that it is sometimes referred to as the third sacrament of the Finnish Lutheran Church.
 
Meanwhile in the US, the presence in every household of a filter coffeemaker demonstrates the widespread habit of offering and drinking the steaming beverage on every occasion. More than 54 percent of adults – approximately 110 million people – drink coffee daily, men more so than women, more than three cups a day for the majority. But for the true disciples of the coffee bean, Americans commit a sacrilege: reheating it continuously so that it loses its aroma and flavor.

In Hong Kong, only for couples and mixed with tea
A large factor in the economic expansion of coffee cultivation is the diffusion in bars and bistros, as well as at home, the morning and afternoon rituals of a steaming cupful. Because of this, Europe has maintained record consumption levels with Finland in the lead, followed by Germany with 7 kg per capita per year, immediately followed by France with 5.4 kg. Italy drinks 4.8 kg and, in addition to straight coffee, has also spread the fashionable habit of cappuccino, now imitated all over the world.
 
In the winter there is the custom of imbibing Irish coffee, made with whiskey, that was first offered by Pan Am to console passengers whose flights were cancelled. And while in Senegal coffee is made with Longorum pepper that is claimed to have medicinal properties, the oddest blend may be that of Hong Kong, where consumed on the street is a mix of tea, sweetened condensed milk and coffee, and is considered a drink only for couples.

China, the world’s largest market
China, with its dizzying growth of 15 percent annual growth for some time now (compared to a worldwide increase of two percent), is becoming such an important market that all the major coffee shop chains worldwide have rushed to open spacious coffee bars in metropolitan cities. Korean, American, European and Chinese coffee house proprietors are constructing lavishly furnished, fashionable spaces, resulting in a spiral of ever higher prices. Luckily, even the most casual drinking spots have begun to have Italian espresso machines while the moka has become a fixture in many homes. The world market in fact now depends less on price and market speculation, rather by how and where the habit of coffee and cappuccino for varied occasions continues to broaden its global appeal.

Use, quality, cultures, flavor, methods of making coffee: the Cluster Coffee Expo Milano 2015 is a unique exhibition space, to discover the world in an espresso cup.
 

The food truck revolution at Expo Milano 2015: 10 street foods you have to try

Taste / -

lista 10 street food img rif

Street food is the heart of every culinary culture. The most famous street foods in Italy are pizza, cuoppo from Naples and arancine from Sicily, but at Expo Milano 2015 you can also find Laotian rice on a stick and takeaway ramen.

Street food is increasingly fashionable. This “come back” that it's made is certainly a welcome one, considering that, at the end of the day, street food is the heart of the most genuine and truly traditional Italian cooking: we all remember Sofia Loren in the film directed by Vittorio De Sica, “The Gold of Naples” as she makes pizzas for the locals. Although pizzas are Italy’s most famous street food, nowadays we cannot ignore the food truck revolution, which has come over straight from the States: in these “kitchens on wheels” tasty dishes using high quality raw ingredients are prepared and sold directly to the public, so that a direct and honest rapport can be built up with the customer.
 
In Italy you can find some of the most traditional foods, like those of Farinel on the Road, which serves miasse, basically cornmeal wraps like a polenta flatbread, filled with specialty salami and cheeses from the Valle d’Aosta and Piedmont regions, or those of Ape Scottadito, selling arrosticini (grilled mutton cubes on a skewer) and fried stuffed olive all’ascolana to tourists in San Benedetto del Tronto in the province of Ascoli Piceno. But there is more, because street food brings creativity to the fore: Cucinando su Ruote (Cooking on Wheels) from Turin offers vegan hemp dishes on wheels, and Matilda sells Medieval recipes from the 13th Century. Below is a guided tour of the street food you can enjoy tasting at Expo Milano 2015.
 
