I came across this article about Fair Trade at the Oromia Cooperative in Ethiopia. The article touches on a Fairtrade Climate Standard to help farmers acquire an alternative stove – to replace the traditional ‘three-stone’ fire. Given the cooperative’s focus on coffee, the new stoves are destined for coffee producers. The stoves mean that there is less need for gathering of firewood, ergo more time for other activities, less pressure on the standing forest, and less smoke in the home. While there are all sorts of additional spokes to the wheel of combatting climate change, this is one positive effort for a coffee producing cooperative. And, this particular cooperative produce some excellent organic coffee beans, which we enjoy roasting and brewing. Groups like FairTrade International and 1% For Women provide great opportunity for agriculturalists worldwide, and especially women farmers. We at the Roastery are proud members of both groups.
As we sip on an afternoon cappuccino or drown in a morning brew looking for the caffeine fix, it is difficult to pull yourself out of the urban atmosphere, the lights, the traffic, the veneer of the cafe interior, etc and think about where your coffee came from. Once you begin to trace its journey to the cup, you may ponder supply chains, distribution networks, artistry of roasting, origins and fate of packaging, commodity markets, port cities, tropical hillsides dotted with farms, beans drying in the sun, and a host of other subjects. The list of what there is to learn and the depth of potential subject matter is astounding.
One topic that gets little play in the world of coffee is the business acumen of growers. Coffee periodicals cover how coffee is harvested and processed as well as innovations that encourage success or novel ways of using by-products in the chain of production. Usually the coffee bean is the common link, however a recent blog post in Daily Coffee News delves outside of coffee production and highlights strategies to diversify.
A certain level of climate change is undeniable, save for a few remnant deniers. As we feel the impacts of climate change, we must implement economic diversification strategies. We at the Buena Vista Roastery continually analyze ways to diversify and are signatories on the Caring for the Climate Initiative. Fortunately we are also participating in the Caring for the Climate forum in Paris in 2015. The blog post by Jefferson Shriver presents other crops that producers can grow, such as cacao, vanilla, macadamia nuts, spices, etc. While introductory, Responding to the Climate Crisis through Crop Diversification is a refreshing opening to alternatives that coffee producers, the “guinea pigs of climate change”, have to explore.
Coffee prices have slumped over the past year but we still feel the pinch for our caffeine fix. That is to say, the prices that farmers receive for their product; prices at the supermarket have not. The Brazilian government is to aid coffee producers. Starbuck’s is not going to help the latte drinker.
The conundrum is how to balance the amount a farmer receives for green beans and what you might pay for a latte, and who gets what chunk of the disparity. As the commodity price of beans fluctuates (coffee being the second most widely traded commodity in the world, after oil), there is a lag for retail. A year and a half ago, the commodity market was off the hook with the price of green beans at a 34 year high, spurring many retailers to increase prices by 10% or more (Note: Starbuck’s, Dunkin’ Donuts). Now, the C-market has slumped. But many green brokers had locked in prices for beans relative to higher C-market pricing. Roasters and retailers are still paying according to somewhat higher green broker pricing. Meanwhile, the farmer is receiving less. And the consumer is still paying what we have been paying the past year or so.
Brazil is increasing its minimum to pay farmers by 17%. Starbuck’s is now cutting pricing again, but only on retail bags. Cafe pricing will remain high. It’s quite a game to balance what profits you can earn, what pricing allows you to carve out a piece of the pie from your competitors, and what is the right thing to do. Plus, we can reflect on what the farmers may earn and what impact we may have on that, understanding the many relationships exist between the worker, the plantation owner, the cooperative, the exporter, importer, roaster and finally the retailer.
We’re almost completing one year in our new cafe space on East Main, downtown Buena Vista. It’s been a whirlwind of developing processes, smoothing out efficiencies, and understanding work flow and people flow, all the while doing everything we can to provide an unparalleled experience to our customers. Our green coffee demand has increased by two thirds with an additional wholesale enterprise and our cafe and patio space has been well accepted, beyond our expectations. There’s been a lot to do.
With that said, one area we have been recently been able to focus on with a change of passionate staff and focusing our direction is our baked goods. There have been some subtle changes in our bakery over the past couple of weeks. Namely, we’ve found Organic sources for all of our flours, sugars, several spices, potatoes, buttermilk, better organic gluten-free flour, and organic Fair Trade chocolate for baking. We also now have cage-free vegetarian eggs. Abattoir regulations make it difficult to find local meat supplies, but following the footsteps of our neighbors the Eddyline brewpub, we have some leads. As they say, poco a poco.
Organic? One article I read this morning lays out a rather simplistic argument about buying organic or conventional produce, bringing the argument to your body or your pocketbook. It tends to cost more (except for our coffees, most of which are the same price as conventionals). Yet are the health benefits worth that extra cost to you? This article begins the debate at the line in the grocery store and briefly addresses residual pesticides. There is no mention of practices or effects in situ, with GMO, monocultures, et cetera. It’s rather disappointing thinking about the myopic study this article is based on, or at least the authors presentation of the study.
In any case, our informal study says that we are happy to be transitioning the food in our cafe.
Just as we are slowly climbing out of last year’s extreme pinch in coffee prices, some potentially unhappy news comes out of Colombia. Apparently, a rust is infecting many coffee plants and causing some supply worries. Will this keep commodity prices, and the price for a cup of our favorite morning drink high, or will this just be a blip in the global ebb and flow of coffee production? We shall find out as new crops come in and we see how Brazilian and Vietnamese production affects the market. Here is a bit of news from Dow and the WSJ.
NARIÃ‘O, Colombiaâ€”On the steep and verdant slopes here, an orange-colored fungus is laying waste to hundreds of thousands of acres of coffee. The infestation, and efforts to eradicate it, raises the specter of higher coffee futuresâ€”and more expensive cups of espressoâ€”for months to come.
The fungus is known as roya, the Spanish word for “coffee rust.” It grows on the leaves of a coffee plant and chokes off nutrients to the beans. Encouraged by years of torrential rains, roya has spread throughout Colombia, forcing farmers to pull out their plants and replace them with fungus-resistant seedlings. [Read more…]