Posts Tagged ‘Coffee’

Climate Change Adaptation, Coffee, and Corporate Social Responsbility : Challenges and Opportunities

June 21, 2021 1 comment

Climate change is making a profound impact on agricultural production across the globe. Coffee (especially the Arabica variety) is one of the most severely affected crops. Adaptive measures are therefore needed to ensure the industry’s survival. Although large coffee companies have a long history of environmental action, less is known about their strategies and attitudes related to climate adaptation. This paper attempts understand how global coffee companies are addressing climate change adaptation as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies and what barriers may exist to prevent future scale-up. To answer this question, I analyzed overall global adaptation needs and the specific needs of the coffee industry, which revealed serious financial, capacity-related, and principle-based challenges. To better understand how the industry may view climate adaptation, I reviewed CSR theoretical literature and the history of CSR within the coffee industry. Through this analysis, I determined the promotion of climate adaptation in the coffee industry can best be explained by the “Creating shared value” (CSV) framework. Using the CSV framework and an understanding of global adaptation challenges, I reviewed the CSR strategies of five major coffee companies as well as supporting literature and industry information. I find that all five companies have expansive CSR programs, yet none seriously undertake climate adaptation efforts and/or make them public. I suggest several reasons for this absence, including competing CSR priorities, lack of awareness, competition, lack of leadership, the controversial nature of climate change, and the overemphasis of certification. I end the paper with a call for more collaboration and research around the adaptation issue for the coffee industry.

Climate change poses an existential threat to the global coffee industry. Increasing average temperatures, more frequent droughts and heat waves, and inclement weather patterns threaten to upend a large portion suitable coffee producing areas over the next 50 years (Davis, Gole, Baena, & Moat, 2012; Rahn et al., 2018). This implies that large multinational coffee companies could lose substantial profits and even disappear entirely if climate trends continue unabated. Even if ambitious global emission reduction targets are met, the coffee industry could still face substantial losses. Given the severity of this threat, one would expect climate adaptation efforts to be at the forefront of corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies of major coffee companies. Yet, from a superficial level, terms such as “climate change adaptation” appear mostly absent from these companies’ public-facing data. Why would an industry with such a long track record of CSR engagement ignore an opportunity to ensure its survival and benefit the communities who supply its coffee?

This article attempts to answer this question through a holistic analysis of the industry, its relationship with CSR, and with climate change mitigation and adaptation. This article contributes to the broader literature of climate change in CSR by adding a climate adaptation perspective, which is less discussed than climate mitigation and broader environmental activities. This research also contributes to discussions of CSR activities in developing country contexts.

The Global Coffee Industry

Coffee is one of the most widely traded and consumed commodities in the world. The demand for coffee is also growing (FAO, 2015A; Panhuysen & Pierrot, 2018), perhaps due to increased demand from emerging economies. Despite its wide consumption in developed countries, coffee is overwhelmingly grown in less developed economies. In addition, it is estimated that 70% of the approximately 25 million coffee producers are smallholders who manage less than 10 ha of land (Panhuysen & Pierrot, 2018; Rahn et al., 2018). This means that coffee production is potentially a source of economic development (FAO, 2015a; Rahn et al., 2018). Even though smallholders and developing economies produce most of the world’s coffee, they reap few of the benefits. Global trade and sale of coffee is increasingly concentrated in a few “mega” companies housed mostly in the developed world (Panhuysen & Pierrot, 2018).

Coffee production can be split into two types: Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea robusta). Robusta accounts for roughly 40% of global production and is generally grown in hotter climates, lower elevations, under less shade, and using more mechanized means of production, (FAO, 2015a). Robusta is also considered to be of poorer quality. Arabica accounts for the remaining 60% of global production and is the preferred coffee of choice for consumers in the United States and Europe (FAO, 2015a). Arabica is not as hardy as Robusta, requiring more shade, higher elevations, and cooler temperatures to thrive (FAO, 2015a; Rahn et al., 2018). Because of the nature of Arabica coffee, production cannot easily be mechanized and is much more labor intensive (Rahn et al., 2018). This may be why Arabica production has remained the domain of the smallholder for so long. This paper will focus mostly on Arabica production, since it is the variety of most concern to Western companies and consumers, most threatened by climate change, and the most tied to rural development.

Global Climate Change: the Adaptation Challenge

Global climate change is already affecting both natural and human systems across the globe. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that between 2003 and 2015, climate related events caused $1.5 trillion in economic damages (FAO, 2015b). While some effects of global climate change will be positive (such as through prolonged growing seasons and warmer climates in Europe and North America), changes for economies near the tropics will mostly be negative, including longer and more frequent droughts, extreme weather events, and more severe heat waves (IPCC, 2014). Climate-related disruptions tend to exacerbate existing challenges for poor and marginalized populations (ibid.).

Recently, world governments have committed to keeping global climate change in check, pursuing efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to keep warming to under 2̊ degrees Celsius pre-industrial levels (The Paris Agreement, 2016). Even if these ambitious efforts are successful, climate impacts will continue to occur, and will disproportionately effect populations with the fewest resources and capabilities to deal with them (IPCC, 2014). Recognizing this reality, the 2016 Paris Agreement also supports climate adaptation efforts by developing country national governments, developed country (“donor”) governments, and international organizations.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptation as “The process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities.” (2014). Put another way, while climate mitigation is about halting future warming by reducing emissions and building carbon sinks, climate adaptation is about adjusting to the effects of warming that can and will take place, regardless of the success of mitigation efforts. A related yet distinct concept is climate “resilience”, which can be thought of as the strength of a system to recover from shocks. In the context of climate change, adaptation can be thought of as the process of increasing or maintaining reliance of systems in response to or in anticipation of shocks (Nelson, 2011) (Table 1).

A useful way to understand the climate adaptation process and the options available to actors is through an analysis of climate-related risks. Climate risks are the combination of “exposure” (i.e., location, infrastructure, assets, ecosystems, etc.), “vulnerability” (i.e. the capacity to cope with changes) and “hazards” (the potential for climate related events) (IPCC, 2014). Actors interested in reducing climate-related risks thus have several options. For instance, they could use explicit adaptation measures to reduce vulnerability by introducing more climate resilient crop varieties or building flood resistant infrastructure. Another option is to reduce vulnerability by improving overall socio-economic development, increasing the population’s resilience. Actors could also reduce exposure by promoting livelihood transitions from an industry that is more impacted by climate change to one that is less impacted. A more extreme example of reducing exposure might be the promotion of migration from a more to less climate-impacted area. Hazards are more difficult to address in the short-term since they depend on geography and exogenous factors such as global climate change caused by total emissions and possibly reduced through global mitigation efforts (IPCC, 2014). Actors thus have many options to reduce climate risks, though most of them require substantial investments beyond what is possible for many economies. Because of this, many economies and industries are turning to external sources of finance (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

Climate Finance for Adaptation

Despite the financial needs of developing countries and their higher vulnerability to climate change, donors and investors are reluctant to pay for adaptation efforts. Of all climate finance from public and private sources, only 7% is currently labelled as adaptation funding, with the rest supporting mitigation (Buchner et al., 2017). This is discouraging considering that total climate finance is reaching all-time highs, and because developing country representatives pushed for equal financing for adaptation and mitigation during the Paris Climate negotiations. Adaptation funding is dominated by national financial institutions and multilateral organizations (Micale, Tonkonogy, & Mazza, 2018) which are currently struggling to raise and disburse funds. Bilateral aid from donor governments and climate funds contributes to adaptation finance but makes up only a small percentage of their total climate portfolios (Lyster, 2017). In addition to the dearth of adaptation finance, roughly 80% of all climate finance remains in the country of origin (Buchner et al., 2017), suggesting that poorer countries are neglected. The reasons behind donors’ and investors’ reluctance to support adaptation can be split into two broad categories: principle-related and logistical and capacity-related:

Principle-Related Barriers

The benefits of climate mitigation are global; each ton of GHG avoided or sequestered benefits the global economy and humanity by reducing the potential warming of the entire planet (Klein, Schipper, & Dessai, 2005; Lecocq et al. 2011). Adaptation on the other hand is mostly a local good. Each country, province, state, municipality, and city—and the different economies and businesses within them—have different adaptation needs. For instance, an adaptation investment in one city will not directly benefit stakeholders in another city. This means that an investment in adaptation is harder to justify from the perspective of a developed “donor” country, since the investment does not benefit the donor in a direct way. A related difference is that mitigation benefits are mostly “public goods”, while adaptation benefits are mostly “private goods”. Mitigation is also much easier to quantify than adaptation (Klein et al., 2005; Lecocq et al. 2011). For example, many economists and scientists have developed models for determining the “social cost of carbon” to the global economy. However, the quantifiable benefits of adaptation are much more elusive (Stanton, 2011). For government donors, adaptation may be a more difficult sell to taxpayers because it is seen as “giving up” on trying to reduce climate impacts (mitigation) by accepting the need to adapt (see for example Wood, 2019 or Ostrander, 2013).

Logistical and Capacity-Related Barriers

Logistical and capacity-related barriers to adaptation finance are probably more concerning for private investors. Since adaptation benefits are harder to quantify (Klein et al., 2005), they are also harder to track progress on. This makes performance monitoring challenging for investors. Furthermore, there is lack of consensus on what counts as adaptation finance, how to differentiate it from other types of development finance, and how to measure it. Other barriers include nascent development of adaptation-related products and services, lack of scalability of these products and services, and factors specific to the local market context (Micale et al., 2018).

As a result of both principle and logistical and capacity constraints, adaptation is often neglected by international donors and investors and even by governments most affected by climate damages (OECD, 2012). Given the strain on international governments because of the financial crisis, global health crisis, security concerns such as international migration and terrorism, and the commitments to climate mitigation, new strategies and actors must be identified to meet the adaptation gap (Ostrom, 2008 OECD, 2012).

Coffee Production: Adaptation Needs and Challenges

The need for climate adaptation is particularly relevant to the coffee industry. As the natural climate system is disrupted, production of coffee is becoming increasing difficult, especially for the less hardy Arabica variety. Arabica crops, which thrive at higher altitudes and mild temperatures, are extremely sensitive to changes in average temperatures, as well as changes in rainfall patterns, soil quality, and unseasonal frosts (Davis et al., 2012; Rahn et al., 2018). Even in a world without significant global climate change, Arabica coffee can only be grown in specific agro-ecological zones. Unfortunately, increasing global concentrations of CO2 are disrupting these zones by raising average temperatures, disrupting rainfall patters, more common and severe extreme weather events, and broadening the vectors for diseases and pests (IPCC, 2014.) A recent biophysical projection of climate impacts on Arabica coffee in Ethiopia suggest that if current climate trends continue, by 2080 somewhere between 65% and almost 100% of current coffee-growing areas will be unsuitable for production (Davis et al., 2012). Another analysis of coffee-growing areas in Nicaragua finds that by 2050 more than 90% of the current growing areas will be unsuitable for production (Laderach et al., 2017).

These are disturbing statistics for coffee drinkers and the global coffee industry; they are even more frightening to coffee farmers whose livelihoods and local economies depend on its production. Since most coffee producers are smallholders, they often have less capacity to address climatic changes and shocks (Laderach et al., 2017; Panhuysen & Pierrot, 2018). Even in a scenario where the international community manages to meet the Paris Climate Agreement targets, the global production of coffee and the millions of smallholders who depend on it will face serious adaptation challenges. At the same time, global demand for coffee is increasing. Since 2010, global demand increased by 20%, and is not slowing down (Panhuysen & Pierrot, 2018). Thus, the global coffee industry and coffee producers have a shared interest in large-scale adaptation to climate change if either one is to survive through the twenty-first century.

