Coffee News Club: Week of August 22nd


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

An international chain is replaced by a suspiciously similar brand, a new coffee maker reuses ground coffee, and Starbucks ordered to reinstate the Memphis Seven.

Here’s what’s going on in the world of coffee.

‘Russian Duo Hail Stars Coffee as Successor Brand to Starbucks’ – via Reuters

In May, Starbucks announced its withdrawal from Russia, exiting the country after suspending all business in March. It was just one of a string of similar departures as western corporations sought to distance themselves from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

It was only a matter of time before somebody stepped in to take over Starbucks’ 130 stores in the country—and it looks as if that somebody is a pro-Putin rapper and a restaurateur who claims to have never tasted coffee before.

The new brand, Stars Coffee, has a logo that looks suspiciously similar to the Starbucks mermaid, although that’s just a coincidence, of course. “People’s perceptions may be different,” restaurateur Anton Pinskiy said. “But if you compare, then apart from the circle, you won’t find anything in common.”

One of the co-owners is rapper Timati, real name Timur Yunusov, a vocal supporter of Russian president Vladamir Putin, going so far as to release a song in 2015 called ‘My Best Friend is Vladimir Putin.’ The logo, according to Timati, keeps continuity with the Starbucks version due to the shape and “female gender” while contrasting with the brown “masculine color.” Starbucks declined to comment on the similarities in the logo and new company’s name.

The pair had to find a new coffee supplier, although Pinskiy said this wasn’t a problem. “We just found other suppliers, found the right roasters, and because the baristas mixed it all correctly, we have a product that we think will be competitive,” he said.

It might be trickier than he imagines. Last month, a report indicated that Russia could face retail shortages of coffee and tea due to sanctions and foreign companies’ unwillingness to import to the country.

Read the full story here.

‘A Former Tesla Executive Is Betting on a Rule-Breaking Coffee Machine’ – via Bloomberg

A very Bloomberg-y headline, but the article itself is pretty interesting.

Ground Control is a company that makes a coffee machine called the Cyclops, but the twist—the “rule-breaking” part—is that it reuses spent coffee grounds. It does this by utilizing a special brew cycle that “washes coffee grounds with fresh water over separate cycles, usually three or four, each time catching different flavors and characteristics from the beans.”

More from Bloomberg:

The difference between those short washes and adding the same amount of water slowly as in a traditional drip coffee machine is that when the liquid hangs around the grounds for a while, it starts to absorb less appealing characteristics, like bitterness, as the bean compounds dissolve. The Ground Control machine can target different tastes from the beans with each cycle of water by controlling by factors like temperature and bean agitation; between washes, the grounds are quickly dried.

The brewer has been a hit in the tech industry. You can find machines in the LinkedIn and Twitch offices, as well as in high-end restaurants around the country like Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and CDGRE in Bangkok. The brewers don’t come cheap—the Cyclops sells for $10,900—but the value-add is a reduction in waste and increased efficiency.

The specialty coffee industry has also taken notice: Ground Control brewers are featured at Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas, Equator Coffees in California, and Coffee Project NY in New York. “It’s like a practical science experiment that creates delicious coffee,” said Coffee Project co-founder Sum Ngai.

Read the full story here.

‘Starbucks Must Reinstate Fired Memphis Workers Who Were Pushing for Unionizing, Judge Rules’ – via CNBC

A federal judge has ordered Starbucks to reinstate a group of activists—known as the Memphis Seven—who the company fired in February after they spearheaded a push to unionize their workplace.

The judge agreed with a lawsuit filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) challenging the firings, which occurred in response to the group holding media interviews inside the store after hours. Starbucks said these and other actions violated company policy while organizers called the firings retaliatory.

The company said it “strongly disagrees” with and will appeal the ruling and seek a stay of the opinion, which would delay the reinstatement until the appeal is heard. The judge gave Starbucks five days to reinstate the employees.

“We’ve had a lot of tough moments, but we kept fighting each day,” Beto Sanchez, one of the workers, told CNBC. “It feels like all the hard work has paid off during all those months, and we’re just really happy.”

The NLRB is currently working on another court case regarding fired workers in Buffalo and lost a similar case in Arizona in June when a federal judge sided with Starbucks. As we will see below, the conflict between Starbucks and the NLRB is growing increasingly fractious.

Read the full story here.

More News

MICE2022 Set to Reunite the International Coffee Community’ – via Global Coffee Report
‘Cameroon Targets Sagging Coffee Output With New Subsidy’ – via StiR Coffee and Tea
‘Influencer-Led Chamberlain Coffee Closes $7 Million Funding Round’ – via Daily Coffee News
‘SCA Announces Green Coffee Summit 2022’ – via Global Coffee Report
‘Apply Now For One Of Three In-Person Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamps’ – via Sprudge

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

  • Starbucks accused NLRB employees of misconduct and asked for a complete halt in all mail-in union elections nationwide. The brand believes that NLRB staff in Kansas and elsewhere are “engag[ing] in highly improper, systemic misconduct involving Starbucks and Workers United,” according to a letter sent to the labor board. “This is Starbucks yet again attempting to distract attention away from their unprecedented anti-union campaign,” Starbucks Workers United said in a statement.
  • Employees at Colorado mini-chain Brewing Market Coffee have announced their intent to unionize. Nearly three-quarters of eligible workers have signed union cards, and have requested that management voluntarily recognize their union. “We aren’t paid enough, and barely make the tips we’re promised,” employee Benny Cardin said in a statement. “We want to be able to afford rent, afford food, have basic health care, and live a life not based on the fear that comes with living paycheck to paycheck.”
  • The unionization drive at Great Lakes Coffee in Detroit ended after striking workers discovered that the company plans to close its remaining locations. “This decision was a difficult one,” the workers said in a statement, “but under the advisement of UNITE HERE, we are moving to withdraw from the election, rather than participate in an election with no clear payoff of union jobs.”

Is Coffee Good For You?

According to new research, a cup of coffee in the morning could help extinguish nicotine cravings.

A study from the University of Florida, published in the journal Neuropharmacology, identified two compounds in coffee that directly affect high-sensitivity nicotine receptors in the human brain. These receptors can be especially sensitive in the morning after a night of nicotine withdrawal.

“Many people look for coffee in the morning because of the caffeine. But was the coffee doing anything else to smokers?” asked lead author Roger Papke. “We wanted to know if there were other things in coffee that were affecting the brain’s nicotine receptors.”

Researchers didn’t test the hypothesis on tired, nicotine-starved volunteers. Instead, they “applied a dark-roasted coffee solution to cells that express a particular human nicotine receptor” and concluded that a compound in the coffee might help to restore the nicotine receptor dysfunction that leads to a smoker’s cravings.

Further study is needed (isn’t it always?), but according to Papke, the research is a step forward in understanding how coffee and cigarettes affect the brain.

Beyond the Headlines

‘The Case For Sitting Behind The Bar’ by RJ Joseph
‘In Boulder, A Modern Approach To Cafe Culture At January Coffee’ by Michael Light
‘The Consolidation of Coffee’ by Ashley Rodriguez

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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