Coffee News Club: Week of June 3rd

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Starbucks’ focus on speed increases wait times—and hurts workers. Plus, Ethiopian coffee farmers look to comply with impending EU deforestation legislation, and Rudy Giuliani’s coffee supplier gets subpoenaed.

’40 Minutes for Starbucks Coffee? Customers and Workers are Steaming’ – via Bloomberg

Starbucks has bet big on convenience, providing customers with easy ways to order coffee through mobile apps, delivery options, and drive-thru. But baristas say stores are understaffed, making it hard to cope with increasing orders, resulting in long wait times and dissatisfied customers.

Once upon a time, Starbucks aimed to be America’s “third place,” a space distinct from work and home where customers could meet friends and linger over their cappuccinos in a welcoming cafe environment. But that changed as the company expanded, and today a big part of Starbucks’ appeal is its convenience. The company has leaned into it by adding more drive-thru locations and emphasizing mobile ordering.

However, it’s unclear how the store has responded to labor needs due to increased mobile ordering. Bloomberg reports that a mysterious algorithm determines how stores are staffed, and baristas say the algorithm “doesn’t adequately account for the time it takes to fulfill a ballooning number of special customer requests like extra espresso shots or cold foam, as well as the effect of more corporate promotions.”

This, combined with a general exodus of employees over the last year, has led to understaffing and longer wait times. Although Starbucks disputes claims of understaffing, the megachain confirmed that longer wait times contributed to its recent sales decline.

Since becoming CEO in 2023, Laxman Narasimhan has pushed for increased productivity while asking baristas to spend more time on customer service. “Those competing demands have left some workers and customers feeling like Starbucks is doing neither warmth nor convenience very well,” Bloomberg reports.

Former CEO Howard Schultz commented on the focus on efficiency in a recent LinkedIn post responding to the company’s relatively poor sales report. “The stores require a maniacal focus on the customer experience, through the eyes of a merchant,” Schultz wrote. “The answer does not lie in data, but in the stores.”

Starbucks says it has changed the algorithm and adjusted how drinks are made to address staffing concerns and speed up service. The company is also experimenting with a new floating in-store role called the “play caller,” a barista whose job is to jump in wherever needed to alleviate potential bottlenecks.

Read the full story here or via the Seattle Times here.

‘Ethiopian Coffee is Threatened by European Deforestation Regulations’ – via Le Monde

As the implementation date for the European Union’s deforestation legislation (EUDR) creeps closer, coffee producers in Ethiopia are struggling to ensure compliance.

The legislation will require companies that export coffee to the EU to prove that their products did not contribute to deforestation, but that is easier said than done in many countries.

While countries like Brazil and Vietnam have already invested in traceability technology, it is more difficult in Ethiopia, where smallholder farmers grow most of the country’s coffee.

As Le Monde reports, “Providing accurate geographical surveys is a challenge for these 5 million or so smallholders: Internet coverage is poor in the villages, land registries are non-existent, and land disputes are legion. According to several Ethiopian diplomats and exporters, complying with the new European standards could take up to five years.”

Another issue is that most Ethiopian coffees are community lots made up of harvests from multiple, sometimes thousands, of producers. Le Monde reports that the EU legislation will require full traceability from the point of harvest to delivery, which, as one expert points out, might mean an importer would need to provide thousands of GPS coordinates for one lot of coffee.

And then there’s the fact that coffee farms in Ethiopia don’t contribute much to deforestation at all. “The vast majority of it grows in agroforestry systems,” one anonymous Ethiopia-based source told Le Monde. However, proving this is difficult, which means many European buyers are already looking elsewhere.

Growing demand in China could help offset some of the lost European market. NGOs and technology companies are trialing solutions to address traceability concerns along the coffee supply chain. Sprudge reports that some include “blockchain-led solutions, geospatial AI, and satellite imagery among others.”

Some producer groups are wary of for-profit companies and are trialing traceability programs themselves. The Oromia Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union gave 5,000 of its 500,000 members GPS units to map out their plots. While they are hopeful these will help farmers comply with EU restrictions, the group lacks funding to provide mapping tools to its other 495,000 farmers.

