Coffee News Club: Week of July 3rd

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Don’t talk to me until I’ve had (the experience of drinking) my coffee. Plus, World Coffee Research warns of an innovation crisis in coffee production, the coffee world crowns four new world champions, and workers at a suddenly-closed Revelator Coffee store hold an impromptu metal benefit concert.

‘Here Are The Winners From The 2023 World Coffee Championships In Athens’ – via Sprudge

After a weekend of intense competition and feats of skill, flair, and finesse, the coffee world has crowned four new world champions: 

  • The 2023 World Barista Champion is Boram Um of Brazil 
  • Carlos Medina of Chile won the World Brewers Cup competition 
  • The World Cup Tasters Championship was won by Young Baek of Australia
  • Pierre de Chanterac of France took home the World Cezve/Ibrik Championship trophy. Congratulations to the winners!

The competitions occurred during the Specialty Coffee Association’s annual World of Coffee trade show in Athens, where 140 coffee professionals from across the globe vied for various coffee titles. Three more world coffee competitions—roasting, latte art, and Coffee in Good Spirits—will take place in November in Taipei, Taiwan.

The World Coffee Championships is a slice of some of the best the coffee industry has to offer. “As those who were following along with the Livestream can aver, these were coffee professionals at the top of their game,” wrote Sprudge of the events in Athens. “And even taking into account all the wonderful signature beverages and experimental coffees they got to taste, it’s safe to say no one envied the position the judges found themselves in. Deciding between these fields at this level feels like something beyond splitting hairs.”

Read the full story here.

‘New WCR Research Outlines “Innovation Crisis” in Green Coffee’ – via Daily Coffee News

A new white paper from World Coffee Research warns that the coffee industry faces an “innovation crisis.” The white paper estimates that approximately $452 million will be needed for new agricultural research and development over the next decade. Otherwise, the researchers predict, green coffee diversity and quality will suffer.

The white paper is authored by Dr. Mywish K. Maredia and Jose Maria Martinez of Michigan State University’s Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics. Without additional investment in R&D, the authors argue, the industry will see increased consolidation in coffee production—coffee growing will be concentrated within fewer countries and farmers.

Outside of Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia, coffee productivity is decreasing—despite growing demand and the threat of climate change to existing farms. “If current trends continue,” the authors write in the introduction, “we will be unable to meet the world’s growing demand for coffee, let alone to ensure that coffee production is economically and environmentally sustainable.”

Just ten percent of current funding for research and development within the coffee industry comes from the private sector, with the remaining 90% made up of public sector investment. The paper calls the current state of agricultural R&D investment in coffee “shockingly low,” at just $115 million annually. That equals just half a cent for every dollar of green coffee produced globally—raising that number to just 2 cents per dollar would be enough to make up the $452 million investment gap. 

While investment in R&D needs to increase worldwide, the authors argue that more than 80% of any increase should benefit growers in Latin America and Africa, two regions that have historically suffered from underinvestment. 

Read the full story here.

‘Workers Who Joined Starbucks for Transgender Health Benefits Worry They Are Now At Risk’ – via Fast Company

Starbucks has built a reputation for offering trans employees excellent health benefits. The website Them called the company’s 2018 supplemental insurance plan “the most comprehensive trans health policy in the world.” 

However, that lauded supplemental insurance looks set to be watered down in September. This is causing many trans workers to worry about having to pay out of pocket for expensive care and losing access to the best doctors. One worker told Fast Company they are waiting to “learn if the benefit I came to Starbucks to use is still going to exist in time for me to use it.”

Starbucks says the change in coverage is due to a new Washington state law and that trans workers will still be able to get the same level of care. As the author notes, “What is set to change, however, is which plan covers these procedures—the zero-deductible, no-copay secondary plan, or a primary plan that is likely to include cost-sharing, which would shift a portion of the costs back onto the worker.”

The new law aims to make health insurance in the state more trans-inclusive but has resulted in ambiguity and uncertainty amongst workers. “Because Starbucks’s supplemental plan is so good,” Fast Company writes, “Washington’s law requiring coverage under a primary plan risks being a step backwards for Starbucks workers.”

Confusion abounds, even among those within the health insurance industry. Trans employees are being told by insurance advisers to schedule procedures as soon as possible, and doctors say they don’t understand the upcoming changes enough to advise Starbucks workers.

Read the full story here.

‘Revelator Coffee Employees, Metal Band Take Over Birmingham Café After Sudden Closure’ – via AL.com

Revelator Coffee closed its downtown Birmingham, Alabama, location without warning, so workers took over the space and threw an impromptu benefit concert for affected staff.

On June 23rd, Revelator Coffee, a coffee roastery with now just two retail locations in Louisiana and Alabama, closed its downtown Birmingham location. Handwritten signs on the cafe’s door indicated that workers were neither given severance nor warned about the abrupt closure. Will Russell, a former Revelator barista and member of the band Apprehend, told AL.com that staff had found out about the closure via text message. Russell said management speculated “that the store became too expensive to continue to operate.”

According to Russell, the concert, featuring Apprehend and several other local hardcore bands, raised “a few hundred dollars” to be shared among former staff.