There are several tools which could be deployed to reduce the climate risks for smallholder coffee farmers. For instance, specific adaptive measures could be scaled up to reduce climate vulnerability. These include increased shade cover, introducing climate resistant coffee varieties, restoration and rehabilitation of degraded areas, improved soil and water management, integrated pest management, and insurance and other risk sharing schemes (Cohn et al., 2017; Davis et al., 2012; Laderach et al., 2017). Another strategy is to reduce exposure to climate risks by helping farmers transition from coffee to the production of other crops which thrive in warmer climates, such as cocoa (Laderach et al., 2017). While these types of transitions reduce climate risks for farmers, they do nothing to help coffee companies meet increasing demand. Another strategy is to increase the overall socio-economic development of smallholders, thereby reducing their exposure and vulnerability (IPCC, 2014). This final strategy is perhaps the most commonly used by individual coffee companies through CSR activities, though usually not explicitly for the purpose of adaptation. This strategy is also problematic because it assumes coffee farmers will recognize and make the needed climate adaptations given enough resources, ignoring possible technical and educational gaps. The following section will explore these CSR efforts to date in more detail to understand the reasoning and strategy behind them.

Corporate Social Responsibly (CSR) in the Coffee Industry

CSR campaigns from large multinationals are deep-rooted in the coffee industry, dating back to at least the 1990s. Some coffee scholars point to the collapse of the International Coffee Organization regime in 1989 as the start of the increased CSR interest in coffee. The end of the International Coffee Organization signified a transfer of power in the coffee industry from the developing exporting countries, to the large multinational coffee companies (Daviron & Ponte, 2005; Kolk, 2005; Talbot, 2004). At around the same time, oversupply of coffee in global markets led to falling prices for producers and eventually to worsening social and environmental conditions for farmers (Hamann, Luschnat, Niemuth, Smolarz, & Golombek, 2014). This led to increased interest from consumers, and philanthropic and development organizations to improve the lives of farmers in the value chain, and increased pressure on global coffee companies (Millard, 2017).

While some NGO efforts were successful in increasing consumer awareness about the plight of coffee farmers and the environment, they lacked coordination and the impact was generally small (Millard, 2017). If transformational change were to happen, it would need to come from the new de facto leaders of the industry: the multinational corporations (Kolk, 2005). The 1990s and early 2000s saw a rapid expansion of independent certification schemes for coffee producers, which were quickly adopted by large coffee companies to protect their brand image and respond to consumer pressure (Daviron & Ponte, 2005; Millard, 2017). These certification standards included FairTrade, Organic, 4C, Utz, and Rainforest Alliance, and focused on issues such as decent pay, pesticide application, child labor, protective gear use, deforestation, biodiversity management, waste disposal and water management, among others (Samper & Quiñones-Ruiz, 2017). These certification systems for responsibly produced coffee expanded so quickly that all major international coffee firms had adopted sustainability initiatives by the 2000s. Today, 40% of all coffee produced globally now meets one or more standards (Levy, Reinecke, & Manning, 2016). In addition, some firms such as Starbucks developed their own in-house certification standard, based on the best practices from key third-party schemes (Millard, 2017).

While these were positive trends, several authors have challenged the apparent “paradox” of the coffee industry (Daviron & Ponte, 2005; Levy, Reinecke, & Manning, 2016; Samper & Quiñones-Ruiz, 2017). If so much of the global coffee supply chain is produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way, why are smallholder farmers still struggling? One possible answer to the paradox is that large coffee companies are not responding to the root causes of smallholder poverty (see for example Escobar Botero, Arboleda Diaz, Marín Cadavid, & Muhss, 2011; Glasbergen, 2018). They may be responding to consumer demands and peer pressure from firms in the same industry, but this does not always address key environmental and livelihood challenges that smallholders face (ibid.). The issue of climate change is a prime example. Given the current and future changes to growing conditions for coffee farmers, one would expect climate adaptation to be a more explicit concern to coffee companies interested in their image and the long-term viability of their supply chains. On a superficial level, this appears not to be the case.

The broad concept of climate change itself is a relatively new addition to the CSR messaging of global coffee companies, with the first large initiative launched only in 2010 (Millard, 2017). Additional multi-stakeholder programs have since emerged to address climate adaptation in the coffee value chain. However, these include few of the large industry players, and are driven typically by NGOs and governmental organizations. Climate adaptation still appears rather low on the list of the CSR objectives for companies themselves. For example, although “climate change” is one of the most reported indicators used by British coffee companies in 2018 (Bradley & Botchway, 2018), they still predominantly emphasize mitigation. The following sections will explore how large companies talk about and implement climate adaptation strategies as part of larger CSR initiatives in an attempt to understand if an “adaptation gap” really exists, how serious it is, and why it persists.

Literature Review and Theoretical Framework

Before examining the presence or absence of adaptation actions within coffee CSR initiatives, it is important to ground the findings in theories behind the pursuit of CSR. CSR is broadly defined as “A company’s sense of responsibility towards the community and environment (both ecological and social) in which it operates.” (Business Dictionary, 2019). The European Commission provides a shorter definition as “the impact of business on society”. (The European Commission Corporate Social Responsibility & Responsible Business Conduct, 2019). A.B. Carroll explains that the idea of CSR is a relatively new one. Although prominent business thinkers did hint at the idea of CSR as early as the 1950s, it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that the term really became part of mainstream thought in the industry (Carroll, 2001). Interestingly, the emergence of CSR as a concept roughly maps to the rise of the environmental movement in the developed world. Given how new CSR is as a concept, it is not surprising that climate change is just entering its lexicon in the past decade. Climate change itself is also a relatively recent development in the public consciousness. The need for large-scale climate change adaptation is even more recent, which may further explain the delay.

A company theoretically would employ a CSR strategy for various reasons. Campbell links the health of economy and of the corporation itself as strong predictors of CSR behavior (Campbell, 2007). This theory is also supported by a qualitative and quantitative analysis conducted by the Economist Business Unit (2008). Therefore, it is not surprising that the largest and most profitable coffee companies were behind the sustainable coffee movement during the late 1980s and 1990s when the global economy was strong. Campbell also finds that corporations are more likely to pursue CSR strategies as they meet “NGOs and other independent organizations that monitor them” among other factors (ibid.). In this sense, the pressure from environmental watchdogs and certification groups no doubt contributed to the development of CSR policies of coffee companies during the late 1980s and 1990s.

As I have explained, the CSR policies of coffee companies are not always environmental in nature. In fact, many corporations focused on workers’ pay and child labor as the primary issues of concern (Kolk, 2011; Talbot, 2004). Environmental CSR, or “Corporate Ecological Responsibility” focuses on “mitigating a firm’s impact on the natural environment” (Bansal & Roth, 2000). According to Bansal and Roth, a corporation will “go-green” for three primary reasons: competitiveness, legitimization, and social/ecological responsibility. According to these authors, firms who are motivated by competitiveness are more likely to engage in developing and marketing “green products”. Companies that are motivated by legitimization are likely to be concerned with regulatory compliance, and engagement with environmental interest groups. Finally, companies motivated by social/environmental responsibility are likely to engage in donations to environmental causes, life-cycle analyses (LCAs) and unpublished initiatives. Using this lens, it appears that large coffee companies are mostly motivated by competitiveness (“green” marketing) and legitimation (in the form of certification requirements and collaboration with environmental groups). This framework helps us understand why a company would pursue strategies in favor of climate change mitigation (Bansal and Roth even use the word “mitigation” in their definition), but it does not explain the inclusion or exclusion of adaptation. For large coffee companies, the motivation for pursuing adaptation initiatives would be more existential.

The concept of climate adaptation as an existential need for companies and farmers alike is perhaps best encompassed by Porter and Kramer, in their seminal paper “Creating Shared Value” (CSV) (Porter & Kramer, 2011). According to the authors, “shared value” is, “policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates. Shared value creation focuses on identifying and expanding the connections between societal and economic progress”. The authors further explain the concept as “expanding the total pool of economic and social value”. Porter and Kramer use the relevant example of FairTrade, which they claim is merely a redistribution of resources and does not increase the total pool of resources available to the company, the farmer, and society.

The CSV frame so far seems the most relevant to describing the tendency of companies to support climate adaptation initiatives, since adaptation does not fit neatly into the boxes of competitiveness, legitimization, and social/ecological responsibility proposed by Bansal and Roth. Adaptation also goes beyond theories proposed by Campbell regarding the economic relationship between CSR and overall performance. The CSV lens is not perfect, however (see for example, Crane, Palazzo, Spence, & Matten, 2014), but it does provide a workable framework to assess CSR in the coffee industry.

As coffee is mostly grown in developing countries, another relevant subsection of the literature is related to CSR practices in these countries by multinational corporations. Carroll, in an update to his influential 1999 paper, noted that CSR is growing in developing regions, owing to more companies viewing CSR as an important business strategy (2016). Latapi Agudelo, Johannsdottir, and Davidsdottir (2019) suggest the growth of CSR in developing countries can be attributed to new international frameworks and agreements, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement. Visser (2009) suggests that CSR initiatives in developing countries are often distinct from those of developed countries and can present trade-offs between the concerns of shareholder and consumers and stakeholders in the countries where they operate. Several studies reinforce this disconnect between CSR priorities (Barkemeyer, 2011; Brown & Knudsen, 2012), with some calling for more serious alignment with poverty alleviation targets (Idemudia, 2014; Ragodoo, 2009). Visser makes a related point, that only large countries with “very serious public images” are involved in CSR within developing countries (2008). This may suggest that if any coffee companies are engaging in CSR around climate adaptation, they would likely be large multinationals.

The following section will explore how several coffee companies are specifically tackling the issue climate adaptation, and how well it is explained by the CSV framework. In addition, it will attempt to frame these strategies within the context of CSR in developing countries.

Research Methods

Armed with an understanding of CSR practices of coffee companies (especially through the CSV lens), the next step was to understand how the coffee industry is or is not strategically addressing climate adaptation at the producer level. To understand this question, I first created a list of the largest companies involved in the coffee supply chain based on volume of coffee sold (from Panhuysen & Pierrot, 2018). I focused on large companies because of the observation of Campbell that the health of a company is a strong predictor of CSR (2007) and because they were more likely to have CSR information publicly available. This list of large companies included both roasters and retailers, and companies that are involved in both activities. I selected from this list a total of five companies, seeking a balance between roasters, retailers, and hybrids, as well as a balance between European and North American companies to control for possible corporate culture differences. Based on Visser’s conclusion that only companies with exceptionally large public images would engage in CSR activities in developing countries (2008), I excluded large coffee companies such as JDE with less recognizable public images. I also excluded large traders such as Ecom for the same reason. Although traders are important industry actors, they operate more outside of the public view.

Once the companies were selected, I analyzed their public reports and communications, especially CSR related reports over the past 5 years. To supplement this research, I searched an academic database for peer-reviewed and grey literature published in the past 10 years related to the company in question. The search terms included “[company name]” + “CSR” or “climate change”, or “adaptation”. Finally, I searched for broader industry-wide analyses related to adaptation and CSR published over the past 10 years using search terms “coffee”, “CSR”, “adaptation”, and “climate change”.

