Coffee News Club: Week of February 20th

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Why drink coffee when you can spray caffeine directly onto your tongue? Plus, the ICO launches a living income study, and Tim Hortons opens in Pakistan—and attracts looooong lines.

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‘ICO Launching Living-Income Benchmarking for Four Coffee-Producing Countries’ – via Daily Coffee News

“How much does a typical household in a particular place need to earn, from all income sources, to have a decent standard of living?”

That’s the question the International Coffee Organization (ICO) seeks to answer within the coffee-growing sector with the launch of its inaugural living-income benchmarking study. The analysis will cover four countries in its first phase—Honduras, Rwanda, Togo, and Angola—with more to follow as the project expands.

The study addresses the growing consensus that coffee farming is economically unviable for many producers. According to research by the non-profit sustainability consultancy Enveritas, 44 percent of the world’s smallholder coffee producers live in poverty, and a further 22 percent live in extreme poverty. The living income movement has gained momentum in recent years to address wage inequities in the coffee supply chain. However, as Daily Coffee News points out, NGOs and private companies from traditional consuming countries initiate these projects rather than being driven within coffee-consuming countries.

“Recent studies showed that the average earnings of small-scale farmers in the coffee industry would not reach what is needed to ensure a basic and decent standard of living, even less for a prosperous livelihood,” ICO Executive Director Vanúsia Nogueira said in a press release. “Therefore, defining a living-income benchmark, measuring income gaps, and developing effective strategies to close these gaps is key to consider when engaging on living income.”

With a membership of government bodies from over 95 percent of global coffee-producing countries, the ICO says its goal is to establish living-income benchmarks in 80 percent of those countries by 2025. As Daily Coffee News notes, the announcement of this new project came in the wake of the World Coffee Producers Forum, an annual coffee producer conference held in Kigali, Rwanda, last week. Dozens of speakers took to the stage to discuss issues affecting coffee growers, including a panel conversation called, ‘Does Living Income lead to Prosperity or is it just another box for Governments, Institutions and the private sector to tick?’ 

Read the full story.

‘Coffee Trumps Economic Crisis as Tim Hortons Opens in Pakistan’ – via Reuters

Tim Hortons, a popular food chain that markets itself as the “home of Canada’s favorite coffee,” opened its first location in Lahore, Pakistan, to much excitement, with Reuters reporting that people queued “for hours to grab coffee and pastries from [the] Canadian chain.” 

The Reuters article juxtaposes the chain’s opening against the country’s current economic turmoil. “In less than a month, Pakistan’s currency has lost more than a quarter of its value against the U.S. dollar, and fuel prices have risen by almost a fifth,” the article states. “According to its online menu, a small brewed coffee costs 350 rupees ($1.30), while a large flavoured coffee is twice as much. By comparison, the average government-mandated minimum wage is 25,000 rupees ($94) a month.” 

“Higher prices don’t really matter for the class of people coming here,” said Ahmad Javed, a medical student who was waiting in line. “Rich people in Pakistan are getting richer, the poor are becoming poorer while the middle class is struggling.”

A spokesperson for Restaurant Brands International, the holding company that owns the chain, told Bloomberg that the opening was the biggest for “Tim Hortons outside of Canada and the U.S. in the last decade.” Despite the economic turmoil, global brands that few can afford, such as McDonald’s and Gloria Jean’s Coffee, continue to open outlets in the country. The Tim Hortons spokesperson noted that Pakistan is “one of the fastest-growing markets for coffee chains.” 

Read the full story here.

‘Startup Pledges to ‘Deliver a Cup of Coffee’s Worth of Energy in Just Three Sprays’ – via TechCrunch

It’s time to disrupt the way you drink coffee—again. No, not with frozen capsules or weird coffee balls, but a spray that lets you squirt caffeine right on your tongue. 

That’s the pitch from VAE Labs, which has raised millions in seed funding to bring its dream of spray-fueled caffeine to market.

VAE Energy Spray is the dream of three neuroscience chemistry students from Canada who realized the way they were caffeinating themselves while studying “was not the healthiest.” They drank multiple coffees daily with “about 30 grams of sugar in each cup,” getting overcaffeinated only to eventually crash. They were, co-founder Orri Bogdan told TechCrunch, “just kind of done with feeling so terrible all the time.”

Caffeine is absorbed quickly by the tongue, so they thought a portable spray bottle would make the most sense. “If we could find a way to make it taste good, we felt like we had the potential to disrupt the entire energy drink market and really the caffeine market as a whole,” Bogdan said. VAE Energy Spray comes in flavors like mint and mango and delivers 20mg of caffeine in three sprays.

