Coffee News Club: Week of August 21st


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Coffee and music make you think harder! Plus, coffee companies still fall short on diversity, Kenya’s coffee auction house reopens, and Cornell will not renew its Starbucks contract.

”The Opportunities are Gatekept’: Coffee Shops Continue to Fall Short on Diversity’ – via USA Today

In the wake of the police murder of George Floyd and subsequent nationwide protests in 2020, Starbucks joined much of corporate America in pledging to increase diversity in its workforce. But an investigation by USA Today shows progress has been slow, and the company’s issues mirror the wider gatekeeping and lack of equity across the industry.

In October 2020, Starbucks pledged to employ people of color in 30% of corporate jobs and 40% of retail and manufacturing by 2025. However, the article notes that “less than half of all roles reported by the company had reached the goal by 2022.”

The big coffee chains all have similar worker demographics. Federal data analyzed by USA Today showed that Starbucks had one Black worker for every six white employees in 2022, the same ratio as Minnesota-based Caribou Coffee reported in 2020. Starbucks claims to be on track to reach its goal by 2025, with a company representative saying, “At Starbucks, our goals around inclusion and diversity are not simply metrics—it’s a mindset.”

The article also explores the lack of diversity at smaller, independent specialty coffee companies. There is less data from these companies compared to the big brands, but through interviews conducted with industry leaders, it’s clear there is still far to go.

“When you look at a consuming country, oftentimes what you see is such a small representation of what coffee is,” Phyllis Johnson, founder of the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity, told USA Today. “A lot of the opportunities are gatekept.”

Smaller companies aren’t necessarily more diverse or welcoming, according to Porttia Portis, another industry veteran. “A lot of the mentality stays the same throughout the industry, regardless of the shop size,” Portis told USA Today. “And I think on a smaller level, you find that there’s a lot more disparity because there’s a lot less checks and balances. Whereas on the larger levels, you’re going to have more DEI programs or diversity initiatives. Whether it’s to meet a quota or not, there’s at least something that exists there.”

Read the full story here.

‘Boon for Coffee Farmers as Nairobi Auction Resumes’ – via The Star

The Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) reopened after more than a month of closure that threw Kenya’s coffee sector into chaos.

As part of the Kenyan government’s attempt to reform the country’s coffee sector, it closed the NCE—which handles the sale of over 90% of the country’s coffee—and revoked brokerage licenses that they claimed benefitted price-manipulating “cartels.” The NCE will now use a new coffee trading and payment platform provided by the Co-operative Bank of Kenya, which the government hopes will increase transparency and speed of payments to farmers.

Along with the platform switch, 11 farmer-owned cooperatives have been licensed to sell coffee directly through the auction house and spot market, with more approvals to follow. Previously a web of brokers and intermediaries took a cut of each sale through the NCE before the farmer received anything. 

A key part of the government’s reform initiative is removing brokers and marketers from the picture and allowing farmers to retain more profit from selling their coffee. “The industry has suffered for so many years under the manipulation of local and international companies,” said Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua at the reopening of the NCE, “subjecting coffee farmers to grinding poverty by paying them peanuts despite the clean beans fetching premium prices in the international market.”

However, only four of the 11 cooperatives submitted coffee samples to the NCE when it reopened, which are required to trade on the exchange. Some co-ops withheld their coffee stocks due to confusion over the implementation of the new rules. This hesitation saw just 2,700 bags of coffee put up for auction on a platform that usually handles 7-10,000 bags weekly.

Read the full story here.

‘Neumann Gruppe USA & GrainPro Team Up To Recycle Liner Bags’ – via Sprudge

If asked to picture a coffee sack, you might imagine an elaborately-designed jute or burlap bag, either used and reused or decorating someone’s college dorm room. The reality is that most specialty coffee arrives at the roastery with some form of plastic liner. While these liners help protect green coffee from contaminants or oxidation, they are still plastic bags—and most get thrown away after use.