“If we get support, we will ensure we comply,” cooperative general manager Dejene Dadi told Sprudge, “but if we don’t get the support then we will have to maintain the farmers already supplying to the EU and then focus on other markets.”

Read the full story here.

‘Giuliani’s Coffee Venture Is Latest Bankruptcy Subpoena Target’ – via Bloomberg Law

In May, we reported on a new coffee brand hitting the market: Rudy Coffee, from none other than “America’s Mayor” Rudy Giuliani. The coffee, whose bags are emblazoned with AI-generated images of Giuliani and has buzzwords like “100% arabica” and “speciality,” provoked much ridicule on the internet

We also mentioned that Giuliani is bankrupt and facing a $148 million defamation judgment and possible criminal charges. And now, only a few weeks after launching Rudy Coffee, Giuliani’s creditors have subpoenaed the coffee roaster supplying Rudy his beans.

The subpoena requests information from Burke Brands LLC, a Miami-based roaster that, according to Giuliani’s business partner Dr. Maria Ryan, supplies Rudy Coffee. “The subpoena seeks communications between Burke, Rudy Coffee, and Giuliani and information about Burke’s role in the sale and distribution of the product,” Bloomberg Law writes. “It also seeks details about revenue and compensation related to the coffee.”

Dr. Ryan denied that Giuliani’s money troubles were the reason for launching Rudy Coffee. Ryan told MarketWatch that Giuliani loves coffee and has been looking into coffee equipment like grinders and espresso machines.

“He called himself a ‘barista!’ He enjoyed mixing different coffee beans, creating a unique blend of coffee,” Ryan said.

Giuliani declared bankruptcy after he lost a defamation case in which he was accused of spreading lies against two Georgia election workers regarding the 2020 US election. According to Bloomberg Law, a committee representing Giuliani’s creditors is “aggressively pursu[ing] his financial ties.” The Committee has also sent subpoenas to his son, various associates, and even the owner of a radio station that canceled Giuliani’s show.

Read the full story here.

More News

‘SCA’s World of Coffee Heading to Geneva in 2025‘ – via Daily Coffee News

Expocacer Farms Receive Low-Carbon Label from Imaflora‘ – via Global Coffee Report

‘There’s An Espresso Martini Bar In New York City’ – via Sprudge

South Korea’s Mega Coffee to Open First International Store in Mongolia‘ – via World Coffee Portal

Nicaragua Coffee Report: Production May Rebound Despite Ongoing Labor Shortage‘ – via Daily Coffee News

Coffee Shops, Cafés Grapple With Post-Pandemic, Remote Work Trends‘ – via The Wash

Starbucks, Luckin Coffee Struggle in China as Upstart Ignites Price War‘ – via Nikkei Asia

From a Renovated Farm in Puerto Rico Comes Cafe Don Mateo‘ – via Daily Coffee News

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

After alleging they were fired for unionizing, workers at Java Blend Coffee Roasters in Halifax, Nova Scotia, filed an unfair labor practice complaint in January and announced a boycott of the company in April. At the time, Java Blend owners said that the layoffs were due to financial difficulties.

Both the complaint and the calls for a boycott were withdrawn on Monday after Service Employees International Union Local 2 announced they had reached a settlement agreement with Java Blend ownership. The union drive began in early 2023, and a vote took place in June. The ballots remain sealed because of objections from Java Blend ownership over which employees could join the union. 

According to SEIU, ninety percent of Java Blend workers voted in favor of unionizing. As part of the agreement, Java Blend will rehire laid-off workers.

“We faced down every single possible obstacle the employer could have put in front of us and we stuck together and we had solidarity with each other and we won,” one of the lead organizers and fired Java Blend worker Cailen Pygott told CBC.

In a statement, the company told CBC that “we have agreed on a settlement last night and we will approach bargaining with the same transparency. We are looking forward to continuing to work with the union and the employees in good faith to reach a collective agreement.”

Beyond the Headlines

‘Why Guatemalan Coffee Farmers are Emigrating’ by Dominic Morrell

‘At Coffee Competitions, AAPI Competitors Turn to Asian Coffees’ by Arielle Rebekah

‘For Coffee’s Biggest Content Creators, Parasocial Relationships Are The New Normal’ by Jenn Chen

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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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