Coffee News Club: Week of February 27th

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Raise your hand if you want to try Starbucks’ new olive oil coffee? Plus, producers in Central America are struggling to find workers as people migrate north, and drinking more coffee could help with prostate cancer survival.

‘Coffee Harvest Plunges Amid Central American Exodus’ – via Yahoo! News

Honduras and Costa Rica are in the middle of their coffee harvests. However, producers are struggling to employ coffee pickers, many of whom work seasonally, as laborers flee their countries in search of a better life. 

In Honduras, pickers earn the equivalent of $0.10 per kilo of coffee picked, an income one worker called “insufficient” as he tries to support a young family. Authorities estimate that 1,000 Hondurans leave the country daily to escape poverty and violence. Many hope to reach the United States even as the U.S. government proposes new rules to limit such immigration.

Costa Rica relies on migrant workers from neighboring Nicaragua to help harvest its 94,000 hectares of coffee farmland, where pickers can earn $0.15 per kilo. Nicolas Torres, 70, is one such worker from Nicaragua, who says that back home, work is hard to come by, and “a lot of pressure in the country… makes us emigrate.”

Harvesting coffee is a highly skilled and physically demanding job, often done by hand—although some farms use machinery to pick coffee, machines aren’t a viable alternative for most producers. Most coffee farmers live in poverty, making paying pickers a fair wage even more challenging. Over the past year, many big coffee brands have raised their prices, primarily citing inflation and the rising costs of goods and labor—but those increases don’t necessarily filter down to farmers. 

In Honduras, coffee yields were expected to increase by 17.7%; in Costa Rica, by 11.5%. However, without pickers, some coffee will simply not be harvested. In Costa Rica, one farm’s workforce shrunk from 70 to 50 workers—farm manager Geovanny Montero calculates that this will mean a 5% reduction in their coffee harvest. 

Montero attributes the fall in labor down to northward migration: “They have left for the United States.”

Read the full story here.

‘Starbucks’ Newest Coffee Drink Comes With a Surprise: Olive Oil’ – via CBS News

In an attempt to woo an Italian market still not keen on an American company trying to sell its coffee culture back to it, Starbucks is launching a new line of olive oil-infused drinks.

Interim CEO Howard Schultz developed the idea for the Oleato himself while on a trip to Sicily, apparently inspired by the local tradition of consuming a tablespoon of olive oil daily for health reasons. “In both hot and cold coffee beverages,” Schultz says in an announcement, “what it produced was an unexpected, velvety, buttery flavor that enhanced the coffee and lingers beautifully on the palate.”

Schultz thinks the Oleato could “disrupt the industry,” calling the launch “a transformational moment in the history of our company creating a new category, a new platform.” The new product line comes as Starbucks reported lower-than-expected earnings last month due partly to weak international demand.

Each of the five drinks in the new range will feature a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil—options include an oat milk olive oil latte and an espresso olive oil martini. The Oleato will debut first in Italy before being launched in Southern California in the spring, with a wider release planned for later in the year.

While Schultz has time to travel to Italy and launch new drinks, he doesn’t seem to have time to testify in front of the Senate. In an interview with CNN, he expressed his anti-union views, saying, “I don’t think a union has a place in Starbucks.” The interview comes as Senator Bernie Sanders pushes for Schultz to testify before the Senate about Starbucks’ “long-running non-compliance with federal labor law,” something that the company and Schultz are resisting.

Starbucks Workers United posted a video from an Italian barista responding to Schultz’s interview: “I feel so bad and so sad that Howard Schultz is trying to bust the union in the U.S. because this is not how we do things here in the Italian coffee shop.”

Read the full story here.

More News

‘Recall: Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino Drinks May Contain Glass; 300k Bottles Recalled’ – via USA Today

‘Bean For Bean Coffee Industry Mentorship Program Back for 2023’ – via Daily Coffee News

‘Rwanda: How High Price Fuelled Rwanda Coffee Exports Past U.S.$100 Million’ – via All Africa

‘Black Rifle Coffee Company is Being Sued by an RTD Beverage Consultancy’ – via Daily Coffee News

‘Brazil’s Coffee Sector Gears Up for EU Green Deal’ – via STiR Coffee & Tea

‘A Starbucks Worker Fired for Organizing Got His Job Back Thanks to NYC “Just Cause” Laws’ – via Jacobin

‘Cold Brew Hard Cider Exists And I Want It’ – via Sprudge

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

  • Last week, a federal judge in Michigan granted the National Labor Relations Board’s request for a nationwide cease-and-desist order to prevent Starbucks from firing workers for union activity. This week, that same judge withdrew the order, citing unidentified “errors,” and narrowed its scope to just one Ann Arbor location. U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith said the NLRB “has not demonstrated that Starbucks has implemented a corporate-wide anti-union policy.”
  • After a lull, more Starbucks locations filed for union votes nationwide. Stores in Arizona, Tennessee, California, and West Virginia (a first in the state) announced their intent to unionize over the past week. Workers at a Lynbrook, NY, store won their election.
  • Workers at a group of cafes in Somerville, MA, have approved union contracts that include raises and increased paid time off. Employees at Diesel CafĂ©, Bloc CafĂ©, and Forge Baking Company announced their intent to unionize in late 2021, and the cafe group’s owners voluntarily recognized the union soon after. Even with union recognition, the year-plus delay between unionizing and approving a contract shows how difficult the organizing process can be.
  • Intelligentsia has announced it will close two locations in Chicago, citing slow business and expiring leases. Both cafes are unionized, and the announcement memo says that management “intends to bargain stay bonuses and staff transfers with the union.” In contrast to the years-long process in Somerville, the union drive at Intelligentsia was swift, with only four months separating announcement and ratification.

Is Coffee Good For You?

Another week, another study. Last week, we read about how caffeine can affect the kidneys. Now, a study from Texas suggests that an extra cup of coffee could increase survival rates among people with prostate cancer—if they metabolize caffeine quickly.

The study, published in European Urology Oncology, examined a cohort of nearly 6,000 people with prostate cancer. The study analyzed patients’ coffee consumption and caffeine metabolism genotype and looked at six months of follow-up data.

Researchers found that high coffee intake didn’t significantly prolong prostate cancer survival. However, those with the CYP1A2 gene variant for fast caffeine metabolism or less aggressive cancers seemed to benefit from drinking more coffee.

“If you’re a fast caffeine metabolizer, and you drink coffee, it may be protective in terms of prostate cancer-specific survival,” said lead author Justin Gregg, a urologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Gregg cautions that the study participants were of European ancestry and that further research in underrepresented populations is needed to confirm his findings. But until then, while it’s too early to recommend prostate cancer patients drink more coffee, at least they needn’t cut down. 

Other researchers agree: “At this time, there’s no compelling evidence that coffee drinking adversely affects outcomes in men with prostate cancer, and based on this study, even for men who are slow caffeine metabolizers,” said Elizabeth Platz, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study.

Beyond the Headlines

‘Work Won’t Love You Back: After a Union Election Victory Comes the Hard Part’ by Sarah Jaffe
‘Coffee Costs More Now Than Ever, So Why Aren’t Farmers Paid More?’ by Ashley Rodriguez

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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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