GrainPro, one of the biggest suppliers of plastic coffee liners, has teamed up with Neumann Gruppe USA and the warehousing company Continental Terminals to collect used plastic liners from roasters in the United States. Roasters can send their used bags to either of Continental Terminals’ east or west coast locations, and the collected liners, which don’t need to be GrainPro brand, will then go to a third location for recycling.

“It’s our goal to be a responsible partner and leader in the green coffee industry, which means guiding the way toward improved sustainability,” said Neumann Gruppe USA CEO Nicolas Rueda. “We’re delighted to encourage the success of this effort by communicating its availability to our clients and networks.”

Sprudge estimates that around 12 million coffee bag liners are used yearly, so recycling them would keep a lot of plastic out of landfill. Of course, as we’ve pointed out before, only 9% of plastic is recycled each year, and many recycling initiatives end up with plastic being burned or simply sent to landfill anyway. There’s no information from GrainPro as to how the bags will be recycled or in which facility.

Read the full story here.

More News

Bühler and Ikawa Partner for Potential Roaster Product Development‘ – via Daily Coffee News

Global Coffee Platform Completes Study on Brazilian Coffee Income’ – via Global Coffee Report

Best of Yemen Auction Lot Breaks Price Record at $444 Per Pound‘ – via Daily Coffee News

Robusta Coffee Prices Expected to Jump 28% This Year‘ – via Reuters

Swiss Water Reports Decline in Revenue in Q2 Report‘ – via Global Coffee Report

5th World Coffee Conference Coming to Bangalore, India’ – via Daily Coffee News

Conservative Starbucks Investor Loses Diversity Challenge‘ – via Reuters

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

Cornell University will not renew its campus contract with Starbucks after a successful campaign by labor organizers and student groups.

The coffee giant closed all three of its recently-unionized stores in Cornell’s hometown of Ithaca, New York, which Starbucks Workers United and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) allege amounted to union-busting. In response, students and activists staged a sit-in at the Cornell president’s office, demanding the university cut ties with Starbucks.

“Cornell Dining does not intend to serve Starbucks Coffee in its café venues after the current agreement with the company expires in 2025,” the school’s vice president for university relations, Joel Malina, told Bloomberg in an email. Starbucks denies that its Ithaca store closures were in retaliation for unionizing, but last month an administrative law judge with the NLRB ruled that the company violated federal labor law on multiple occasions and must reopen one Ithaca location.

“This shows what students and Starbucks workers demanding accountability can look like,” organizer Jaz Brisack told Business Insider. “It’s the start of a much bigger movement to hold Starbucks accountable.”

Is Coffee Good For You?

Good news for those who like to start their morning with a cup of coffee and their favorite oldies radio station: both coffee and music can enhance cognitive function.

Researchers from New York University and the University of Houston utilized a brain-monitoring technology called Mindwatch, designed by study co-author and NYU Tandon Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Rose Faghih. According to a piece in Neuroscience News, Mindwatch is “an algorithm that analyzes a person’s brain activity from data collected via any wearable device that can monitor electrodermal activity (EDA). This activity reflects changes in electrical conductance triggered by emotional stress, linked to sweat responses.”

The study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, asked monitored participants to complete cognitive tests while listening to music, drinking coffee, or smelling perfume. Both listening to music and drinking coffee, per Neuroscience News, “measurably altered subjects’ brain arousal” and specifically increased “beta band” brain wave activity, “a state associated with peak cognitive performance.” Perfume, meanwhile, had a modest effect on cognitive function.

“Right now Mindwatch is still under development,” Faghih said, “but our eventual goal is that it will contribute to technology that could allow any person to monitor his or her own brain cognitive arousal in real time, detecting moments of acute stress or cognitive disengagement, for example.”

Beyond the Headlines

‘Tipping $0 for Coffee? Here’s What to Think About First’ by Soleil Ho

‘How Irrigated Agriculture Can Help Solve Climate Change’ by Gordon Feller

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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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