Coffee News Club: Week of August 15th


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Hello and welcome to the Coffee News Club, a weekly summary of top coffee news.

Brazil’s harvest woes, Intelligentsia’s union win, and laser-extracted cold brew.

Here are the top stories this week.

‘World’s Top Coffee Crop Shrinks in a Market Thirsty for Supply’ – via Bloomberg

Brazilian coffee producers are finally seeing the effects of bad weather that battered the country over the last year in a harvest far below analyst predictions and expectations.

Extended drought and unseasonable frost in 2021 caused many producers to cut down trees, but farmers hoped that 2022—the higher-producing year in Brazil’s biennial harvest cycle—would bring respite. However, it looks as if that won’t be the case.

One producer in Minas Gerais state, Luis Fernando Ferreira da Silva, told Bloomberg that he had expected this year’s harvest to be more than cut in half due to drought and frost. He originally hoped to produce 8,000 60-kilogram bags but then had to slash his forecast to 3,500. “Now I believe it won’t reach 2,000 bags,” da Silva said.

Brazil’s arabica-producing regions are witnessing the same trend: one large producer in the Mogiana, Sao Paulo region reported harvests would be down 40% compared with a regular high-yield season. 

“Farmers believe there will be a significant crop failure in the current season,” compared to the previous high-yield cycle two years ago, said agricultural researcher Margarete Boteon in an early August report.

Read the full story here.

‘Intelligentsia Coffee’s Chicago Cafe Workers Vote to Unionize’ – via Eater Chicago

Workers at Intelligentsia Coffee’s five Chicago cafes voted to unionize this week, two months after filing for an election and despite anti-union opposition from the company.

Twenty-seven workers will be represented by Local 1220 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Due to mistakes in mailing out ballots the final tally was 9-1 in favor. The union wins an election if a plurality of all votes cast are in favor. 

“I hope the message [this election] sends to leadership is that there are a lot of people here who really care about Intelligentsia and want to make it a place they can stay and work for a very long time,” barista Jordan Parshall told Eater. “Everyone I know who voted yes has such a passionate love for coffee and what we do here, and we think this will only make it better.”

In response to the election filing, Intelligentsia management sent out anti-union mailers to employees. Last month, the company held mandatory meetings wherein CEO James McLaughlin “told workers they had no need for a union because they were treated so well already,” according to In These Times.

The original filing included workers at Intelligentsia’s Chicago Roasting Works. However, a challenge from the company forced the IBEW to pause that effort, although it still plans to file for a separate election covering the roastery.

Intelligentsia, widely regarded as one of the forerunners of coffee’s third wave, is also part of specialty coffee’s recent consolidation—the company is owned by Peet’s Coffee, a subsidiary of JAB Holdings.

Read the full story here.

‘Laser-Extracted Cold-Brew Coffee Could be a Monday-Morning Game Changer’ – via New Atlas

Cold brew is cool. Lasers are extremely cool. Making cold brew with lasers? Not sure it gets much cooler than that.

Researchers in Germany have developed a laser-powered extraction system they claim produces cold brew 300 times faster than the traditional method. Allegedly as tasty as its 12-24 hour steeped cousin, laser cold brew takes mere minutes to brew.

But how? Per the study published in Nature, “an ultrashort-pulsed laser system is applied at the brewing entity without heating the powder suspension in water, efficiently extracting caffeine and aromatic substances from the powder.”

While admitting that more chemical analysis is needed to meet food-safety regulations, the researchers sound positive: “the chemical composition of ps-laser-extracted coffee is very similar to conventional cold-brew coffee,” they write.

Next up: commercializing their design and working on zapping other drinks such as tea and matcha.

Read the full story here.

More Headlines

ACE and M-Cultivo Launch ‘Ethiopia Select’ Direct-to-Roaster Marketplace’ — Daily Coffee News
Starbucks Appears Set to Add NFTs to Its Loyalty Program’ — Food & Wine
William Reed Acquires The London Coffee Festival’ — Sprudge
China’s Luckin Plans Store Expansion, Remains Committed to U.S. Market’ — Reuters
Here Are The Results Of The Sprudge Summer 2022 Coffee Inflation Poll’ — Sprudge

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

The Week in Corporate Coffeewashing

The Dude’s favorite coffee liqueur brand, Kahlúa, announced that “it will reach a 100% sustainable coffee harvest to cover all production by November 2022.” It doesn’t, however, spell out what “100% sustainable coffee” entails.

The company, owned by billion-dollar French multinational Pernod Ricard, has also produced a free “sustainability toolkit” to help producers “adopt more eco-friendly practices.”

“There are real communities at the heart of each bottle of Kahlúa,” said Giancarlo Martins, global marketing manager at Pernod Ricard, “and it was incredibly important to us that everyone involved in the production feels equipped to live a fully rounded sustainable lifestyle.”

Meanwhile, Starbucks and Volvo are installing electric vehicle (EV) chargers at “up to” 15 locations, starting in Utah. The company is pitching this as part of its sustainability program, “just one of the ways Starbucks aspires to be a resource-positive company,” according to the press release.

The chargers will be placed strategically along a road trip-worthy route through the American west, culminating in the company’s hometown of Seattle. It’s worth noting that although electric vehicles will play an important role in a low-carbon future, high-end SUV EVs like the ones Volvo makes are out of the reach of the majority of people.

Is Coffee Good For You?

It might not make you happy, long term at least. A slightly inconclusive new study from Harvard University found that coffee might be linked to a long-term decrease in happiness and well-being.

This is in stark contrast to much previous research, which linked coffee consumption to lower levels of depression and risk of suicide.

Published in the journal Plos One, the investigation looked at a longitudinal study of nurses. For two decades, participants assessed their levels of optimism and happiness and self-reported their coffee consumption at regular intervals. Nearly 45,000 people participated in the optimism assessments, and almost 37,000 for happiness.

The results found that the more coffee people consumed, the lower reported happiness levels were, although 4+ cups per day was only associated with “a 3% lower likelihood of sustained happiness.” Moderate consumption was associated with a greater likelihood of sustained optimism, albeit relatively weakly.

Tellingly, the researchers themselves seem somewhat ambivalent in their conclusions. “The current study did not find substantive associations between coffee intake and psychological well-being over up to 20 years of follow-up in a large-scale cohort of midlife and older women,” the authors write.

Beyond the Headlines

Starbucks’s Abortion Promises for Workers Are PR Stunts. We Want a Union Contract’ by Alisha Humphrey 
The Invisible Labor of Coffee’ by Ashley Rodriguez
Coffee’s Climate Woes: Elements’ by Clara Ferreira Marques

Coffee News Club is written by Fionn Pooler and the Fresh Cup editorial team.

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Fionn Pooler

Fionn Pooler is a coffee roaster and freelance writer currently based in the Scottish Highlands who has worked in the specialty coffee industry for over a decade. Since 2016 he has written the Pourover, a newsletter and blog that uses interviews and critical analysis to explore coffee’s place in the wider, changing world (and also yell at corporations).

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