Industry Trends

Coffee companies appear to include a wide range of issues within their individual CSR strategies. One analysis of British coffee companies identified a total of 94 distinct sustainability indicators. Of these, 44 were environmental, 30 were social and 20 were economic in nature (Bradley & Botchway, 2018). The authors found that the most reported indicators were related to climate change, though companies generally preferred to report on specific environmental issues affecting the farmers in their value chain, as opposed to global issues. Even though coffee companies appear concerned with several sustainability issues, there is clear skepticism about the effectiveness of this approach in generating true shared value. A 2018 Hivos commissioned report concluded that continued demand for coffee has not translated into the livelihood gains for farmers, who “remain largely voiceless in the discussions about a sustainable coffee sector” (Panhuysen & Pierrot, 2018). Other reports are critical of the metrics used by companies to report on sustainability, which to date remain rooted in a set of certification standards which do not always encompass the whole picture or measure livelihoods of farmers properly (Levy et al., 2016; Millard, 2017). Yet another report suggests that CSR process could be improved through more equitable consensus between farmers and coffee companies to define metrics (Samper & Quiñones-Ruiz, 2017). These analyses seem to suggest a shift is needed away from traditional CSR measures, toward one which better incorporates the needs and voices of producers. Implicitly this suggests a need to shift toward CSV.

Tim Horton’s

A Canadian company in operation since 1964, Tim Horton’s serves coffee and fast food in over 4000 locations worldwide. Tim Horton’s CSR initiatives focus on community-building in areas where stores and offices are located, as well as “Coffee Partnerships” with communities which the company sources from in Central and South America (Tim Horton’s, 2015). The Coffee Partnerships focus on social, environmental, and economic pillars, with each pillar consisting of technical assistance and training. The environmental pillar of these projects is holistic but does not directly address climate adaptation as a strategy, instead focusing on reducing biodiversity loss and limiting pollution to water and soil resources. Furthermore, the key performance measurements used by Tim Horton’s in its recent GRI report center almost exclusively on climate mitigation targets, such as GHG emissions and energy usage. The phrase “climate change” is not used once in the report. Nevertheless, the idea of community partnerships it establishes in the coffee-sourcing regions is evidence of an attempt at CSV, rather than redistribution strategies.

Dunkin’ donuts

Like Tim Horton’s, Dunkin’ Donuts specializes in coffee and fast food. The US-based company is much larger however, with over 10,000 stores, mostly in the United States. Dunkin’ sources coffee that is both Rainforest Alliance and FairTrade Certified, though this appears to be a relatively small fraction of total coffee sold. One of the key metric categories in its CSR report is “Responsible Sourcing”. However, it focuses on pulp and paper, palm oil and eggs, not coffee. The “Climate and Energy” section is mostly concerned with energy usage and reducing GHGs. Interestingly, coffee sourcing is not part of Dunkin’s CSR metrics at all (Dunkin’ Donuts, 2017). The company did however report a grant to Rainforest Alliance to provide technical assistance to farmers in Peru. It appears that climate adaptation is even less of a priority to Dunkin’ than to Tim Horton’s, yet the partnership with Rainforest Alliance indirectly addresses the issue. This finding may suggest that some companies see third-party certification as a means to “check the box” of environmental and climate-related CSR.


Tchibo is German coffee company of comparable size to Tom Horton’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Tchibo’s goal since 2006 has been to become a 100% sustainable business. The company’s 2018 sustainability report claims that Tchibo believes in sustainability “Because we believe that our future business success depends on a sustainable business policy”, (Tchibo, 2018), which is the closest I have encountered to a “survival” type CSR message from a coffee company. Like the previous two companies, Tchibo is also concerned with its carbon footprint, highlighting it as one of its key performance metrics. The company is also concerned with sustainable sourcing, dedicating a key performance metric to it as well. Unlike the previous two companies, support to coffee farmers is more front and center. In addition, Tchibo explicitly mentions climate change as a threat to the future of the industry and outlines specific actions to help farmers adapt. Tchibo seems at least on paper to embrace the concept of CSV as it relates to climate adaptation.


An American coffee company with over 28,000 locations around the world, Starbucks is a leader in the retail and coffeehouse industry. Starbucks was one of the first companies to popularize high-quality coffee consumption and “café culture” (Daviron & Ponte, 2005). Perhaps as a result of this, Starbucks was one of the first coffee companies to embrace sustainability concerns, dating back at least as early as their engagement with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Conservation International (CI) in the late 1990s (Austin & Reavis, 2004). Starbucks is committed to 100% ethical coffee sourcing, achieving 99% as of 2018 (Starbucks, 2018). Unlike other coffee companies mentioned, Starbucks does not rely on third party certification, instead using its own in-house “C.A.F.E” standards. Starbucks also has several community-related CSR targets, such as education support for its workers. Although Starbucks does not explicitly mention adaptation or resilience in its annual CSR report, it does point to two programs which indirectly address the issue. The first is the Farmer Loan Program, which provided low-interest finance to farmers in their supply chain to make changes. The other is a tree donation program, which aims to donate 100 million “resilient” trees to farmers by 2025 (Starbucks, 2019). It is also relevant to note that Starbucks is part of CERES’ Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) network, as well as a signee of the 2015 “Pledge” by major US companies to address climate change (White House Office of the Press Secretary, 2015). Clearly, Starbucks at least recognizes the importance of addressing climate change. These programs demonstrate a commitment to sustainability on the part of Starbucks, and even tangentially address the adaptation challenges, but do not explicitly address CSV as related to adaptation.


Nestlé is a Swiss company which includes coffee-related products Nespresso and Nescafé. Nestlé is the largest food and beverage company in the world and by far the oldest company I analyzed by close to a century. More than the other four companies mentioned, Nestlé embraces the concept of CSV, even going so far as to name their CSR report “Creating Shared Value” (Nestlé, 2018). Interestingly, climate adaptation and resilience are also more front and center than for the other companies I analyzed. Nestlé also specifically ties its targets to the SDGs. Nestle’s two largest coffee-related CSR programs are the Nescafé Plan and the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Program. The former is a research and extension program for farmers intended to expand the supply of quality coffee. The latter is the company’s in-house certification standard, similar to Starbucks’ C.A.F.E. program. Unlike, Starbucks, Nestlé also uses third-party certification such as FairTrade and Rainforest Alliance. Although Nestlé explicitly mentions climate adaptation in its messaging, it appears mostly limited to extensive tree planting to increase shade. This is an important adaptation strategy, but it just scratches the surface of what needs to be accomplished to promote adaptive capacity for small holder farmers.

Emerging Collaboration Around Adaptation

Collaboration around climate adaptation in the coffee sector is piecemeal. Although the Paris Climate Agreement and the SDGs provide important frameworks and some general targets, the industry is lacking a true leader to drive adaptation research, strategy, and evaluation. However, there are some intriguing trends. First, the emergence of climate adaptation-based organizations within the past decade, such as the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA) and FAO’s EPIC Programme, highlight the growing awareness around agricultural adaptation (Newell & Taylor, 2018). Another recent example is the Inter-American Development Bank’s SAFE platform. Second, the growth of the Adaptation Fund as a legitimate source of multilateral financing over the past decade helped fill a void in climate financing specifically for adaptation, even if it pales in comparison to mitigation-based funding mechanisms. Third, the emergence and growth of the Science-Based Targets initiative could push coffee companies to base their CSR strategies on proven climate-related metrics, as opposed to more one-off programs. However, to date the initiative focuses more on mitigation targets.


Through an analysis of the coffee industry trends and a small sampling of company profiles, I found that adaptation is mostly ignored or overshadowed by other CSR concerns. It could be argued that these companies intend to tackle adaptation concerns through improving the socio-economic status of farmers (see the “socio-economic processes” on Fig. 2). However, this seems unlikely given the rhetoric of these initiatives and the stated reasons for implementing them. Even Nestlé, which bases its CSR strategy on CSV principles, only discusses adaptation in a broad sense. What is worse is that there appears to be little sector collaboration around adaptation aside from isolated efforts. The following section explores possible explanations.

Figure 2

Why Are Large Coffee Companies Neglecting Adaptation?

Other CSR priorities

All five of the companies analyzed have prominent public images. This means that they face public pressure for a range of issues beyond climate change concerns. These include, community relations, employee development and education, and reducing energy usage throughout their operations. These CSR initiatives are presumably important for the companies’ stakeholders, customers, and its reputation, and may contribute to the companies’ vision for CSV. It is possible that these companies understand the adaptation gap but have limited bandwidth to address them given other CSR concerns.


Coffee companies may see certification as sufficient to address climate-based concerns. All five of the companies I analyzed emphasize these standards to some extent. While in theory certification could promote climate adaptation through “socio-economic pathways”, it rests on the contested assumption that certification will directly improve farmer wellbeing (see for example, Glasbergen, 2018), and that if livelihoods are improved, farmers would necessarily know which adaptation actions are needed. As problematic as this explanation is, it would corroborate some of the industry-wide criticism that too much emphasis is placed on meeting third-party certification standards and industry guidelines. The industry may be slow to accept climate-related initiatives outside of the certification standards and the responsible sourcing commitments they worked so long to achieve.

Controversial Nature of Adaptation

Another explanation is that climate adaptation may be too controversial for individual coffee companies to address. As outlined earlier, the concept of climate adaptation implies that there is no answer for climate change and that humanity must accept the impacts (“principle-based” objections). Talking about the possible extinction of coffee may be something that coffee companies want to avoid to not scare customers. For instance, Starbucks’ tree donation and farmer loan programs in theory would promote adaptation, but the word “adaptation” is absent from public communications (Starbucks, 2019). Furthermore, climate change in the United States is still a highly politized topic, so US coffee companies may be reluctant to address adaptation specifically. The same way that mitigation efforts can be disguised generally as “environmental sustainability”, so to can adaptation be rebranded and diluted as “livelihood development” or “poverty alleviation”.

Lack of awareness

A possible but somewhat unlikely explanation is that coffee companies are not aware of the extent that the Arabica crop is threatened by climate change. While the scientific consensus is that coffee is extremely vulnerable, it may require more time and effort to disseminate this information among industry stakeholders. There is likely some lag time between new scientific evidence and implementation of related best management practices of companies because they must respond to their boards and shareholders. Still, given the technical sophistication and scientific literacy of the coffee industry, this explanation is rather weak.

Lack of leadership

It is also possible that the industry lacks clear leadership on adaptation. The original sustainable coffee movement required years and strong leadership from companies and NGOs to develop common goals, standards, and indicators. It is possible that the industry is aware of the adaptation challenge, but each company is waiting for a leader to emerge. A related concern is a lack of standardization of adaptation-based targets for the industry, a role that an industry leader could fulfill.


Related to lack of leadership is strong competition among coffee companies that deters cooperation. Companies may be reluctant to invest in adaptation since producers they invest in could easily switch buyers. There may also be hesitance to share information on techniques and best management practices to facilitate adaptation. The clean energy sector (an example of climate mitigation) faces a similar challenge with technology transfer. However, unlike the energy sector, no one owns patents on climate-smart agricultural practices, which are often promoted by NGOs and shared openly. There are some emerging trends which could potentially reduce these barriers, including the founding of the Global Coffee Platform (GGP) and the Sustainable Coffee Challenge (SCC). Both of these initiatives are non-competitive and could potentially include more adaptation specific actions if scaled-up (Panhuysen & Pierrot, 2018).


