Coffee News Club: Week of March 6th


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You can still call oat milk “milk”… for now. Plus, a labor judge ruledStarbucks violated its employees’ rights “hundreds of times,” and the Ethiopian Cup of Excellence won’t be taking place this year.

‘Starbucks Violated Workers’ Rights “Hundreds of Times,” Labor Judge Says’ – via CBS News

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) judge has ruled that Starbucks displayed “egregious and widespread misconduct” in its dealings with organizing workers in Buffalo, New York.

Michael A Rosas, a federal administrative law judge, issued a 200-page decision “which consolidated 35 unfair labor practice complaints at 21 Buffalo-area stores filed by Starbucks Workers United, the labor union organizing Starbucks’ stores.” He ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven employees terminated from locations in the Buffalo area and to compensate 27 workers for violations like refusing to grant time off. Starbucks must post a notice in stores nationwide informing all employees of their right to unionize.

Interim CEO Howard Schultz must read or be present at a reading of the notice—the notice will include Starbucks’ “labor violations and workers’ rights in all US stores.” 

“This decision results from months of tireless organizing by workers in cafes across the country demanding better working conditions in the face of historical, monumental, and now deemed illegal union-busting,” said Michelle Eisen, a Starbucks union organizer and barista in Buffalo.

Rosas accused Starbucks of showing “a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights” in its response to the unionization drive, which began in Buffalo in 2021. The company repeatedly violated federal labor law, Rosas said, and along with reinstating fired workers, it must reopen a closed store and collectively bargain with several more stores in the Buffalo area.

Starbucks, for its part, is “considering all options to obtain further legal review,” adding that “we believe the decision and the remedies ordered are inappropriate given the record in this matter.”

Read the full story here.

‘Ethiopia Cup of Excellence Program Suspended for 2023’ – via Daily Coffee News

The Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE) announced that the Ethiopian Cup of Excellence (CoE) program would not take place in 2023, citing “numerous issues” within the country.

Ethiopia has hosted a national CoE competition since 2020. The coffee competition and subsequent auction have generated more than $3 million for coffee farmers since its inception. The project was implemented by ACE and CoE in collaboration with the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Authority with support from USAID and Feed the Future’s Value Chain Activity (FTFVCA). In 2021 FTFVCA ended the partnership, leaving ACE to work directly with the Coffee and Tea Authority.

It is not immediately clear what happened to cause the suspension. “It is with great regret that we temporarily suspend 2023 CoE Ethiopia and re-assert our efforts towards a 2024 program,” the ACE said in a statement. “ACE and CoE have made every attempt to continue with the 2023 edition, but the situation [in] Ethiopia has forced us to suspend our operation.”

Instead, the two organizations are refocusing on bringing a 2024 program to fruition. The Cup of Excellence and accompanying online auction has been running since 1999 and has been overseen by ACE since 2002. In 2020 the two organizations split, with CoE focusing on the competition, market access, and education, while the ACE continues to administer the winning auctions. The Ethiopian program has continuously broken records during auction, peaking with the winning lot of the 2022 competition fetching over $400 per pound.

Read the full story here.

‘Multiple Michigan Coffee Shops Temporarily Close Following Hate Letters’ – via Daily Coffee News

Two Michigan-based coffee shops, The Gathering Coffee Co. in Detroit and Strange Matter Coffee in Lansing, closed temporarily after receiving threatening letters.

The letters included words, images of hate, threats of harm, and specific dates. Per the Lansing State Journal, Strange Matter is a queer-owned coffee shop, while The Gathering has a majority queer team. Other retail companies across the state have also received antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ+ hate letters.

“A lot of it was quite frankly nonsensical rambling,” Strange Matter co-owner Elaine Barr told the State Journal, “but the things that got our attention was references to bombs, WW III, hate speech, and symbols. Several of the dates had already passed but we wanted to be cautious of some of the upcoming days in the letter.”

