Coffee News Club: Week of July 24th

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The world’s largest Starbucks is unionizing! Plus Keurig Dr Pepper invests in La Colombe, and 93% of Kenyan coffee farmers report feeling the effects of the climate crisis. 

‘Keurig Dr Pepper Buys Into La Colombe with $300 Million’ – via Daily Coffee News

The beverage conglomerate Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP) has paid $300 million for a 33% stake in La Colombe Coffee Roasters.

In addition to the cash investment, the deal includes “a strategic partnership” and a long-term distribution agreement. As part of the deal, KDP will sell La Colombe’s shelf-stable ready-to-drink (RTD) coffees through its store network and manufacture and distribute a line of La Colombe-branded K-Cup coffee pods.

Philadelphia-based La Colombe was once at the forefront of the specialty coffee movement alongside Blue Bottle, Stumptown, and Intelligentsia, all of which have been swallowed up by larger companies (Blue Bottle by Nestlé and Stumptown and Intelligentsia by Peet’s/JAB Holding). La Colombe pursued a bold expansion strategy in the 2010s fueled by private equity investment, opening more retail locations and moving aggressively into the nascent RTD coffee market. La Colombe is also embroiled in its union saga, with workers at several Chicago and Washington, DC stores voting to unionize over the past year. 

KDP’s press release describes La Colombe as “an independent, high-growth, super premium coffee company,” and the company’s larger-than-life co-founder Todd Carmichael (of coffee travel TV show ‘Dangerous Grounds’ fame) has long defended that independence. The irony is not lost on Daily Coffee News, which notes that Carmichael wrote an article for Esquire in 2011 bemoaning corporate investment’s increasing influence in specialty coffee by referencing recent private equity investment in Stumptown.

“What advice can I give to anyone who’s mourning this loss? Vote with your dollar and avoid Wall Street-owned roasters,” Carmichael wrote. “Hopefully then they will leave our roasters alone. In the process, they may even realize that some consumers do care that there is a real, hardworking craftsman behind the things they eat and drink.”

Read the full story here.

‘Kenyan Coffee Farmers Already Experiencing Climate Change: Fairtrade Reports’ – via Global Coffee Report

North America, Europe, and Asia are sweltering as a global heatwave rages on and continues to break temperature records. While the effects of the heatwave have been devastating and immediate, Kenyan coffee farmers are sounding the alarm about the long-term impact of rising temperatures.  

In a survey conducted by the Fairtrade Foundation, 93% of coffee producers in Kenya said they were already experiencing the impacts of climate change, “including more erratic rainfall and an increase in pests and diseases.”

These insights come from a study by the Fairtrade Foundation and Fairtrade Africa. The study utilized a mobile phone reporting project, FairVoice, where producers could give testimonials about their experiences working on farms in real time. “Using their mobile phones,” Fairtrade International reports, “farmers and workers can share insights and respond to questions, which are received directly by the platform.”

Fairtrade International formally announced the findings of the study on Wednesday and noted the financial implications of the climate crisis for farmers. “As well as losing income from damaged coffee beans through diseases or pests such as thrips and coffee berry disease,” the announcement said, “it costs farmers extra money to invest in planting new varieties of coffee plants, manage infestations or grow alternative crops to generate extra income.”

Fairtrade International provides training to farmers that includes climate resilience techniques— 90% of survey respondents reported they use these strategies. “Me and my community are trying to preserve water sources, planting trees and preventing soil erosion,” said John Gachenga, a coffee farmer and FairVoice Community Researcher. “We make decisions through discussion and community meetings.”

In April, Fairtrade International announced they would increase their green coffee price minimums. Although the study was conducted before the price rises, the study’s authors predict that future surveys will help understand “the extent to which the price increase further supports farmers with climate adaptation.”

Read the full story here.

More News

Coffee Groups Unite for the Hot Medicated Summer Raffle‘ – via Daily Coffee News

Tea and Coffee Keep the Cost of an English Breakfast Over £35‘ – via Bloomberg

Portland Coffee Legend Jim Roberts of Coffee People Dies‘ – via Daily Coffee News

Woman Struck By Meteorite While Drinking Coffee Now Surely Has Super Powers‘ – via Sprudge

Dates and Locations of 2024 US Coffee Championships Preliminaries’ – via Daily Coffee News

Arabica Coffee Gains as Rain May Slow Brazil’s Harvest‘ – via Nasdaq

Spinn Coffee is Burning Through Cash, But Says It Will Reach Profitability as It Raises More Money‘ – via The Spoon

Would You Try? Edgy Cliffside China Cafe Offers US$55 Cup of Coffee With a View Perched on 200-meter Rock Face‘ – via South China Morning Post

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

The world’s largest Starbucks is unionizing. Workers at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Chicago, one of three reserve roasteries in the US, announced their intent to join Starbucks Workers United. If successful, the union would represent over 200 employees.