Double-fried fries
A cone of steaming hot fries: street food for foodies and one of Belgium’s most famous dishes. These fries are different from all others and their secret is that they are cooked twice. The potatoes are cut into large pieces, fried, cooled and then fried again: this makes them very crunchy outside and soft and fleshy inside. Indeed, when you try them, you are struck by the sweetness and consistent texture of the inside, which explodes after you have bitten into the crunchy, toasted outside. Making fries is an art in Belgium and this is confirmed in the Pavilion of Belgium: not only the taste, but the color too is a joy to behold, as they are a perfect golden color. There are three sauces on offer: traditional mayonnaise, with its soft, rounded taste; ketchup, which is sweet and less acid than usual and, for those who like more original tastes, Andalusian sauce, which has a mayonnaise base, enriched with chili pepper and spices for a more aromatic taste and a finale with a kick.
 
Where: Pavilion of Belgium
How much: 4 euro

Mixed Neapolitan Cuoppo
The cuoppo is one of the pillars of traditions in Naples. It is a piece of greaseproof paper, also called “straw paper”, which is rolled into a cornet and becomes the perfect “container” for little fried treats to snack on while strolling around Naples. But not only there, because this tasty street food is also an important player at Expo Milano 2015 thanks to the cuoppo misto from Frie n' Fuie – which  means “Fry and Run”. It contains a variety of fried tidbits, according to the cook’s inspiration, but always includes zeppole fritte, or fried leavened dough balls, rice arancini, which sometimes have saffron added, and rissoles, which range from the classic meatballs to those with broccoli rabe, tomatoes or olives. The cuoppo was already cited in literature in 1884, as Matilde Serao mentioned it in “Il Ventre di Napoli” (the Belly of Naples): in those days it contained mostly fried whitebait and a few panzerotti (fried pizza pockets).
 
Where: Frie n' fuie, near the Pavilion of Brazil and in the street food area near Cascina Triulza
How much: 5 euro
 
Rice on a skewer
The gastronomy of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos is typically Asian, with lots of fresh vegetables and spicy flavors. The main staple is rice, which is boiled and served with vegetables, fish, chicken, pork or beef. A fun street food, which children will certainly love, is the rice on a skewer which is on offer at the Pavilion of Laos at Expo Milano 2015. It is made of rice, simply steamed and without any added flavors, squashed into a medallion shape and put on a skewer, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and then fried. An unusual way of eating rice and a simple, tasty and nourishing takeaway dish. Those who prefer stronger tastes can try the Luang-Prabang sausages, made of soured pork and spices including a substantial dose of black pepper.  
 
Where: Pavilion of Laos - Rice Cluster
How much: 3 euro

Bitterballen
You don’t have to sit down at table in order to enjoy a great helping of meatballs. At the Pavilion of the Netherlands, in the large space where all kinds of food trucks are parked, surrounded by music and tables in the open, Dutch Fries and Meatballs stands out over the others. Its specialty is takeaway meatballs, which you can buy in the three-piece format, but we advise the large size to be fully satisfied. They are extremely crunchy outside and soft inside, and curry flavored. If you add a cone of fries – fresh, organic, hand chopped and fried while you wait, they make a complete and substantial meal.
 
Where: Pavilion of the Netherlands
How much: 7.50 euro
 
Basmati rice arancine 
Basmati rice is a long-grained rice originally from India, which has a distinctive fragrance and flavor. The arancina, on the other hand, is typical Sicilian street food comprising a round or cone-shaped ball of rice which is stuffed and fried in boiling oil. When fried, it takes on a golden color reminiscent of an orange (the fruit in Italian is called arancia). At Expo Milano 2015 the friendship between Italy and the countries producing basmati rice is sealed by the Risotto Basmati stand, where you can try a basmati rice arancina: the filling can be the classical meat sauce with peas, or with mushrooms or with raw ham and mozzarella.
 
