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Black GoldIf you've never given much thought to the lives affected each time you choose one brand of coffee over another, allow this handsomely mounted documentary from British filmmakers Marc and Nick Francis to serve as a bracing, double-shot of reality. Focusing exclusively on the coffee-producing regions of Ethiopia — the so-called "birthplace of coffee" — the Francis brothers explore the long and unnecessarily convoluted chain that brings the area's highly prized coffee beans to the shelves of your supermarket, specialty store or Starbucks. Our guide through the manufacturing process — one that that effectively inserts as many middlemen between farmer and retailer as possible — is Tadesse Meskela, the manager of Ethiopia's Oromo Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union. Meskela's union represents over 70,000 coffee growers and works to maximize their profits. The market prices for coffee are set by buyers and sellers in the financial capitals of New York and London, far from the growers who are most often unaware of the market rate, and at the time of filming, farmers' profits dropped to a 30-year low: One kilo of beans, which can brew up to 80 cups of $3-a-shot coffee nets the grower less than 23 cents. And yet over the last 15 years, retail sales of coffee have nearly tripled to $80 billion a year with four multinational corporations — Kraft, Nestle, Procter & Gamble and Sara Lee — dominating the market. Meskela seeks to increase the farmers' revenue and their standard of living — many communities don't have schools, clean water or nutritious food — by seeking out better markets, circumventing the unnecessary exporter-buyer-roaster-retailer chain and increasing awareness of fair trade among consumers. The film is tacitly unkind to the unthinking — the giddily idealistic manager of Seattle's original Starbucks is allowed to go on about how she's in the business of connecting people, unaware that the film in which she's going to appear is all about how her business actually serves to disconnect, isolate and exploit the lowliest workers on the production chain. And what about the loathed Starbucks? In its advertising literature, the company prides itself on engaging in socially responsible, fair-trade practices, but the film glosses over exactly how the coffee megacorp goes about getting its prized Ethiopia Sidamo bean. It does, however, point out that the Sidamo region is in the grips of a worsening famine without providing any details about its causes or the extent to which malpractice in the region's coffee-farming industry is to blame. Nevertheless, like DARWIN'S NIGHTMARE before it, the film serves as a valuable explanation of the ways in which the cultivation and exportation of a particular crop can affect the welfare of fragile countries, and offers plenty of things to think about the next time you're waiting in line for that triple-shot mocha frappucino.  --Ken Fox

Happy_CoffeeIf you are feeling low, it may be best to lay off the fizzy drinks and have a cup of coffee instead.

A study has linked soft drinks to depression – with diet versions particularly problematic. Coffee, however, appeared to have the opposite effect. The finding comes from US researchers who studied the drink consumption of 265,000 men and women aged 50 to 71. Ten years into the study, the volunteers were asked if they had been diagnosed with depression in the previous five years. Those who drank more than four cans of soft drinks a day were 30 percent more likely to have had depression than those who drank none, the American Academy of Neurology conference heard.

The risk seemed greater among those who preferred diet drinks. The researchers said this may be due to the presence of the artificial sweetener aspartame, which was provisionally given a clean bill of health by the European Food Safety Authority, following a review.

Making the link does not prove soft drinks cause depression. But researcher Honglei Chen said: “While our findings are preliminary and the underlying biological mechanisms are not known, they are consistent with a small but growing body of evidence suggesting that artificially sweetened beverages may be associated with poor health.”

The study found that those who had four cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to become depressed than non-coffee drinkers. Dr Chen said this may be due to the caffeine in coffee stimulating the brain.

The British Soft Drinks Association urged caution over the findings and pointed out that the scientists themselves said that more research is needed.

Previous studies have linked soft drinks to heart attacks, diabetes, weight gain, brittle bones and pancreatic cancer.


By Nontando Mposo - Cape Argus

Township_Coffee_ShopLately, visitors to the busy business hub next to Khayelitsha station have been greeted by the distinctive aroma of good coffee.