AL.com tried to contact Revelator for comment but so far has been unsuccessful. Founded in 2014, Revelator was once dubbed “the next Blue Bottle” as it went on a venture capital-backed acquisition and expansion drive across the American South. At its peak, Revelator controlled 20 locations under various names but has since closed most of its stores. The company’s social media has been silent since November 2022.

Read the full story here.

More News

Taika Waititi Joins Taika The Coffee Drink Brand‘ – via Sprudge

Arabica Coffee Hits 6-month Low, Loses 8.8% in the Week‘ – via Nasdaq

Australia’s Richest Barista Competitors Announced‘ – via BeanScene Magazine

Kenya Plans to Borrow Key Lessons From Colombia to Boost its Coffee Production‘ – via Farmers Review Africa

AeroPress XL Is Here‘ – via Sprudge

‘China Tea Drinkers Embrace African Coffee, Thanks to Millenials’ – via the East African

Littler Cashes in on Starbucks’ Sprawling Anti-Union Campaign‘ – via Bloomberg Law

“That’s Not Us!’: Blank Slate Coffee Would Like You to Know It Is Not Blank Street‘ – via New York Times

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

  • The two-week-long union strike at Little Dog Coffee Shop in Maine has come to an end. Workers went on strike over failures by the shop’s owner to negotiate a contract and ongoing issues with maintenance and staffing. The union didn’t say why the strike ended, but an unidentified person inside the store told the Times Record that he had bought the shop’s equipment and planned to reopen it under a new name, indicating a change in ownership. Little Dog’s current owner did not comment, but union signs and the shop’s logo were removed.
  • Starbucks will issue “clearer” guidelines for in-store decorations and displays after allegations from Starbucks Workers United that managers were banning Pride decorations. These new guidelines will “continue to represent inclusivity and our brand,” according to the memo. Thousands of workers walked off the job in protest of the removals, which the union says has closed 21 locations, including the company’s flagship roastery in Seattle.
  • Starbucks has filed a labor complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the Pride decorations allegations, accusing the union of “a smear campaign” that has “ignited and inflamed workplace tension.” Starbucks Workers United filed its own complaint and called the company’s filing a “public relations stunt.”

The Week in Corporate Coffeewashing

The non-profit Global Coffee Platform has received $1.5 million in funding from some of the world’s largest coffee companies to kickstart what it’s calling “the launch of a new era of collective action in coffee sustainability.”

GCP 2.0, as it’s called, will be a “farmer-centric approach” that “entails focused local collective actions in coffee producing countries together with local stakeholders, complemented with a global drive to increase sustainable sourcing.” The funding will, according to GCP Executive Director Annette Pensel, “catalyz[e] transformational change around living income, climate adaptation and sustainability for over one million coffee farmers around the world.” The announcement did not give specifics.

Together, eight companies have made pledges totaling $1.5 million: JDE Peet’s, Melitta Group, Mother Parkers’ Coffee & Tea, Nescafé, Nespresso, Ofi (Olam Food Ingredients), Rabobank, and Westrock Coffee Company.

In the same week researchers warn about underinvestment in coffee, eight of the biggest coffee companies are combining together to donate a measly $1.5 million.

The combined revenue for the eight brands in 2022 was tens of billions of dollars. JDE Peet’s and Nespresso alone brought in $7.5 billion and $6.9 billion last year—$1.5 million is a rounding error for these companies.

Is Coffee Good For You?

Are you one of those people who needs coffee in the morning? Someone to whom people shouldn’t talk before you’ve had that caffeine hit? According to new research, it’s not necessarily a simple injection of caffeine but rather the ritual of drinking coffee that provides an alertness boost.

Scientists in Portugal conducted MRI scans on coffee drinkers to test brain activity, giving some subjects a caffeine pill and others a delicious cup of coffee. The researchers found that “the connectivity of the default mode network was decreased both after drinking coffee and after taking caffeine, which indicates that consuming either caffeine or coffee made people more prepared to move from resting to working on tasks.”

The study, published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, found something more. Those who drank coffee showed increased connectivity in the “higher visual network and the right executive control network.” These parts of the brain are associated with working memory, cognitive control, and goal-directed behavior. The caffeine-takers didn’t experience the same increase.

Lead author Dr. Maria Picó-Pérez of Jaume I University sums it up: “In simple words, the subjects were more ready for action and alert to external stimuli after having coffee” versus the caffeine pill group.

The researchers also pointed out that while chugging a Coke might provide some of the same benefits, it can’t compete with a damn fine cup of coffee. “Taking into account that some of the effects that we found were reproduced by caffeine, we could expect other caffeinated drinks to share some of the effects,” said Picó-Pérez. “However, others were specific for coffee drinking, driven by factors such as the particular smell and taste of the drink, or the psychological expectation associated with consuming that drink.”

Beyond the Headlines

‘Death to “Time to Lean, Time to Clean”‘ by Ashley Rodriguez

‘Coffee Value Assessment: Exploring The SCA’s New Tool For Coffee Evaluation’ by Jenn Chen

‘Defiance and Gay Frog Donuts: How Strange Matter Coffee is Navigating the Anti-LGBTQ+ Backlash’ by Fionn Pooler

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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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