Future climate impacts—even if global emission goals are met—will have deep impacts on the coffee industry. According to some estimates, the majority of current coffee growing areas will be unsuitable for its production by the end of the century (Davis et al., 2012; Laderach et al., 2017). It is clear that if the coffee industry wants to survive the next 50–100 years, it needs to take climate adaptation more seriously. With world governments and donors reluctant to fund adaptation efforts due to principle and capacity/logistical reasons, one would expect major coffee companies to fill this gap. The coffee industry has a long history of CSR, making it theoretically better equipped than most industries to tackle “triple bottom line” issues. Given its CSR track record, power, and the existential threat it faces, one would expect to see major coffee companies seriously investing in adaptive practices which reduce the vulnerability of farmers. Through this approach, coffee companies could “create shared value” by simultaneously securing a steady supply of coffee and ensuring the livelihoods of farmers, their communities, and local economies.

Unfortunately, my analysis of five of the largest coffee companies did not support this assumption. These companies have expansive CSR programs, most of which include environmental or climate changed-related initiatives. Still, specific actions to reduce climate vulnerability are largely absent. Among the reasons for exclusion of adaptation activities may be competing CSR interests, limited awareness of adaptation needs, lack of leadership on adaptation, controversy around climate change as a concept, industry competition, and reliance on certification standards. This final reason deserves a more thorough analysis.

Certification programs are featured prominently by all five companies, which may serve as a stand-in for adaptation and other climate-related issues. Certification can be a powerful tool to reduce environmental impacts and create incentives for farmers. It can even reduce vulnerability to climate change by improving overall socio-economic well-being, for example through price premiums and access to premium markets (“socio-economic pathway” to adaptation). This reasoning is problematic for two reasons. First, it assumes that farmers will necessarily improve their livelihoods significantly through meeting certification criteria. Second, it assumes that if farmers have more resources and improved livelihoods, they will automatically know what kinds of adaptive practices will reduce their future vulnerability. Certification is thus a rather roundabout way to reduce vulnerability. A more direct strategy which invests in specific adaptation actions such as introducing climate resilient varieties, increasing shade cover, improving water collection and management, and controlling climate-related pest and disease outbreaks, would more effectively reduce the vulnerability of the farmers. This strategy would be more hands-on and costly than certification, but would most directly create shared value by securing farmer livelihoods and ensuring the supply of coffee for the companies which fund it.

Climate adaptation is both a challenge and an opportunity for the coffee sector. The constraints placed on governments and private donors to meet mitigation targets, promote international development, and deal with health and security threats, make climate adaptation low on the priority list. If it wants to survive past the twenty-first century, the coffee industry cannot wait for external actors to come to the rescue. The investment needed to adapt global coffee production to a changing climate is massive and will likely surpass all previous CSR initiatives. However, it is an opportunity to reshape the industry to be more equitable and sustainable, securing profits for coffee companies and livelihoods for producers. It is also an opportunity for the industry—regarded as one of the most enlightened with regards to CSR—to position itself as a leader in adaptation and as a model for other industries struggling with the effects of climate change.

More research is needed before specific strategy recommendations can be made for the industry. Future studies will need to incorporate research from a larger number of companies and include a more rigorous analysis of individual company policies through employee and board member interviews. This primary research will be useful in understanding not only the actions of individual companies, but also perceptions of adaptation within these companies. Future research should also seek to understand the role of coffee traders in climate adaptation. Because they are less public-facing, traders were excluded from the study. However, their relative insulation from the public view may actually increase the likelihood of engaging in climate adaptation activities. Finally, additional research should also examine the appetite for more sector-wide alliances to specifically address and finance large-scale climate adaptation actions.

Although this article focused on large coffee companies, it is important to not downplay the importance of coffee farmers in the adaptation process. Adaptation is inherently a local process, and any top-down strategy which does not include those at the bottom of the pyramid is likely to be maladaptive (Sovacool, 2013). Smallholders can benefit from the dissemination of best practices and increased farmer finance. However, the global coffee industry has much to learn from smallholders, who possess generations of knowledge which allows them to make the most of limited resources in changing contexts. Creating shared value is a meaningless term without their involvement.


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How Is Green Coffee Bought & Sold?

February 6, 2021 Leave a comment

Behind every delicious cup of specialty coffee is a lot of business. Before beans even reach the roaster, days of negotiation, financial management, and relationship building take place.

But how does selling green coffee work? By better understanding how it is bought and sold, you can make more informed choices, whether you’re a producer, roaster, or a consumer.

Finca El Injerto, Guatemala. Credit: Finca El Injerto

The Importer/Exporter Model

Exporters can be an individual producer, a cooperative of farmers, or a third-party exporter. They trade with importers or directly with roasters. But importers have the contacts and financial capital necessary to buy large amounts of beans. This means that roasters often rely on importers to secure quality coffee from all over the world.

Importers buy large amounts of beans and store them while making sales to roasters. When green coffee is bought through an importer/exporter transaction, the importer holds an extensive inventory containing information about each producer they are in business with.

This can include the harvest season, varieties of coffee grown, and how many containers of beans the producer has available. If this information is accurate, it provides traceability and confidence in the quality of the product.

Green coffee beans ready to be roasted. Credit: Neil Soque

While direct trade is a popular option for those wanting more transparency and strong roaster-producer relationships, importers can also be beneficial to producers.

As dedicated, large-scale businesses, they have the resources to handle bulk logistics, international duties, and similar bureaucratic processes that can be off-putting to roasters considering direct trade.

Importers also represent a longer supply chain with profits divided among more players. More people isn’t necessarily a bad thing – a direct relationship between a single producer and roaster may appear ideal, but having several parties involved can make the logistics run more smoothly if there are obstacles.

Some importers also work hard to ensure transparency, and may even introduce roasters to the producers whose coffee they buy.

Coffee cherries at a farm in Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

Direct Trade

Direct trade is when producers sell their green beans directly to the roaster, either as individuals or through a coffee cooperative. Taking out the intermediaries and importer means that there is theoretically increased transparency and traceability. The buyer can visit the source, evaluate the product, and establish a relationship with the farmer.

Arturo Sáenz tells me that direct trade “should result in a better price, more transparency, and, if everything works well, it can build a very long relationship.”

But we should remember that direct trade also involves risk. Without agencies regulating the process, the success of the transaction is more dependent on trust among the participants and there is more potential for deals to fall through. Roasters and producers also need to educate themselves on business procedures, international importing procedures, and logistics.

Ena Galletti tells me that “the producer has to be certain that [the buyer] is committed to quality and appreciates loyalty. Sometimes taking the risk of making an advance payment is the only way to generate a long-lasting link with a coffee producing community.”

Members of the Los Maronchos cooperative in the field in Las Vegas, Santa Bárbara, Honduras. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Direct trade has also been criticized as a marketing term. There are examples of “direct trade” importers and exporters that take the negotiation out of the hands of the producers but still using the term in their sales materials.

Use of the label is unregulated, so it’s not always clear what “direct trade” really means or how much better off the producers are with this model. Removing intermediaries, in theory, should mean more of the profit goes to the producer. However, because the price of direct trade coffee is negotiable and unregulated, it may not be as high as consumers expect. This type of trading can also be more time-consuming and riskier for producers, especially when roasters want to buy small amounts.

This doesn’t mean that direct trade is a bad thing; many producers advocate for its benefits. However, we should remember that it can have its cons as well as its pros.

Marta says, “Direct trade means different things to different people. I think we should think about creating mutually beneficial relationships.

It begins with giving everyone, especially the producer, an equally weighted seat in the market.”

Green coffee spills from a sack. Credit: David Joyce via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Understanding Spot Buying & Forward Contracts

Whether by direct trade or in an importer/exporter model, there are two main ways that roasters buy green beans: spot buying and forward contracts.

Spot buying is when roasters buy coffee from the importer without any previous commitment. That is, “on the spot.” The beans are usually already in storage in a warehouse and ready to ship immediately.

This can be an expensive way to buy coffee because the importer has taken on the financial risk by buying and storing the beans and will include the cost of this in their sale price. The price may also change because it is likely to be tied to the C-price.

Coffee drying at a farm in Colombia. Credit: Paula Molina Ospina

With forward contracts, roasters plan to buy coffee from a particular producer in advance. Importers may be involved, or the roaster may work directly with the producer. With this method, there is better traceability and roasters can be confident that the beans are fresh. It also provides more security for farmers.

Marta Dalton is the founder and CEO of Coffee Bird, in Guatemala. She tells me that forward contracts are beneficial for farmers because “they ease their minds [and avoid] worrying who is going to buy their coffee.”

Producers can plan ahead and may have better access to credit with a secure forward contract. This means they may be able to invest in infrastructure and equipment that could raise the long-term quality of their coffee.

A view of plantations at Finca El Injerto, Guatemala. Credit: Finca El Injerto

Arturo Aguirre Sáenz is a producer at Finca El Injerto in Guatemala. He tells me that forward buying “works perfectly both ways, because the producer knows how much income they’re expecting and the consumer knows the exact amount of money to spend, and has guaranteed coffee for the next years.”

Regardless of the model, communication is crucial. “In order to empower the producers in this business, it’s important that they have full understanding of the rules and a sense of what a sustainable industry is all about,” says Ena Galletti, a coffee exporter at Galletti, in Ecuador.

Bags of coffee at a warehouse in Guatemala. Credit: Devon Barker

In-Country Buyers

You may know in-country buyers as middlemenbrokers, or coyote. These are the people who act as a liaison between producer and buyer. Coffee sold to middlemen is normally of low quality and is sold at very low prices.

In-country buyers have a reputation as profit-seekers, since they essentially take a cut of the payment to producers. But coffee farmers rely on them to have access to roasters. When producers don’t have the necessary connections, logistical knowledge, and legal know-how, the middlemen are vital to selling coffee.

They are also likely to be from the same community as the producers they work with. This can be an important factor in an industry based on trust and repeat trade.

Sacks of coffee at a coffee exchange in Brazil. Credit: Fernando Mafra via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0

Speculation on The Futures Market

Green coffee buying and selling may seem straightforward so far. But traders can influence the coffee price without ever interacting with the beans.

Coffee is traded as a commodity, meaning that it is bought and sold on regulated markets. The trading price of Arabica is known as the C-Price, and it is this figure that affects the buying price of coffee. All coffee is treated as one raw material, regardless of origin or other factors. Even specialty coffee prices are usually linked to the C-Price, plus a premium.

Speculators buy and sell prices based on a product – in this case coffee. The price that they negotiate is the amount traders expect to pay for the product in the future. The coffee may never even leave the original warehouse and speculators have no intention of possessing the physical beans. Instead, it acts as a trading tool that is used to create profit.

The actions of speculators affects market patterns, and this is one of the reasons that the price of coffee is so volatile.

Green coffee at Jubilee Coffee in Colorado, USA. Credit: Devon Barker


Public sales of green coffee are another method of selling green beans and they attract buyers from around the world. Auctions provides an opportunity for producers to promote their product and build relationships through the supply chain. This helps strengthen the industry and provides traceability.

In Latin American producing countries, auctions are where you will typically find the highest-quality beans. Here, the auction system is an efficient way to analyze the market. It provides an opportunity to see how much roasters are paying for their coffee and what kind of beans they’re looking for. But it’s important to keep in mind that the high quality of these beans means you’ll also find higher than average prices.