Where: Rice Cluster 
How much: 5 euro
 
Popi, polenta on the road
Polenta is a dish which goes back many centuries in northern Italy, made from cornmeal cooked slowly in boiling water until it becomes a smooth, creamy porridge. Polenta is usually turned out onto a large wooden chopping board and left to set for a few minutes. It is served cut in slices, perhaps with a rich stew, or with mushrooms or cheese. But if you have a sudden craving for polenta while visiting Expo Milano 2015, the answer is called Popi. Here “polenta on the road” is a reality and you can choose between the classic polenta fingers, or those flavored with rosemary or chili pepper. If you are looking for a more substantial meal, you can accompany your polenta fingers with meat or chicken kebabs, chicken wings or a shank of pork.
 
Take away ramen
When you think of Japanese food, you immediately think of sushi and sashimi, but their hot dishes can also be delicious. Ramen is a traditional soup made of wheat noodles in a meat or fish soup with soy sauce added to it. The richest version contains slices of pork, creamy egg yolk, greens and spring onion, which gives it a fresh, crunchy taste. Other street foods include tasty chicken wings, a Japanese fried specialty to use up rather than throw out the less valuable part of the chicken, and the famous gyoza, Japanese ravioli stuffed with pork which acquire a marked, toasty flavor when they are grilled. And if we’re going for Japan, let’s go all the way, with drinks too: to accompany your takeaway dishes you can choose between the classic green tea, a lychee-flavored drink or cold sake.
 
Where: Zen Express
How much: 12 euro
 
Los granos de mi tierra
You can eat healthily in “street food mode” and Los granos de mi tierra is proof of it. It is a small van offering tasty ancient grains which have high nutritional value. These include quinoa, the “wheat of the Incas”, which is gluten-free and rich in protein and essential amino acids; amaranth, a plant originating in Central America and the seeds of which are full of vitamins and fiber, and which is also gluten-free; wholegrain wild rice, bulgur (cracked wheat) made from sprouted durum wheat which is prepared in a particular way. These foods go perfectly with vegetables or new versions of sauces, such as light pesto or a lighter version of fish sauce. Plenty of these sauce and grain combinations are suitable for people with coeliac disease or for those who choose vegetarian or vegan diets. There are also creamy vegetable soups, mixed salads, fruit salads and fresh fruit smoothies.
 
Where: near the Pavilion of China and the Pavilion of Qatar
How much: 8 euro
 
The “starred” Panini of The Rolling star
No longer the preserve of traditional or exotic food offerings, street food is becoming more and more gourmet. At Expo Milano 2015 you can enjoy the buzz of tasting award-winning food even by visiting a food truck: the place to go to is The Rolling Star, an old Citroen H van, made over with a brand new kitchen, “driven” by the chef Felice Lo Basso, from the one Michelin-starred restaurant Unico in Milan. Here there is a choice between three haute cuisine takeaway offerings: a meat panino with pulled pork cooked for 14 hours, with a horseradish and apple sauce; a prawn panino, filled with a shrimp tartare in cocktail sauce; and the vegetarian panino with a veggie burger topped with peppers and burrata cheese.  
 
Where: near the Pavilion of China
How much: 8 euro
 
Nasi goreng
Nasi goreng is a typical street food that you find everywhere in Indonesia: its name means “fried rice” and it is a takeaway dish made of steamed or boiled rice which is then sautéed in a wok, with chicken or beef, vegetables, shrimps and little strips of plain omelet. It is a tasty and nourishing dish which everyone can enjoy, as it is not too spicy.  It can be accompanied with ayam kalio, chicken seasoned with lemongrass and spices, cooked in coconut milk, tahu balado, or fried tofu, and mie goreng, wheat noodles sautéed with meat and mixed vegetables.
 
