Coffee News Club: Week of June 10th

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Spreadable coffee! In a Tub! Yum! Coffee News Club Fresh Cup Magazine

Spread your coffee on toast. Plus, robots take over a Starbucks in Korea, and more coffee acquisitions and unions!

‘100 Robots Running Starbucks: A Glimpse Into The Future Of Coffee Shops’ – via Benzinga

The headline is a little misleading—the robots aren’t running Starbucks; they just deliver the coffee. 

At NAVER 1784, a South Korean robotics test site, staff can order coffee from Starbucks on their phones and have it delivered right to their desk by one of 100 tiny robots.

1784, a 28-story tower in Seongnam, is billed as the world’s largest robotics testbed and doubles as Naver’s headquarters as the company prepares “for a world where robots naturally coexist in our daily lives.” A fleet of service machines, called Rookies, deliver food, packages, and coffee around the building using Naver’s multi-robot operating system ARC.

A remote data center manages the robots, which “travel at speeds of one meter per second and are equipped with cameras and sensors to prevent collisions,” according to Benzinga. A video showcasing the system features human Starbucks baristas making drinks and placing orders inside the Rookies. These little R2D2s then traverse the building to deliver their cargo—they even have their own mini elevator, presumably because robots aren’t great with stairs.

Of course, someone still has to make the coffee—at least until Naver can automate that as well. 

Robot baristas and delivery robots are already a thing, but this huge, multi-floor test site takes things to another level. Naver is leaning into the futuristic, if slightly eerie, nature of having robots shuffling around its building: “Robots rapidly moving up and down call to mind the transportation systems of futuristic cities depicted in sci-fi novels,” the company said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

‘StoneX Acquires Mercon Specialty, Launches StoneX Specialty Coffee’ – via Daily Coffee News

In December 2023, the Netherlands-based coffee trader Mercon Coffee Group filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States. Mercon was one of the world’s largest green coffee traders and listed debts of $363 million in its bankruptcy filing. The company blamed a litany of outside factors for its plight, including logistical difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, volatile coffee prices, and erratic weather patterns in Brazil.

Now, Stone X, a publicly traded financial services company, has acquired Mercon’s specialty arm and launched a new brand called StoneX Specialty Coffee. “Leveraging decades of experience in the specialty green coffee industry and with established origin relationships in over 20 countries, this well positions us to empower independent roasters by sourcing and delivering the world’s finest coffee,” StoneX said in an announcement.

Meanwhile, Mercon sold its Vietnam-based business unit, Mercafe Vietnam Ltd., to Swiss green coffee giant Sucafina. The purchase, which is still to be completed, will give Sucafina expanded access to the world’s largest robusta-producing country and provide Mercon with “the best opportunity to maximize the sale price,” according to court filings.

While all this seems very financial and bloodless, Mercon’s bankruptcy directly impacted producers. Nicaraguan Mercon subsidiary—and the country’s top exporter—CISA Exportadora unexpectedly shut down just before the filing, leaving farmers without a buyer for their coffee or financing for the next harvest. 

Read the full story here.

‘Coffee in a Tube Squeezes Like Toothpaste for Brewing … or Eating’ – via New Atlas

Instant coffee has come a long way over the last few years. Where once all we had were jars of freeze-dried disappointment, now specialty coffee has elevated the concept to a truly delicious level. We live in an era where nearly every roaster has an instant coffee option that, while perhaps not as unctuous as its freshly brewed counterpart, still provides a serviceable and pleasant drinking experience. 

But what if you need your caffeine fix faster than instant? And what if you’re also hungry? 

That’s the pitch from No Normal, a Swiss startup that has designed an edible, slightly sweetened coffee paste that comes in a tube. New Atlas states it’s a “dissolvable paste that can be mixed with water in a cup, spread onto breakfast pastries or simply gobbled straight out of the tube.”