A sample room at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, Kenya. Credit: MTC Group via Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In many African producing countries, auctions are often the standard way of buying and selling beans. Producers in these countries typically do not have direct contact with international importers and roasters. So, auctions are often the only opportunity to sell their beans.

For example, most Kenyan coffee is purchased via a central auction. But in these auctions, only licensed coffee dealers only are allowed to bid. Smallholder producers don’t meet buyers and are unable to advocate for their coffee.

Bags of green coffee. Credit: Neil Soque

What’s The Best Method To Buy & Sell Green Coffee?

There’s no perfect method of buying and selling coffee. Each model involves learning about the pros and cons, and the possible risks. Marta says that “The best way to buy coffee is to choose the way in which you are most comfortable with the risks.” So take a look at your own situation and consider your budget and resources. Identify which model fits with your level of knowledge and comfort in negotiating. Focus on your objectives, develop your relationships, and do some business.


Coffee Statistics (2021)

February 4, 2021 1 comment

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages to ever exist, and the current coffee statistics more than indicate this. Understanding current trends in the coffee industry have a number of benefits for a wide range of different people. For the java businessperson, understanding where the market is headed can help you improve your own business model.

For the consumer, it serves both as an interesting topic of conversation, and as a unique means of getting exposed to new ideas and trends regarding the drink that you love.

So, without further ado, let’s get right to it, shall we? Read on for a ton of different coffee statistics!

History of Coffee Statistics

1. Coffee can be traced back to the 1400s where it was first consumed as a fragrant soup in the Sufi Monasteries.

2. Coffee first made its way to the Americas in 1714.

3. In the 1800s, coffee giants Folgers and Maxwell house came into existence, causing a wave of coffee consumption that resembles the world we know today.

4. In the early 1900s, home coffee roaster, espresso makers and instant coffee made it easier than ever to enjoy a good coffee at home.

5. Starting in the 1970s, the java industry started to focus on quality over quantity. This was especially true when Starbucks emerged in 1971.

Coffee Consumption Statistics

1. 50% of people in the United States drink coffee on a daily basis (this equates to approximately 150 million java drinkers in one country alone).

2. Of those 150 million coffee drinkers, most are consuming around three cups a day.

3. Approximately 65% of coffee in America is consumed during the morning. A remaining 30% is enjoyed either with lunch or dinner, and 5% is consumed independently of any meal.

4. Like your coffee black? You are in the minority. Only 35% of people drink their coffee straight. The rest add cream or sugar.

5. The average cup of coffee is 9 ounces.

Global Popularity Statistics

1. Over 2.5 billion cups of coffee are consumed on a daily basis all across the globe.

2. The beans for this coffee is sourced from 25 million different growers all over the world who depend on the industry to make their living.

3. The global coffee market sees at least ten million bags of coffee exported each and every month!

4. Arabica beans account for more than twice as much of the annual coffee export.

5. There are 3 billion coffee plants all over the world that are used to source our current supply.

Health Statistics

1. Drinking coffee may actually be good for your health. In fact, daily coffee consumption has been shown to have a direct correlation with a lowered risk for type 2 diabetes. Studies show that with all other factors being equal, adults who drink coffee daily are 24% less likely to get diabetes.

2. Daily coffee has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In fact, the more you drink, the better off you will be. Those who drink between 3-5 cups a day are significantly less likely to get Alzheimer’s.

3. Though coffee and cardiovascular health don’t always have a positive association, little risk has been proven. In fact, people who drink higher quantities of coffee have, in some studies, been shown to have a lower risk of heart disease.

4. Coffee has also been shown to assist with weight loss. The drink naturally stimulates the burning of fat and the improvement of your digestive system.

5. Want to live longer? Coffee might help you get there. Though causation has not yet been proven, there is a strong correlation between coffee and longer life expectancies.

Product Statistics

1. The majority of consumers are so hooked on coffee that they would prefer to do without showers or their cell phones than they would give up coffee!

2. Coffee seems to be a beverage for the financially comfortable. Over 65% of coffee drinkers earn at least $30,000 a year.

3. The older you are, the more likely it is that you will drink coffee. Indeed, 75% of senior citizens drink coffee on a daily basis!

4. Two species of bean (Arabica and Robusta) account for nearly 100% of all coffee. While there are several regional exceptions, virtually none of them account for the export market.

5. Though the coffee shop industry is enormous, coffee is still highly valued as a home product. In fact, 80% of people make their coffee at home more often than they buy it at the store.

Export Statistics (i.e., where is coffee coming from?)

1. Coffee is currently traded and exported from over 70 countries.

2. Though America is one of the biggest consumers of coffee on the planet, the region itself is not suitable for the growth of varieties coffee beans. In fact, Hawaii and California are the only states where commercial-grade coffee beans can be grown, and they make up a negligible portion of the export market.

3. Presently, Brazil is the number one exporter of coffee, accounting for a significant portion of the global supply.

4. Vietnam is relatively new to the global coffee industry but nevertheless has proven itself to be a rising star. Presently, they export the second most amount of coffee beans in the world.

5. The global coffee trade has a staggeringly high annual worth of $74 billion and accounts for many millions of jobs all around the globe.

Demographic Statistics (what type of people drink coffee)?

1. Millennials tend to drink coffee a little bit differently than previous generations. Though the bulk of coffee consumed still comes from bulk cans, 50% of millennials are willing to pay more for gourmet beans.

2. Men and women tend to have very different motivations for why they drink coffee. The average man claims to drink coffee to help them wake up, while the average woman says they drink coffee to help them relax.  

3. Half of all people between the ages of 18-24 drink coffee, a number that continues to go up the older you get.

4. Thought the United States feels quite strongly about its coffee, it’s still not the world’s biggest consumer of java. That distinction goes to the people of Finland. Finland has risen to the top of the coffee consumption demographic by boasting an annual intake of 12 kg per person.

This may be largely a cultural phenomenon. In Finland, coffee is not just a means to an end, but a thing to be enjoyed. Turkish coffee, known for its flavor and potency, is very popular there, and regular breaks are scheduled throughout the day for people to sit down and enjoy their java.

5. Citizens of the United States still account for a sizable portion of the global consumer demographic. Presently, the US is positioned as the 8th highest consumer of coffee in the world.

Brewing Method Statistics (How are people making their coffee)

1. The drip brew method is currently the most popular way to prepare coffee. Presently, 45% of all coffee made in the United States is done with a drip brew system. However, that number is in decline, especially as of the last 5 years. Indeed, it may be very possible that the traditional drip brew system will soon be usurped by the convenient and popular single-cup maker.

2. Espresso makers are currently the second most popular method of brewing coffee in the United States, accounting for 12% of what is brewed annually. However, this ranking may be somewhat distorted by the fact that the many different methods of sing serving brew systems are not necessarily statistically lumped together.

3. Though drip-brew systems represent the majority of coffee preparation, plain jane coffee does not account for the average person’s preference. In terms of sheer popularity, that distinction goes to cappuccinos. Indeed, 30% of coffee drinkers currently self report that the cappuccino is their favorite caffeinated beverage.

4. Though coffee production is notoriously bad for the environment, the average consumer seems to have an interest in curbing this problem. More than half of all coffee drinkers report that they prioritize brewing and consuming coffee that has been sourced from environmentally friendly farms.

5. The average millennial asks a little bit more from their coffee than the rest of the java drinking population. Presently, approximately 74% of millennials are drinking gourmet coffee on a daily basis.

Caffeine Statistics

1. Coffee is far and away, the most popular source of caffeine. Indeed, java currently accounts for 65% of all caffeine intake.

2. There are 95 milligrams of caffeine in your average cup of coffee. Doctors recommend that individuals keep their daily intake at or below 400 milligrams. Since the average person drinks three cups a day, most of us are staying well below that threshold.

3. While you can stay safely within the recommended caffeine threshold when using drip brew, things get a little dicier when you opt for espresso. There are 64 milligrams of caffeine in a single shot of espresso. And while this is technically less than the content of a cup of average coffee, these numbers do not tell the whole story.

For perspective, the espresso figure refers to a single ounce serving, whereas the coffee numbers refer to eight ounces. This means that, to scale, espresso has substantially more caffeine than coffee.

For further perspective, most of the world’s most popular coffee drinks are espresso-based (cappuccinos, lattes, etc.).

Containing caffeine in chocolate covered espresso beans is almost the same as conventional espresso beans, but its taste enormously better, especially those who love chocolate flavors.

4. Seattle Washington leads the United States in coffee consumption. This won’t be surprising for those who know that this is where the global coffee juggernaut Starbucks saw its beginnings.

5. Currently, 90% of Americans are consuming caffeine in some form or another on a daily basis. This means that statistically speaking, it is far and away from the most addictive drug in the country!

Coffee Shop Statistics

1. Though coffee shops are very popular, the vast majority of people prefer to drink and run. In fact, more than 50% of all coffee shop orders take place at the drive-through window!

2. If you want to make money in the coffee industry, opening up a café may not be such a bad idea. On average, 60% of people visit coffee shops every month. Beware, though, the majority of those visits are happening at well-established coffee chains!

3. does it feel like there is a coffee shop everywhere you turn your head? Well, there kind of is. In the United States alone, there are over 35,0000 coffee shops. Bearing in mind that there are only 3000 counties, this means that, statistically speaking, there are probably at least ten coffee shops that are easily within driving distance of you right now.

4. Local coffee shops are great fun, but they also represent a statistical minority. Currently, 4 out of every 5 coffee shops are a chain location (think Starbucks, Einstein Bagels, etc.). It’s hard competing with the giants, so tip well the next time you go out to your local café!

5. It may come as no surprise to you that coffee shops are among the most profitable of restaurants, not just because of their popularity, but also based on their sheer profit margins. Coffee shops tend to see profit margins of 60-70%.

Closing Remarks

Woah, pretty impressive, huh? And yet, not very surprising to those of us who can’t get through a day without a cup of coffee or three. One of the most interesting things about coffee statistics is that they continue to rise each year. It seems that with each turn of the calendar, people are enjoying their java more and more.

And what’s not to like? In addition to being delicious and very helpful in terms of daily productivity, coffee may actually be good for you! While the world may need to focus on sustainability in the coffee industry in the years to come, the beverage nevertheless clearly has a bright future ahead of it.


How Harvest Rains Destroy Coffee Crops

February 3, 2021 Leave a comment

Harvest time in El Salvador is November to February/March. It’s a cool, dry season perfect for the picking of coffee cherries. Yet this year it’s already been marked by heavy rains.

While in El Salvador for the first PDG Micro Coffee Festival, we saw rainfall strike suddenly and dramatically. Coffee flowers were opening on the trees even as pickers were harvesting cherries – something you might expect to see in Colombia, but not El Salvador. Carlos Pola of Finca Las Brisas told me, “It’s like snow in June. It never rains at this time of year.”

This isn’t just a freak weather phenomenon. This is a serious concern for many producers, who face decreased income this year and an irregular harvest next year.

A Rainy Harvest Means Damaged Coffee

While rain is important for growing high yields of well-developed coffee, it poses a threat for ripe cherries. They may fall from the ground, where if left too long they will begin fermenting.

In other cases, the cherries may stay on the branch but start cracking. This happens when a lot of water is quickly absorbed and so the cells in ripe cherry peel are forced apart. The sweet mucilage seeps out of the cracks, resulting in a lower weight and a worse cup score. “It loses all its honey,” Rafael Silva of SICAFE explained.