Covering 35,000 square feet over five floors, Sprudge calls the Chicago roastery “the jewel in the Starbucks crown” and “the Davos of the demitasse.” According to the Chicago Tribune, the potential bargaining unit includes “about 230 baristas and mixologists…bakers…and operations leads who work in retail and customer service” but not roasters as they are not retail employees.

“We are tired of seeing our coworkers burnt out, bullied, and mistreated everyday,” said operations lead Jamie Williamson. “I love my job, I love my coworkers, and I love the people we serve. I know we all deserve to experience the Roastery the way it should be — as a space where everyone feels welcome, appreciated, and valued.”

Workers cite a desire for higher wages and concerns over overcrowding and safety at the tourist-driven store as reasons for unionizing. “It’s not safe for the workers, it’s not safe for the space. But the management only cares about the money,” said Kyra Supnet of the overcrowding issue. Workers say they were also expected to continue working during recent tornado warnings in Chicago.

Starbucks says it remains “committed to supporting our Chicago Roastery partners. Our partners and their safety are core to our operation.” 

According to reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times, a supermajority of workers at the roastery signed union cards. A vote could happen within weeks. 

The Week in Corporate Coffeewashing

JDE Peet’s is now offering its instant coffee packaged in paper. In a press release about the move to paper, the company calls the packaging “the first of its kind in the coffee market.” Sustainability Magazine says it will reduce the company’s “carbon footprint and promot[e] reuse.”

The press release states that the new packaging is “designed to create a more sustainable ecosystem in the soluble coffee market by incentivising the reuse of existing glass jars and tin formats. Moreover, the coffee from this new paper pack will generate the lowest carbon footprint within the existing range of JDE Peet’s products.”

The launch is part of the coffee giant’s “Common Grounds” sustainability initiative, which involves “championing regenerative agriculture to enhance livelihoods and positively impact our planet,” “striving towards a planet-positive supply chain,” and “engaging colleagues and communities to support wellbeing and promote equal opportunity.”

JDE Peet’s, which is “majority indirectly” owned by JAB Holding (the same conglomerate that owns the La Colombe-invested Keurig Dr Pepper), posted sales of $8.7 billion and growth of 16 percent in 2022. In 2021, the company was responsible for releasing the equivalent of 6.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, which, as we’ve noted before, is more than countries like Iceland or Belize.

Is Coffee Good For You?

Espresso compounds could inhibit a process that is thought to be involved in the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s belongs to a group of neurodegenerative diseases called tauopathies which involve the abnormal function of tau proteins. Tau proteins help stabilize nerve cells in the brain, but during the development of certain conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, the proteins can accumulate and clump together. Researchers believe that preventing this accumulation could alleviate Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Previous studies examining coffee’s effect on diseases such as Alzheimer’s have generally been inconclusive: some have found that it helps protect against the disease, while others have come to the opposite conclusion. This new research, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, focused on whether coffee compounds could impact the accumulation of tau proteins.

For the study, scientists from the University of Verona in Italy extracted and freeze-dried espresso shots and investigated how various compounds found in the espresso interacted with tau proteins after incubation. They found that compounds within an espresso shot restricted tau protein accumulation and aggregation, with the entire shot as a whole working the best.

“We have presented a large body of evidence that espresso coffee, a widely consumed beverage, is a source of natural compounds showing beneficial properties in ameliorating tau-related pathologies,” the authors write in their conclusion. “Our findings could pave the way for further investigation into the design of bioactive compounds in the prevention and treatment of tauopathies.”

Beyond the Headlines

‘Fresh Reads: A Conversation With Lucia Bawot of We Belong’ by Bailey Spear

‘Finding REAL Coffee Content Online’ by Mark Prince

‘Opinion: Inside Starbucks’ Dirty War Against Organized Labor’ by Megan K. Stack

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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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