There’s only one paste option available so far: a dark-roasted coffee from Colombia, which New Atlas says is “100% Fair-trade-certified.” However, No Normal’s product page just calls the paste concoction “100% arabica.” 

The product is marketed specifically to the outdoorsy crowd. No Normal “work[ed] with dozens of outdoor enthusiasts while developing and refining the product.” The tubular coffee made its first public appearance at a Swiss ski and snowboard event and officially launched at a German outdoor show, where it won an innovation award

Jury members were intrigued by it, among other reasons, because it is the “first coffee you can not only drink but eat.”

Read the full story here.

More News

European Roasters Call for Delay in EU Deforestation Rules (EUDR)‘ – via Daily Coffee Report

Cup of Excellence El Salvador Breaks Scoring Record‘ – via Global Coffee Report

Sofía Vergara Launches New Colombian Coffee Line Highlighting the Legacy of Female Growers’ – via Rolling Stone

AeroPress Goes Bigger On The Go With The New AeroPress Go Plus’ – via Sprudge

Scientific Review Calls for Standardization in Coffee Life Cycle Assessments’ – via Daily Coffee News

Specialty Coffee Shops Market to Grow by US$57.41 Billion by 2028‘ – via Global Coffee Report

Starbucks Partners with Food Delivery Platform Grubhub’ – via Reuters

Would You Pay A Subscription To Hang Out At A Coffee Shop?‘ – via Sprudge

‘Vietnam’s Coffee Trees Stunted By Drought, Heat And Pests‘ – via Barron’s

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

A piece in Nation’s Restaurant News looks at three union drives at three specialty coffee chains: Bluestone Lane and OCF Coffee House, both in Philadelphia, and Compass Coffee in Washington, D.C.

In Philadelphia, workers at all three Bluestone Lane locations in the city voted unanimously to unionize, joining the city’s cafe union Philadelphia Joint Board of Workers United, Local 80. Workers petitioned to join Local 80 in April, asking the Australian-inspired chain’s CEO for voluntary recognition of their union. The company declined to recognize the union voluntarily, so the matter went to a vote, which the union won. 

According to a tweet from Local 80, Philadelphia has “the highest percentage of union density in the coffee industry in the United States, all organized by Local 80 in less than two years.”

Meanwhile, workers at OCF Coffee House’s three Philadelphia locations signed a letter requesting voluntary recognition of their union and announcing their affiliation with Local 80. “We know what we deserve: a safe, democratic workplace where we can earn a living wage and have our voices not just heard but respected,” the letter reads. “And we know that the only way to make that happen is to come together in solidarity as coworkers to assert our collective power.”

And finally, employees at seven of Compass Coffee’s 17 locations filed to unionize through Workers United. The company refused to recognize the union voluntarily, so organizers are seeking a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. Nation’s Restaurant News says Workers United expects more Compass Coffee locations to join the effort soon.

Compass workers cite various reasons for unionizing, from erratic scheduling to unsafe working conditions to management implementing a no-tipping policy. Workers described what they believe were “arbitrary disciplinary actions,” such as one barista who was written up for not smiling enough. Organizers also accused Compass’s upper management of union busting.

“It’s important for any worker to have a union … and especially in food service, which is an intensely exploitative industry,” Compass worker and organizer Cameron Call told the Washington Post. “Just because we’re not saving lives or putting out fires, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth having a secure career with a fair income and benefits.”

A representative for Compass told Nation’s Restaurant News that “we recognize and deeply value the hard work and dedication of our employees” and “we take their concerns seriously and are committed to actively engaging in constructive dialogue to address them.”

Beyond the Headlines

‘The Difference Between a Buzzing Cafe and a Noisy One Is Smaller Than You Think’ by Ashley Rodriguez

‘Could a Private-Equity-Backed ‘Collective’ Offer a Template for Specialty Coffee’s Future?’ by Fionn Pooler

‘How Palestine Led My Coworkers and Me to Unionize’ by Taylor Valci

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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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