Ripe coffee cherries split due to harvest rains. Credit: Andres Salaverria

On a night visit to Cuatro M processing mill as part of the Micro Coffee Festival, we saw how coffee cherries are graded based on ripeness. The ideal lot has many ripe red cherries, few over-ripe ones, few pink ones, and no under-ripe ones. “Tomorrow, we’ll pick pink because of the rain,” Roberto, the General Manager, told me. “It’s a risk, waiting for the cherries to become ripe.”

Picking pink will mean a lower cup score and price. But waiting to pick red risks losing large portions of the harvest or seeing a lower cup score. It’s a lose-lose situation.

This random sample contains over-ripe, ripe, and pink cherries. Credit: Tanya Newton

Issues at the Mill

Rain doesn’t just cause problems on the farm. It’s also an issue at the mill. Rafael explained that, for recently picked coffees, it’s okay if they get a little wet – but that for those that are nearly at the right moisture level to be bagged and exported, it can have a serious impact. “You need to dry them again,” he said. “It needs a second processing. That causes quality issues.”

Even if you only have freshly picked coffees drying on your patio, heavy rain can still cause problems. “You need to put wood between the lots, or they can mix,” Rafael told me. “Then you cover them. But when it comes down this fast… ” He gestures at the rain around us. “Then you don’t have time to do that.”

The rain’s sudden appearance is one of its most damaging aspects. Even those with coffee in GrainPro channels, designed to protect the beans from rain, stood to suffer: at Micro Coffee Festival, they didn’t have time to close the bags before significant amounts of water had already drenched them.

This is the peak time for mills right now,” Rodrigo Silva of SICAFE said. “And so it’s the hardest time to deal with rain.”

During harvest season, many lots are processed on the same patios or beds. Credit: Mapache Coffee

The Financial Impact on Coffee Producers

Those processing natural and honey coffees are the worst hit, along with smallholder farmers with less staff, resources, and financial breathing space.

Rafael and Rodrigo told me that rains like this can see cupping scores decrease by a few points or more. The market price for coffee is approx. $1.30-1.35/lb right now; specialty is $2.50-3.00/lb. Specialty coffee cups at 80 points or higher, but many roasters will only purchase single origins that are 84+. The difference between a 79 and an 82, or an 82 and an 85, is costly.

And smallholder farmers in particular may be left with no choice but to watch their coffee depreciate in quality. “We have to call our mills to have them separate and cover coffee,” Rafael told me. “And to move nearly ready cherries inside the greenhouse… [But] smaller farmers just have to pick up all their cherries the very next thing.”

After harvest rains, it’s important to quickly pick ripe cherries.Credit: Nim Khu

Issues Extending Into Next Year

“Next year, we’ll be harvesting in August.”

It’s a comment I heard multiple times during Micro Coffee Festival El Salvador. Heavy rains caused coffee flowers to appear on the branches early – but the appearance of flowers is linked to the development of cherries. While it varies, depending on variety and location, Arabica cherries typically appear nine months after the appearance of the coffee flower.

Coffee blossoms on the branch at the same time as ripe cherries in Colombia. Credit: Finca Atikvah

With the high probability of this year’s crop being both lower quality and lower yield, some low-income farmers might appreciate an earlier harvest next year. It may help stave off the “thin months”, that period before the harvest when money for food has run out.

But an early harvest will impact on supply and demand, as Salvadoran coffees compete with those that normally appear in August – such as Peruvians, Brazilians, and Kenyans. Less demand and more supply means lower prices and so those thin months might last even longer.

Typically, an early harvest could also lead to a shortage of pickers, as it is seasonal work. However, since coffee leaf rust (la roya) hit hard in 2012, affecting yield as well as quality, there has been a surplus of coffee pickers – one producer estimated there to be 25% more pickers than is needed.

Even this silver lining merely cloaks a nasty reality, however: if the harvest starts early, it will probably end early. Pickers who normally hope to work until February or even March may find themselves out of a job come December. And the gap between the 2017 and 2018 harvest will be wider, meaning the length of those thin months is likely to increase.

Coffee workers sort cherries at Mapache Coffee in El Salvador. Credit: Mapache Coffee

A Blind Specialty Industry?

Rodrigo Silva of SICAFE told me, “Genuine buyers don’t get to see these problems. When they come to the farms, it’s not rainy season. And so they have no idea of the problems a simple rain can bring.”

Only twenty minutes earlier, Jesús Salazar of Cafeólogo discussed the reasons why some coffee producers may prefer to work with local “coyotes” than with specialty buyers. One of the reasons is that there’s less risk: if it rains, the coyote will still buy the coffee.

There is no easy answer to the problem of harvest rains. The specialty industry must continue to care about quality – but we cannot ignore the welfare of the producers and farm workers to do so. We need to ask ourselves what more we can do to provide income stability, not just when the weather is good, but also when rain, wind, or disease destroys crops.

Paying higher prices, aiding producers in purchasing equipment to keep coffee dry, offering loans against future crops… No method will solve the issue of harvest rains, but there are many ways we can attempt to support producers in the face of inconsistent weather conditions.


A Coffee Producer’s Guide to Soil Management & Farm Conditions

February 2, 2021 Leave a comment

Our coffee can only be as good as the land that it’s grown on – but by my calculations, nearly 35% of coffee crops are produced in the wrong environmental conditions.

I’m talking about something called life zone, which refers to the temperature, luminosity/solar brilliance, rainfall, relative humidity, and soil characteristics that are best suited to coffee farming.

As an agronomist, allow me to take you through the ideal life zone for growing coffee – and what poor conditions will mean for your harvests.

Healthy coffee plants grow on hilltops. Credit: Alvaro Llobet

The Ideal Coffee-Growing Conditions

According to Dr. Gloria Gauggel, the ideal life zone for Arabica coffee is as follows:

Let’s break down some of these qualities in a little more detail.

Effective Soil Depth

When it comes to your soil, you need to consider both its structure (which includes the soil texture) and chemistry (essential elements and minerals).

These two factors are connected because of the coffee tree’s root structure. As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) explains, each tree will have multiple types of roots. The tap roots will grow down deep. However, there are also many secondary roots.

The secondary roots lie within the top 30 cm of soil and their role is to recover water and nutrients from the soil. As of such, the essential elements are key – and a loamy soil of the right pH ensures that the coffee tree can absorb the nutrients well.

Essential Elements & Minerals

The coffee tree requires 16 essential elements for its proper nutrition. These can be divided into four groups, based on their function and importance.

Group 1: Carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. These elements are present in water and air, which is why the life zone is so important.

Group 2: Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These are also called “macronutrients,” due to the large amount of them that healthy coffee trees need.

Group 3: Calcium, magnesium, and sulphur. These are called “secondary elements,” because they are needed in lesser amounts than the macronutrients.

Group 4: Zinc, boron, manganese, molybdenum, iron, copper, and chlorine. These are called “microelements,” because even less of them is required – although they are still essential for coffee plant nutrition.

A coffee tree planted in an adequate life zone, allowing for strong, healthy growth. Credit: Alvaro Llobet

The importance of all these factors is visible in the plant’s harvest. Growing coffee in an adequate life zone reduces costs, makes work easier, and increases yield. In turn, this lowers risk levels and makes coffee production more financially sustainable.

For this reason, it’s important that producers plant coffee within an adequate life zone. Of course, within this life zone, there will still be variation in terms of soil conditions, hours of sunlight, rainfall, and more. These will require producers to adapt their farm management further (ideally with the assistance of an agronomist).

Good floration is the result of an ideal life zone. Credit: Alvaro Llobet

35% of Coffee Grown in The Wrong Life Zone

From an analysis of these factors, I have calculated that nearly 35% of the world’s coffee crops are outside the adequate life zone. During the past 10 years, I’ve visited 16 coffee-producing countries across three continents (America, Asia, and Africa). On these trips, I’ve worked on farm management, project development with small and medium-sized producers, and crop research.

That research involves the analysis of 22 aspects of coffee farming, ranging from the agronomical and environmental to the economic. My team analyzes one hectare per thousand hectares of coffee plantations in each country. We take as a reference the thermal zones and compare them to the physiological behavior of coffee trees, based on temperature and rainfall as the most relevant indicators.

From here, we reached the conclusion that 35% of coffee crops are planted outside the adequate life zone. Of that 35%, 30% are completely outside the ideal life zone. The remaining 5% are where farms are mostly within the ideal life zone but the producers have extended their plantation outside of it.

So what does it mean for producers if a farm is outside of the ideal life zone? Let’s take a look.

Bean damage as a result of low rainfall between weeks 14 and 20 of fruit development. Credit: Alvaro Llobet

Growing Coffee in Poor Conditions

If a farm is in an upper marginal zone, i.e. it exceeds the figures in the table, you can expect:

  • Slower tree growth
  • Lower productivity
  • A lower fruit yield with higher weight and density
  • Higher susceptibility to diseases
  • In the wet season, a higher risk of disease and pests
  • Better sensory qualities for the coffee
  • Increased production costs compared to crops within the adequate life zone
Coffee plants affected by the Phoma sp. Fungi. Credit: Alvaro Llobet

And if it’s in a lower marginal zone?

  • More aggressive tree growth
  • Higher productivity
  • Lower yield made up of low-density fruit
  • Higher susceptibility to pests and diseases
  • In drought seasons, a high risk of losing all or some of the plantation and/or harvest
  • Reduced sensory qualities
  • Increased production costs compared to crops within the adequate life zone

Of course, you should remember that you may also see these traits on farms in the adequate life zone if there are problems with the farm management. Healthy coffee plants are a result of many factors, including farming practices, life zone, and more.

Damage to coffee cherries caused by drought in the final stage of ripening. Credit: Alvaro Llobet

It’s important that we consider the ideal farm location and soil condition for coffee production. Planting in the right zones can help producing families to realize greater profit margins on their crops. It can also stabilize climate conditions as the local ecosystem will be more balanced.

For producers, there’s so much more to consider than just the farm location and soil condition: asset management, financial restructuring, varieties, processing methods, laborers… But the life zone is an important starting point.


How Field Mapping Can Increase Profitability For Coffee Producers

February 1, 2021 Leave a comment

How can you achieve both higher productivity and improved quality on your coffee farm? By using field mapping. The method can help you better understand your land, improve yield and quality, and create an opportunity to match both your specialty and commodity coffee to its correct market.

Take a look at what field mapping is, how it works, and what is preventing it from being more widely used.

A farmer picks ripe cherries in El Salvador. Credit: Maren Barbee via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

What Is Field Mapping?

Field mapping is agricultural data analysis. By gathering and analysing data about your coffee crops, you can introduce more precise management plans, monitor quality, and potentially increase yield. The coffee can then be sold as either commodity or specialty grade to the relevant market.

In simple terms, field mapping allows you to match the right coffee to the right part of your land and understand what it needs to thrive.

Through data analysis, you can mark lots with high potential for additional investment of resources. Lots with lower potential may receive lower investment, in line with their predicted profitability. After harvesting and processing, each lot is sold to its appropriate market.

By using methods such as soil analysis and visual data, field mapping can save producers time, effort, and money.

Smallholders learn about fieldmapping in Guatemala. Credit: One by One/Grupo Agrocoban

Why Use Field Mapping?

In 2016, the global coffee yield average was 17 bags per hectare. This varied wildly from 42 bags per hectare in Vietnam, 23 bags per hectare in Brazil, to 8 bags per hectare in Ethiopia. The ICO attributed this variation to poor farming practices. It stated that “less than 10% of smallholders in Africa use crop protection or fertilisers, and most tend not to utilise basic agronomic techniques.

