More than 80% of adult Americans can’t live without their cup of joe if you believe a 2013 survey by the National Coffee Association. Coffee is a $30 billion annual industry in our country, so it goes without saying that it’s big news when coffee prices climb or supply dwindles (the most recent culprit is low production of arabica beans thanks to a nasty drought in Brazil and blight disease in other regions).

As a nation we’re just as addicted to chocolate, with the International Cocoa Organization claiming our per capita consumption is a little more than 11 pounds a year.1

Okay, so we really like our caffeine and sugar rushes. But other than the obvious drinking and eating part, what does coffee and chocolate have to do with Raleigh?

Good and plenty, actually. We have several local businesses that handcraft both types of beans into delectable works of art, many recognized and sold nationally. But those beans have to be imported from somewhere else…North Carolina isn’t nearly as good at growing them as tobacco or sweet potatoes.

That’s why at least 80%—or really even 100%—of you reading this should care about the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ latest special exhibition: the Rainforest Adventure. Without protecting healthy tropical forests, our two favorite dark, rich indulgences wouldn’t exist and life just wouldn’t be the same. We’d be stuck drinking soda and eating jelly beans.2

On Thursday, June 26, the museum makes it fun to learn about these favorite foods and where they come from, with talks starting at 6:30 p.m. You’re invited to hear Research Curator of Birds John Gerwin explain how a healthy rain forest affects “Nicaraguan Coffee, Birds, and People” and a lineup of local coffee roasters and chocolatiers—Larry’s BeansEscazu and Videri Chocolates—as they chat about the ins and outs of producing their products. Even better yet, they’re handing out samples.3

When it comes to producing coffee, Larry’s Beans definitely has the scoop on the best techniques, including fair trade and shade-grown. Fair trade? Think of the very definition of fair. The producer benefits just as much as the consumer, through long-term partnerships. Specifically, this translates into fair wages, cooperative workplaces, consumer education, environmental sustainability, financial and technical support, respect for cultural identity and public accountability.

Shade-grown? Although it decreases yields when compared to coffee grown in open sunlight (and is obviously unpopular with farmers), shade-growing means your coffee has more of a flavor kick. Plus the extra plants provide a home for the birds and other wildlife which keep pest populations, including blight, under control. Which should be popular with farmers.

This long-term investment in sustainability isn’t new to Larry’s Beans owner Larry Larson. It fits his take on life to “make the world last” and that “once you get hip to the ways that everyday actions can improve the world, you want to know more and it becomes addicting.” Just like coffee and chocolate.

A certified B Corp, one of just 1,040 in 34 countries worldwide, Larry’s Beans truly lives the B Corp mantra: people using business as a force for good. Its green-o-vated4 beanplant incorporates some really cool features: a rare B-100 fueling station (biodiesel), passive solar daylighting, solar-powered radiant floor heating, reclaimed timber staircase, edible courtyard (Larry loves blueberries), vermiculture composting (that means worms eat leftovers and produce great fertilizer in return), and rainwater cisterns holding 2500 gallons that end up in rainwater flush toilets.

The production of award-winning coffee and chocolate in Raleigh really do go together like birds of a feather. I hope sustainable practices way down south help keep it that way for a very, very long time; I happen to like chocolate a whole lot more than jelly beans.

image via Alexander Stein

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