Where: Pavilion of Indonesia
How much: 10 euros including a free drink
 

How to distinguish a real food scare from an inflated one

Lifestyle / -

come distinguere allarme alimentare
© Paul van Hoof/ Buiten-beeld/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Poisons in the food chain, adulterations and sophistications, meat of other animals in the ragout, animal diseases and zoonoses. Reading the news, it’s enough to put you off your food. Occasionally producers do make mistakes; or else, the newspapers do. Here is how to distinguish the disturbing food scares from those triggered by mass hysteria.

When in June 1999 the news showed horrendous images of hens in batteries and talked about the discovery of eggs, chickens and hams with dioxin exported all over Europe, everyone realized that something was not right. It was a huge scandal involving food producers and distributors, from whom we learned a lesson. Do not (and thereafter it was no longer allowed) put used car oil in animal feed.
 
For the past twenty years in many countries of the world there have been cases of problems related to industrial production and marketing of food. Sometimes serious, sometimes unfounded, sometimes even reassuring.
 
Real alarms
By food scandal we mean a true incident of the misconduct, illegal or slipped through regulatory loopholes, of food producers that endangers the integrity of food or even public health. Here, we are not talking about food poisoning, unless caused by inadequate controls, because they are almost always due to the wrongdoings of individuals in the kitchen or in public places; nor of unintentional poisonings (as in the tragedy of the 25 children killed in July 2013 in Bihar, India, by an insecticide poured into the school rice). No, we are talking about voluntary or incompetent decisions which impact the quality of food then eaten by everyone, at the supermarket, at fast-food chains and in restaurants.
 
In the eighties Italy experienced creamy cheeses packaged with dust, seed oils made ​​from waste processing, wine spiked with methanol that killed more than twenty people in 1986. The world remembers with shame, in the last twenty years, meat illegally inflated with hormones, two waves of "mad cow" disease that exposed animals and humans to a new brain disorder, several cases of dioxin contamination, the spread of unauthorized GMOs such as Starlink corn (2000) and Liberty Link 601 rice (2006), a massacre of foot and mouth disease in England and one in China, recalls in massive quantities of hamburgers in America, a couple of bouts of bird flu with the extermination of reared chickens and turkeys and a collapse in their consumption, chickens and honey laced with antibiotics in South America, continuing shipments from South Asia of chili powder colored with Sudan I shoe dye, melamine-tainted milk that in 2008 poisoned almost 300 thousand Chinese children and killed at least six. The most recent, of international proportions, is the discovery of the use of horse meat in sauces and a number of unchecked meat preparations distributed throughout Europe.
 
The common features of these scandals are: health risks are real or at least have the potential to be so; there is a noticeable impact on national or international consumption and exports; alarms persist for months or years, not days; the majority affect products of animal origin; they are always followed by a regulatory review, with action to establish new limits for listed contaminants or prohibitions and punishments for certain behaviors.
 
False alarms
Sometimes however, riding on the wave of anxiety provoked by real scandals, some newspapers raise questionable problems with an echo that is enormously and disproportionately amplified compared to actual health risks. Typical examples are cartoons of toxic pizza, coatings of non-stick cookware, or acrylamide in French fries.
 
The typical traits of these cases are: hypothetical or theoretically feasible health risks, yes, but through impossible quantities of human consumption; it takes just one single scientific research to raise the alarm, in what is more, often out of context; this stops after a few days; and they leave no trace on our society or laws. One crucial clue to detecting a false alarm is if a manufacturer, a product sector or an alternative technology gains a commercial advantage, making money at the expense of the hurt competition; in which case, the big commotion was just a clever stunt.
 
Reassuring alarms
There is a last type of alarm that should instead be welcomed by consumers. It happens when the police seize fraudulently labeled products, but without any danger to public health. For example, the seizure of standard rice being sold as organic rice, local products made ​​with raw materials outside the EU (which happens with oils and sausages). Trade issues, not health issues. We are all agreed, from health workers to food technologists, all the way up to ministers, that this kind of alarm, far from being capable of being scandals, are instead signs of properly functioning controls. Of course, as long as irregularities remain in the region of just a few percentage points.
 

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