At the fourth World Coffee Conference, in 2016, Geraldine Joselyn Fraser-Moleketi, presenting as the Special Envoy on Gender of the African Development Bank, stated “we must support farmers to achieve higher coffee productivity and improved quality through better farm management practices”.

These better farm management practices include field mapping. Let’s look at the practical benefits, some real-life examples, and what field mapping involves.

Mechanically harvested coffee. Credit: Fazenda Santa Jucy

Field Mapping Means Better Quality

Fazenda Santa Jucy is a farm in São Paulo state, Brazil that produces Arabica. The director, Alexandre Provencio, tells me that he introduced field mapping four years ago. He says that before doing so, the farm management plans on Santa Jucy were limited, with up to 20 hectares of land used to grow one variety of coffee.

After analysing the soil and cupping and classifying each crop, he found that “a field of about 20 hectares [had] about four different types of characteristics”. Each of these characteristics changed the way the same variety of coffee grew.

Armed with his new knowledge about the land, Alexandre split this 20 hectares into smaller lots based on the different characteristics. He has since been able to better direct his resources. Rather than applying fertiliser to all 20 hectares, he can use it only on the specific lots that need it. This reduces costs and allows each lot of coffee to thrive.

A mixture of ripe and unripe cherries. Credit: Fazenda Santa Jucy

Matching Coffee to Its Correct Market

Alexandre tells me that the same site has the potential to produce exceptional specialty coffee, specialty coffee, and commodity coffee. The challenge at Santa Jucy, he says, is to keep the specialty percentages high. To achieve this, lots with potential to produce specialty grade coffee are treated differently to those predicted to produce commodity grade coffee.

It’s a skilful way to manage a farm. Rather than investing time and money into trying to get specialty grade coffee from all of a large lot, why not determine where it makes sense to focus on specialty and where lends itself to commodity grade coffee? And then treat each lot according to its final market.

Through soil testing, you can determine the best variety of coffee for each area of your farm and pinpoint where to use fertilisers. Rather than viewing commodity and specialty as better or worse than one another, think of it as matching the land to its best coffee and then that coffee to the right market. Ideally, the two crops should support one another. Alexandre even says that you that “you cannot have specialty without commodity”.

Without field mapping, the coffee from all 20 hectares of Alexandre’s field might have been sold as commodity grade, despite having areas of specialty grade coffee. Field mapping can help you to better understand your land and coffee, and to more accurately predict profits.

Smallholder farmers learn about field mapping. Credit: One by One/Grupo Agrocoban

How Field Mapping Works

Field mapping can be split into two areas of data analysis: agronomic and visual. The most common form of agronomic field mapping is soil analysis.

Let’s look at a concrete example. Nitrogen is necessary for healthy crop growth, but too much nitrogen in the later stages of growth can reduce the final size of the cherry. With soil analysis, you can check the nitrogen levels in your land and treat the soil accordingly. The final cherries will be larger, and the crop more profitable. Field mapping takes soil analysis a step further – rather than looking at soil quality in one area, it is the idea of looking at how soil varies across your farm and identifying how to best use each lot.

Manuel Ramos is the coordinator of the One by One sustainability programme in Guatemala. The initiative teaches smallholder farmers how to field map. He tells me that One by One teaches farmers to measure pH levels and nutrients in the soil, and then group their crops according to their deficiencies. Producers can then apply the right type and amount of fertiliser to the right lot.

Drying coffee in a patio.

For larger farms, visual field mapping through GIS technology can be more effective. Jarvis Technologies uses GIS and drone technology to analyse crops on large coffee farms. The company’s CEO, Luis Gomez, tells me that this technology is able to produce high-resolution images, GIS-interactive maps, and 3D models of farms.

Luis says that it can take one or two months to manually map a farm, but that with GIS and drone technology, 100 hectares can be captured within 30 minutes. Results can be delivered to producers within a day or two.

This quick turnaround is essential for preventing the spread of visible diseases. Leaf rust, for example, can spread across a farm in as little as 15 days. With GIS mapping, you can see the exact coordinates of affected areas and know precisely where to apply fungicides.

Coffee trees at a farm in Guatemala. Credit: Julio Guevara

The Costs and Practicalities of Field Mapping

Although field mapping is useful for both smallholders and large-scale farmers, and can be applied to both commodity and specialty crops, its use is limited by expense. At present, there is a lack of affordable technology designed for smallholder farmers and access to technology is limited.

But there are affordable ways to start introducing the principles to your farm. Consider which crops grow best in which area and look into basic soil testing. By identifying nutritional deficiencies, you can choose which variety of coffee will best fit each lot of your land and where to invest more resources. You can also cup coffees from each lot and evaluate the quality to give you insight into which area suits which variety.

Field mapping can enable you to better understand your land, direct resources, and market the final coffee – whether it is commodity, specialty, or both.


Choosing The Right Coffee Varieties For Your Farm

January 28, 2021 Leave a comment

A producer picks yellow coffee cherries.

An important part of producing quality coffee is choosing the right varieties for your land. Why invest in plants that need additional resources that aren’t reflected in the final price? But how do decide which is the right variety for you?

Choosing a type of coffee should be based on a number of factors including genetics, environment, access to the market, and budget. Let’s look at these elements and what else to consider when choosing a variety of coffee.

One-year-old Castillo trees at Vereda Jámbalo in Cauca, Colombia. Credit: Diego Cobo

Genetic Advantages

Different types of coffee have different characteristics, including flavor, pest-resistance, yield, and more. But these genetic differences should only be one consideration in choosing a variety. For example, Robusta is generally more pest- and disease-resistant than Arabica, but Arabica has more desirable flavors and therefore a bigger market with better prices, so most producers choose to grow it.

Jorge Raul Rivera, is the producer of Finca Santa Rosa in San Ignacio, El Salvador. He tells me that farmers in El Salvador often choose to grow Pacamara despite its relatively low yield and vulnerability to coffee leaf rust. “We look at the [quality of the] variety, not the ease of maintenance,” he says. “Quality is always better in a plant that produces less.”

The choice of variety will affect how a farm is managed, to whom the producer will market their beans, and will influence what method of processing is used. Carlos Pineda is the director of the school of coffee tasting at Instituto Hondureño del Café. He says that “the coffee variety lets us know the versatility that the coffee plant will have.”

Climate & Environment

The place where you grow coffee should be a major factor in deciding which variety to produce. One variety may have a high yield and be in demand, but does it thrive in your climate?

There’s no point investing in a crop that needs a relatively cool, dry environment if you live in a warm, humid one. It either won’t produce high-quality beans or it will require much more investment to do so.

Diego Cobo is the manager of Elixir Cafe in Cauca, Colombia. He says, “The variables that we need to consider for quality are genotype, the place of origin of the seed, and the characteristics of the field.”

He tells me that Castillo is a popular variety in the region he lives in for its ease of maintenance. He says that it’s a variety that is already adapted to the local environment and tolerant to coffee leaf rust, a potentially devastating disease.

Make sure to do detailed research into your climate including rainfall, humidity, and temperature. You may also want to use field mapping techniques such as soil analysis to evaluate which varieties will thrive on your land and what amounts of fertilizer will be beneficial. This kind of analysis can reveal that it’s better to grow two or more varieties in different areas of the farm, rather than planting the all of the land with the same variety.

A one-year-old Castillo plant at Vereda Jámbalo Cauca, Colombia. Credit: Diego Cobo

Resources & Budget

The varieties you choose should also be based on your access to resources and budget. Before choosing what to plant, work out whether you have the funds to cover all the expenses associated with the specific variety and if all the supplies are available in your area.

Diego tells me that some Colombian producers choose to grow Geisha. He says that this variety needs five or six fertilizations per year versus the three required for Castillo. Producers who grow Geisha also need to be more aware of pests and the overall maintenance is more complicated, he says. Without the budget for workers, pest control, and fertilizer, this likely wouldn’t return a good yield and may mean a loss of investment.

A producer prepares a nursery in Colombia. Credit: Diego Cobo

Consider The Market

It’s important to consider consumer demands and your own access to the market when choosing a variety. If you invest in specialty coffee but don’t have the relationships to sell it at the right price, you may be left at a loss. Similarly, if there’s no demand for the variety you grow, or it is in surplus, you may be forced to sell it at below-market prices.

Carlos says, “Another factor to consider when selecting coffee varieties is the market, the elegance of the cup, and who is going to buy it.”

So, do some research into local selling opportunities and consider joining an association or cooperative that could help you make new business relationships. As an aligned group of producers, you may have better access to resources, be able to leverage better marketing and business opportunities, and learn from one another’s experiences.

Coffee farm in El Salvador. Credit: Fernando Pocasangre

How to Choose Your Specific Plants

Many farmers buy seeds or plants from a vendor, but others use their own seeds. Jorge tells me that it’s common for producers to use local seeds in El Salvador and that they offer an advantage because the plants are already adapted to the environment. He says that using local seeds allows more confidence in the purity and hardiness of the variety, and that this results in better quality in the final cup.

He cautions against using varieties developed elsewhere, saying that they will need to adapt to their new environment and that this may impact quality.

Ripe coffee cherries. Credit: Mapache Coffee

If you decide to use local plants for seed, choose mother plants that are healthy and vigorous with straight, thick trunks. The primary branches should be not too distant from each other. Opt for plants that have shown fast development and abundant yield of cherries. Branches with the highest number of nodes have the most productivity, so take cherries from these branches and select only healthy and completely ripe ones.

Diego tells me about a traditional method that he says many coffee producers use. Harvest 100 mature, healthy cherries and submerge them in water. If the floating cherries are less than eight, that is a good candidate to be a mother plant.

He explains that it’s not recommended to use a plant that has a lot of floating cherries, because these are the ones with low density, which means they’re likely less developed and have a low probability of germination.

Coffee plants in Cauca, Colombia. Credit: Diego Cobo

Choosing the right varieties for your farm is a balance of many interrelated factors. Make sure that you’re being honest in your evaluation of your own circumstances and do some research into the different varieties and local resources. By carefully considering genetic components, environmental conditions, and the market, you can find the most appropriate varieties for your farm.


Coffee Culture in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

January 25, 2021 Leave a comment

Coffee has always been a main part of Middle Eastern culture especially in Saudi Arabian Culture, a traditional companion at meetings, weddings and a wide variety of social events. In Saudi Arabian families, there is never an occasion where the “dalla” — the traditional Arabic coffee maker — is unavailable. Coffee is aided over and over again in tiny Arabic coffee cups. Lately, there has been a rise in additional branch of coffee culture, ‘specialty coffee.’ Western coffee culture has spread rapidly in Saudi Arabia, with local cafes popping up on the streets and in shopping malls. Their growing popularity is well deserved.

Majority Coffee shops have turned into a social hub in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where people gather to share ideas and stories. They have become part of many people’s daily routine, and residents of the Kingdom are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of social interaction and exchange in such places — which offer space for dialogue, art and culture.

The growing number of cafes has helped people share their passion for coffee, proving that it is much more than a beverage. Back in the day, there was just Arabic coffee, but gradually Americanos, cappuccino and other types of hot coffee were introduced. Also due to the hot weather, cold coffees were introduced, which is a big change, recent events have been held to highlight the history and development of coffee in Jeddah. In November, two major events promoted different cafes and offered people a chance to taste their offerings.

