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Swiss Government Gets Roasted Over Coffee Stockpile Changes

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A recent cartoon in a Swiss newspaper shows a couple of angels looking down on a smoldering post-apocalyptic Earth. One says, too bad. But why does it smell like good coffee? The other replies, the Swiss coffee stash was roasted to the perfect temperature. You see, the Swiss have a three-month emergency stockpile of coffee. That sounds nice, right? And if calamity occurred, wouldn't you consider coffee essential to your survival?

Well, in April, the Swiss government signaled it might remove coffee from the essential-to-life list, and you can imagine the outcry. Now the decision has been pushed back and might be rescinded.

Markus Hafliger reported on the Swiss jitters over this issue for his Swiss newspaper. He joins us now from the studios of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation in Bern.

Welcome to the program.

MARKUS HAFLIGER: Hello.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us about this Swiss stockpile. What kinds of things are in it, and what's it for?

HAFLIGER: Listen. Switzerland is a small, landlocked country. We don't have access to the sea. We have an agriculture who is not able to feed all the population of 8 million. So Switzerland has been stockpiling vital things for 100 years. And the government said coffee should be taken away from the list.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did they decide that coffee might not be so essential to life?

HAFLIGER: The administration said that coffee contains almost no energy, no calories. And therefore, it's not vital for human survival anymore, and people could live without coffee, nevertheless.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I gather the reaction was pretty swift.

HAFLIGER: Yes. We were laughing a lot about it, but some people didn't laugh. It was the coffee industry. And you'll maybe know what the Nespresso company - Nestle - it's a multibillion business here. And they were quite attacking the decision and lobbying against it for the last few month. And now the minister for economy is stepping backwards.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This stockpiling of coffee costs over $2.5 million a year. So who pays for this? Is it the importers? Is it the coffee drinkers?

HAFLIGER: If you as a Swiss company are importing coffee, you have to - there is some sort of fee that has to be paid. And with the fee, the companies themselves are paid for stockpiling. And the quantities are enormous. I mean, we are stockpiling right now 16,000 tons of coffee. Just to imagine, it's 400 big trucks full of coffee beans that makes a line of 5 miles of coffee trucks. Each Swiss drinks - in average, drinks 20 pounds of coffee beans a year.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wow.

HAFLIGER: I don't have the numbers for the Americans, but it's twice or three times as much, probably. And maybe, if I dare say, we are also drinking normally better coffee than the Americans.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Well, those are fighting words, I think, but I'm going to let you get away with it at this point. I have to ask - why do the Swiss drink so much coffee?

HAFLIGER: You know, Switzerland is a country with several cultures. We are also influenced by the Italian way of life, by the French way of life. And we are drinking espresso, latte macchiato, you name it. You'll start in the morning with your coffee with milk, then a first espresso in (unintelligible). After the lunch, you drink your coffee. And then during the afternoon, if your energy level is going down, you will, like, add in some coffee in again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: May I ask you - you drink coffee three times a day?

HAFLIGER: More.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

HAFLIGER: How can you work as a journalist without drinking coffee in the afternoon? I mean, I wouldn't survive without coffee as a journalist.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm sympathetic as a fellow journalist, but I drink tea. But I have to ask you. Do you have a position on the stockpiling?

HAFLIGER: Actually, I have not. It's more like a funny thing. I think stockpiling makes sense for a country like Switzerland. If you have to stop buy coffee or not, I don't care that much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Maintaining journalistic impartiality - we like it. That's journalist Markus Hafliger. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

HAFLIGER: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.