Behind the inviting aroma are three childhood friends – a former barista, a towel factory worker and a fireman – who have been hard at work brewing up anything from a cappuccino to a foamy latte.

Situated at the Urban Upgrading precinct, Department of Coffee is setting a trend as one of the first coffee shops in the city’s townships.

Wongama Baleni, Vuyile Msaku, and Vusumzi Mamile, all in their early 20s, are determined to prove that townships are ready to compete in the coffee scene.

The friends were inspired after taking part in a meditation and life skills class in Khayelitsha started by a non-profit company called Connect Community Development (CCD). The class encouraged them to aspire to reach their full potential, said Baleni. The trio gave up their steady jobs to follow their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs.

The Department of Coffee, which opened in July last year, is a pilot project of a job creation organisation called the Ministry of Service Delivery (MoSD) – comprising a group of local businessmen who came together to practise a hands-on approach to job creation by facilitating business connections, training and by providing start-up funding to underprivileged young entrepreneurs.

Murray Ingram, CCD, helped smooth the progress between the Department of Coffee and MoSD. He also assisted them in securing their current retail space. CCD helps people in poorer communities access the resources necessary to kick-start their business ventures.

Ingram met Baleni, Msaku and Mamile three years ago during their life skills class. “They approached me with an idea and it grew from there. We’re in the process of helping a number of young people to implement their ideas,” said Ingram

Baleni explained that they were drawn together by their “hustling” spirit. “We’ve always been involved in business, from selling meat to anything that will make us money.”

It took them about three years of planning and sourcing funding to get the Department of Coffee up and running. “The equipment was expensive and at times we felt like giving up. My family couldn’t understand at first how we were going to make a decent income selling coffee… but we kept going,” said Baleni

Thanks to former barista Msaku, who has worked in some fine coffee establishments, honing their coffee-making skills was a breeze. Department of Coffee offers espresso-based coffees, tea, hot chocolate, muffins, and freshly squeezed fruit juices. They also sell coffee beans especially roasted and blended just for them, and branded caps and T-shirts. Their price range is R7 to R8.50.

Mamile said the group distributes tasks equally. “Running your business is different from working for someone. You pay extra attention to things to prevent wastage, even spilled sugar is taking money from your pocket.” He added that their busiest time was in the morning when commuters were on their way to work.

The coffee house also does regular morning deliveries to Khayelitsha Magistrate Court, hospital and mall.

Beaver_Creek_Pack_ShotIf you happen to be on holiday anywhere near the KZN south coast this festive season, then put Beaver Creek coffee farm on your "to do" list. They are situated just off the main road in Port Edward, a short drive from popular holiday destinations like Margate and Uvongo.

Beaver Creek is the most southern coffee farm in the world (bearing in mind that most of the world's coffee is grown in tropical regions along the equator). They are however blessed with a relatively good micro-climate which enables them to produce world class beans. The farm currently boasts 60000 coffee trees (they started with 4 back in 1984) and the business is still family owned.

Beaver Creek offers daily "crop to cup" tours which is a must for any coffee enthusiast. Contact them on  039 311 2347 or visit www.beavercreek.co.za


Coffee_Berries_111Planning a trip to the Lowveld this festive season? Be sure to pop in at Sabie Valley coffee farm on the R536, about 10km outside the town of Hazyview.

The Buckland's have been farming Arabica coffee on this lush farm for the last 25 years. It is situated in a valley at the confluence of the Sabie, Sabaan and Mac-Mac rivers. The setting makes for an ideal micro climate for the coffee plants to thrive -  a plant which is normally associated with more tropical conditions closer to the equator.

At Sabie Valley they grow, process, roast and package the coffee - all on site. They also conduct daily coffee tours on the farm, a must for any coffee lover!

To find out more about the farm or to order coffee, simply visit their website. They even have an online game which allows you to be the owner of your own virtual coffee shop!  www.sabievalleycoffee.com