Specialty Coffee and Arab Culture

Coffee experts explain that the third wave of coffee is the appreciation of high-quality beans, and the purchasing of coffee based on its origins and artisanal methods of production. The concept of the third wave is interchangeable with the rise of specialty coffee, an idea that countless resources point out is a current trend in the region. The Khaleej Times indicates that by 2020, the GCC will make up 50% of the global coffee market. These indicators imply that the region has adopted these trends to mimic Western lifestyles.

Arabs have always appreciated coffee as an artisanal product. Arab experimented with different methods of coffee making as well as trying various recipes and style. It is well known that Arabs add cinnamon, saffron and cardamom in their coffee, but that Levantine Arabs drink it plain, black and frothy. The region’s coffee recipes are as diverse as the dialects spoken, and this has been the case for hundreds of years.

More than two cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific and fairly common genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body. Coffee/Caffeine addiction can be a major problem in some people, including students and office workers who don’t have enough sleep and drink coffee to stay alert. The first step is admitting you have a problem with coffee, then start to work on solving the problem, Drinking half-caffeinated or decaffeinated versions can help, as can walking around the office or getting other physical activity when you feel sleepy. As long as it is not consumed in large quantities, coffee is something to be cherished and each cup enjoyed.


Coffee Farms & Guest Rites: Saudi Arabia’s Unique Coffee Culture

January 24, 2021 Leave a comment

Saudi Arabia is a country of two coffee cultures: Arabic and specialty. With one, you have highly ritualized and historic coffee traditions that welcome guests. With the other, you have have a growing appreciation for lighter roasts and third wave brewing methods – and even some specialty coffee production.

Yes, that’s right: Saudi Arabia has coffee farms.

Khaled Almadi of Elixir Bunn, a roastery and café in Riyadh, agreed to talk to me about how these two traditions live side-by-side – and how he expects Saudi’s specialty industry to keep growing.

What Is Traditional Arabic Coffee?

Traditional Arabic coffee has a long history and great social significance – so much so that UNESCO has labeled it an Intangible Cultural Heritage. UNESCO describes it as “a ceremonial act of generosity”, and it can be used to welcome guests, celebrate weddings, and even apply pressure in negotiations should a guest refuse to drink it.

Khaled says, “The ritual mainly takes place in homes, Bedouin tents, or at events. In cafés and restaurants, the ritual is not entirely compliant due to the commercialized aspect of service.”

Traditionally, the coffee beans would be roasted in front of the guest before being ground and brewed in a dallah, a beautiful Arabic coffee pot. Nowadays, however, the beans are typically roasted in the kitchen. Spices, such as cardamom, are often added.

The drink should be poured with the left hand and served to guests with the right hand. These guests should then consume it without sugar – despite the bitter taste. A bowl of dates may be provided to sweeten the taste, and it’s traditional to drink one to three cups.

Painting of a farmer in Jazan, first Specialty Coffee farm in Saudi Arabia. Credit: Elixir Bunn

Two Coffee Cultures: Specialty & Arabic

Saudi Arabia’s coffee is steeped in tradition, but Khaled tells me there is room for specialty coffee culture as well. He sees the two thriving simultaneously.

In fact, because the Arabic coffee ritual is difficult to duplicate in cafés, Khaled says that there is a gap to be filled by other coffee trends. Many of his customers may drink Arabic coffee at home with guests, but they will also consume specialty coffee – either at home or in his café. They just needed to be introduced to it first.

Non-Arabic coffee entered the mainstream, he continues, when international chains appeared in Riyadh. Establishments like Dunkin Donuts familiarized people with filter brews. And as those international chains “normalized” filter coffee, it was easier for third wave coffee shops and roasteries like Elixir Bunn to exist.

Specialty coffee being brewed for consumers in Saudi Arabia. Credit: Elixir Bunn

Rapid Growth

Elixir Bunn has seen a 220% growth since opening, with practically no marketing budget (they use social media for organic reach). Their success, Khaled tells me, lies in a focus on three things: quality products, quality service, and coffee education. And the latter is key to the development of Saudi’s coffee scene.

Khaled tells me that Elixir Bunn makes coffee education available both through the website and in the café. What’s more, it grows with its customers: as his staff shares information about coffee producers, origins, and processing methods, their customers share their thoughts and preferences.

What’s more, specialty is appealing to different demographics. Gender segregation is expected in Saudi restaurants and coffee houses. In fact, in 2016, the Starbucks in Riyadh was required to stop serving women after the barrier between the “bachelor” and “family” areas of the café collapsed. However, Khaled has recently expanded in order to serve women in a dedicated area of the coffee shop – a sign of the growing interest in third wave coffee.

This interest is also extending to competitions. In 2016, Saudi Arabia saw its first ever AeroPress Champion. And this year, Sara Al-Ali was a finalist in the World Cezve/Ibrik Championship.

Of course, specialty coffee is still a young tradition in Saudi Arabia, with much to build towards. Khaled says, “We’d expect a smoother ride when we create a specialty coffee association of Saudi Arabia.” But its quick development holds great promise for the region’s third wave.

Specialty coffee and third wave brewing kits for sale in Saudi Arabia. Credit: Elixir Bunn

The Saudi Coffee Palate

Khaled explains that it takes a few months for customers’ palates to adjust to specialty coffee. However, once they develop a taste for it, they are eager to explore different brewing methods and origins.

He’s noticed that the most popular specialty regions tend to be Colombian and Brazilian. There’s also an uptick in East African coffees – partly because of Saudi Arabia’s geographic location. What’s more, while it’s difficult for many other countries to import Yemeni coffee, it is abundant here.

And earlier this year, Saudi Arabia produced its first ever specialty coffee crop. Time will tell how Saudi customers respond to coffee grown in their own country.

Specialty espresso and pour over coffee being brewed. Credit: Elixir Bunn

Specialty Coffee Farming in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s specialty coffee crop is the fruit of years of work. The country has mainly a desert climate, with high daytime temperatures and low nighttime ones. There are only two exceptions to this: a strip of steppe in the west, and a small, humid region, with mild temperatures and long summers, just north of Yemen.

It is in this humid area, in the region of Addayer, that Saudi Arabia’s first specialty coffee farms exists. Sitting less than 15 miles away from the Yemen border, Addayer – along with other nearby counties – holds great potential for coffee production.

This year, the farms produced natural and washed coffee. Some of the lots were then independently cupped at 80, 81 and 84 points. Khaled tells me they show “promise”. He describes them as having “typical notes” for coffees cupping in the low 80s – chocolatey, nutty, and so on – but with a “surprising sweetness”.

It’s an exciting start for a new specialty coffee origin.

Addayer, Jizan in Saudi Arabia: the region of Saudi’s specialty coffee farms. Credit: Kal Coffee

Traditional brewing methods and hospitality, third wave roasters and consumers, and even coffee production – Saudi Arabia’s coffee culture is rich, complex, and still growing. And with ambitious industry leaders pushing it forwards by building specialty coffee farms and competing on the world stage, it will be interesting to see how the region develops.


A Brief History of Coffee Consumption

January 23, 2021 Leave a comment

How did humans create coffee? Why? And how did we end up here, with world coffee championships and an industry worth US $30 billion in exports every year (OEC, 2015)?

Oh, and for that matter, what even is first, second, third, and fourth wave coffee?

If you’ve ever wondered about these questions, get ready to find out the answers. I’m going to take you through a very brief history of coffee consumption, from the 1400s through to today.

Traditional Coffee Consumption: Guest Rites & Politics

It’s hard to trace the consumption of coffee back to its first discovery. It seems to have emerged somewhere in Africa and the Middle East, perhaps as a form of medicine or stimulant. Yet the only thing we can say for sure is that, in the 1400s, it was being brewed in Sufi monasteries.

Traditional coffee consumption in the Middle East used coffee to welcome guests and as a backdrop to negotiations. It was often a ritualised experience that took place in the home.

During the Ottoman Empire, coffee also started to be sold at marketplaces before becoming favoured at court. From there, the coffee house emerged.

And as coffee spread to Europe – and then, through European imperialism, further around the world – its association with politics, male social circles, and liberal thought solidified.

From Sweden to Colombia, the ruling classes developed anxieties that the drink was a front for fomenting political and social unrest. Religious leaders also saw the café as a place of dangerous thought: in 1702, ministers in Salem mocked the “learned witlings of the coffeehouses” for doubting that witchcraft might exist.

These attitudes continue up to the 1800s, when coffee culture started to resemble modern-day coffee consumption.

A woman makes coffee in the traditional Ethiopian method.

First Wave Coffee & Commodification

The first wave of coffee is marked by its increasing availability. While coffee used to be a drink of the elite, whether they were royalty or simply intellectuals, the first wave brought it into the kitchen.

During the 1800s, Folger’s and Maxwell House opened up shop. Both instant coffee and the percolator, a coffee-maker that remained in wide use until the 1970s, were also invented this century.

Then, in the early 1900s, the espresso machine appears – and shortly after that, Nescafé and freeze-dried instant coffee do as well. While instant had already existed, freeze-drying technology allowed it to stay good for longer, making it both easier and cheaper to transport over long distances.

What’s more, US American soldiers stationed abroad, in countries like Korea, helped instant coffee consumption to become more widespread.

Coffee brewed in a moka pot, which was invented in 1933.

Second Wave Coffee & Specialty Consumption

The second wave is marked by an increasing concern over coffee quality and the specialty experience.

Starbucks was founded in 1971, in 1974 Erna Knutsen used the phrase “specialty coffee” in Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, and in 1982 the Specialty Coffee Association of America was founded.

This movement was also shaped by the Colombian coffee icon of Juan Valdez, who first appeared in the late 1950s. A fictional character created by the country’s national coffee association, FNC/Café de Colombia, for their marketing campaigns, he became famous across the US. His role was to remind people that some coffees really do taste better than others.

Third Wave Coffee & The Origin Story

As a coffee producer, Juan Valdez didn’t just pre-empt second wave coffee; his invention also heralded the eventual arrival of third wave coffee. But it wasn’t until 2002 that Trish Rothgeb declared it was here.

With the third wave comes a focus on the story behind the cup. The coffee variety, country of production, terroir, processing method, roast profile, brewing method… Consumers started to realise the impact that all this can have on the taste of the final coffee. On some coffee farms, experimental processing methods also emerged in an attempt to cater to this new, more discerning type of consumer.

That isn’t to say that all third wave coffee was based on new technology: the Chemex, for example, was invented in 1941. However, there was a new interest in complexity, greater acidity, and how to manipulate brewing to taste the unique flavours of the coffee beans themselves.

What’s more, coffee got competitive. The Best of Panama and Cup of Excellence appeared in the late ‘90s, while the first World Barista Championship took place in 2000. The idea of elite coffee varieties really appeared in 2004, after a Panamanian Geisha sold at auction for US $21/lb – rising, in later years, to US $350.25/lb.

A female coffee producer picks ripe coffee cherries, leaving the green ones behind. Credit: Libertario Coffee Roasters

Is There a Fourth Wave?

The term “fourth wave” is a divisive one: some believe it doesn’t exist beyond marketing. Others argue that it could be used to indicate a drive towards greater use of technology and science in coffee brewing.

For now, however, most people consider us to still be in the third wave of coffee.

Coffee being brewed with a Melodrip, a tool to control water flow and extraction. Credit: Michael Flores

So there you have it – a very brief 600-year history of coffee consumption. Here’s to the next 600!