The course’s overarching goal is to provide students with an overview of the evolution of the global economy—focusing on both historic and geographic dimensions. For the geographic piece, Peng and his students emphasize the relationship between developing and developed countries, and the lens through which the course examines this relationship is coffee.
The first half of the course includes lectures and readings, as well as viewing two films—Black Gold and Connected by Coffee—that reveal the realities of the coffee markets in South America and Africa.
The second half of the course is far more hands-on. Students are divided into teams and assigned one of Downtown Credo’s four coffee-shop locations. Each team is then tasked with developing a promotional strategy for its assigned location in collaboration with Downtown Credo staff members.
Downtown Credo is an especially fitting partner due to the vision of company founder Ben Hoyer. The direct-trade shop sources its coffee directly from growers in Guatemala and Nicaragua, then asks its customers to name their price for its products.
“The consumers are stimulated to decide how much to pay, which prompts them to think about what could be a fair cost to produce coffee and transport it to the U.S.,” says Peng. “This makes them responsible for their own consumption behavior.”
For Hoyer, who spoke to Peng’s spring 2017 class and attended final presentations, the lesson has the potential to go even further.
“Asking consumers to be involved in their choices with coffee leads to the possibility that they will ask, ‘What about my clothes, my car, and my food?’” he says. “They might realize that when we buy stuff, we’re a part of all these systems, and we have choices regarding which systems we want to be a part of. Buying a cup of coffee is just one example of how a purchase has the potential to have an impact on the whole world.”