The spray’s core ingredients are the amino acids L-theanine and L-tyrosine, also found in green teas like matcha, which Bogdan says avoids the bane of most overcaffeinated individuals: the crash. Amazingly, VAE Energy Spray isn’t the only spray-based caffeine vessel on the market, although rival Pzaz’s offering only has 3mg of caffeine per spray.

Their product has taken a long, circuitous road to production—including a crowdfunding campaign hit by delays and reports of defective spray bottles—the infusion of venture capital money already has the company looking forward. “What excites us about the future is that we realized, after working on our first products, that our technology can advance much further and eventually apply to other supplements as well,” Bogdan says. Not ones to aim low, Bogdan says they plan to disrupt other industries such as CBD, vitamins, and “eventually medicine.”

Read the full story here.

More News

‘Coffee Wage Survey Gives A Detailed Look At How Workers Are Paid’ – via Fresh Cup Magazine

‘USAID and Ofi Establish $8.1M Fund for Peru Coffee Development’ – via Daily Coffee News

‘Glitter Cat HR Wants To Diversify Human Resources In Coffee’ – via Sprudge

‘Black Sheep Coffee Unveils 15-store US Expansion Plan Ahead of Texas Launch’ – via World Coffee Portal

‘US Coffee Groups Back Farm Bill Amendment for Research Funding’ – via Daily Coffee News

‘First Look At The New Fellow Opus Grinder’ – via Sprudge

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

A piece in Bloomberg predicts a tough road ahead for the Starbucks union drive, outlining some of the factors that could hamper progress: 

  • Analysts predict little change when Laxman Narasimhan replaces current CEO Howard Schultz in April. “I would be wildly surprised if the new CEO changed anything about their view on unionization,” one analyst said.
  • Even though the company has been hit with countless National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rulings around employee firings and other labor law violations, it won’t matter: “The series of illegalities that they commit, there’s no cost to them,” said labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein. “There’s no large fines. There’s no people going to jail.”
  • Increasing sales shows that the company’s alleged union-busting doesn’t disappoint customers. “Consumers just don’t seem to care about this,” another analyst said.
  • Starbucks Workers United has consistently charged the company with a failure to bargain in good faith. “Starbucks continues to be exposed as a ruthless union-buster, failing to uphold the ‘progressive’ values it touts as a marketing tactic,” the union said in a statement.

But there is hope: while the NLRB is struggling to enforce rulings and mandates, baristas are now using local laws to put pressure on the megachain. Just weeks ago, 27 baristas at 23 stores in New York City accused Starbucks of local labor law violations, alleging that the company is in breach of the city’s Fair Workweek Law, which requires two weeks’ notice for all schedules from fast-food operators. Starbucks Workers United joined the baristas, along with the local (and powerful) chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The SEIU helped Chipotle employees win a $20 million settlement in 2022 after violating the same law.

And a federal judge in Michigan granted the NLRB’s request for a nationwide cease-and-desist order that would prevent Starbucks from firing workers for unionizing or other collective activities. Importantly, it will allow faster reinstatement of fired workers and the issuance of fines for noncompliance. “The District Court’s ruling confirms that Starbucks continues to violate the law in egregious ways, thus requiring a nationwide cease and desist order,” NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said. Starbucks said the order was “unwarranted” and that it acted within the law.

Is Coffee Good For You?

Coffee might cause kidney issues—or it might promote kidney health. Yes, for the second week in a row, we’re getting conflicting statements about the health benefits of coffee on a particular organ (last week, it was the heart and blood pressure). Previous studies have offered inconsistent results about the benefits of coffee on the kidneys, but new research has found that your genes could be the deciding factor.

The study, published in Nephrology, is a collaboration between Canadian and Italian researchers who studied 1,180 participants with untreated stage 1 hypertension using data from 1990 to the present. They found that those with the rs762551 variant of the CYP1A2 gene, which causes slower caffeine metabolism, were almost three times more likely to develop kidney dysfunction and hypertension.

About half of the study participants possessed the rs762551 variant, about the same percentage as the general population.

“These findings suggest that heavy coffee intake is associated with increases in the risk of kidney dysfunction among slow metabolizers of caffeine, who genetically comprise approximately half of the population, but not among fast metabolizers of caffeine,” the authors wrote.

“It was remarkable to see just how striking the effects of coffee were in the group that had this genetic variant,” lead author Dr. Sara Mahdavi said, “yet no effect whatsoever in those who did not.” Dr. Mahdavi noted that, due to the lack of caffeine, decaf coffee drinkers have no higher risk of kidney dysfunction, regardless of genetics.

Beyond the Headlines

‘The Greatest Film Of All Time Is About Coffee’ by Jackson O’Brien
‘Café de Manica Envisions a New Era for Coffee in Mozambique’ by Shavantay Minnis

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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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