The Gathering launched a GoFundMe to cover lost wages and tips, while Strange Matter is accepting donations for staff through their Venmo tip jar @strangematterco. Investigations are ongoing, but both shops have reopened and are still accepting donations to support their team.

Read the full story here.

‘FDA Issues Controversial Draft Labeling for Plant-Based Milks’ – via Daily Coffee News

You can still call oat milk “milk” for the time being.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued an updated draft guidance on labeling dairy alternatives. The FDA said it would not prevent plant-based beverages from being labeled “milk.” 

However, the FDA still upheld their original 1973 FDA definition of the word milk, which they define as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.” The draft is currently accepting public comment.

Both alternative milk supporters and the dairy industry have issues with the draft. The Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) said that the draft was “discriminatory” to the alternative milk industry, as no other products or other types of animal-based milks are subject to the guidance, implying that non-dairy milks were “somehow inferior” to their often nutritionally-fortified dairy counterparts. The draft, the PBFA also said, would stifle the growth of the plant-based food industry. On the other side, two senators, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) called the draft “misguided” and “ill-advised” as it would allow “imitation products” to “deceiv[e] consumers.” Both senators are from states where the dairy industry is prominent. 

In this draft, the FDA notes that while consumers generally know that plant-based drinks don’t contain dairy, they might not be aware of the nutritional differences between cow’s milk and non-dairy alternatives.

In the coffee world, Blue Bottle Coffee and Stumptown Coffee Roasters have both announced plans to switch to oat milk as their default milk option. The Specialty Coffee Association will—for the first time ever—allow competitors to use alternative milks at the World Barista Championship 2023. Competitors are required to serve a milk-based drink as part of their presentations. 

Read the full story here.

More News

‘Westrock Coffee Acquires Specialty Coffee Roaster Bixby Roasting Co.’ – via World Coffee Portal

‘The Glasgow Coffee Festival Returns For Year Eight In May’ – via Sprudge

Official Trailer for Barista Comedy ‘Coffee Wars’ Starring Kate Nash’ – via First Showing

‘A Non-Alcoholic Pre-Workout Coffee Beer Just Dropped From Athletic Brewing Company’ – via Sprudge

‘Sucafina Opens State-of-the-Art Wet Mill in Yunnan, China’ – via Daily Coffee News

‘Issa Rae Just Opened Her 4th Coffee Shop Location: “This Is For The Dreamers And Doers”‘ – via Essence

‘The Color of Coffee Collective Hosts Its Second Annual Symposium’ – via Fresh Cup Magazine

‘A Robusta Made Its Way To The US Barista Championship, And You Can Try It’ – via Sprudge

‘Technivorm Moccamaster Brews its First Burr Grinder, the KM5’ – via Daily Coffee News

‘Indie Cafe in Brixton Takes On Hedge-Fund Backed Coffee Chain Over Name’ – via the Guardian

The Week in Coffee Starbucks Unionizing

  • Senator Bernie Sanders plans to subpoena Howard Schultz to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee about what Sanders has called Starbucks’ “concerted and relentless campaign against its workers’ efforts to organize.” Sanders said the HELP Committee will vote on whether to compel Starbucks’ interim CEO to appear after the company demurred, saying Schultz was not the right witness. “Let’s be clear. Howard Schultz is the founder of Starbucks, he is the CEO of Starbucks, he is the spokesperson of Starbucks, and he will continue to be on the Board of Directors at Starbucks well into the future,” Sanders wrote in a letter.
  • Another new complaint from the NLRB alleges that Starbucks broke the law over its move to create a “heritage district” in its Seattle hometown in June 2022, requiring workers at the three stores to reapply for their positions. Nearly half of the stores’ employees were not rehired, including a majority at one location in the midst of a union push. The complaint alleges that the company made these changes because workers were organizing, and to “discourage employees from engaging in union and/or protected, concerted activities” in the future. Starbucks said that the complaint has “no merit.”
  • Starbucks is facing backlash from its white-collar workforce over its handling of the union push, as dozens of corporate employees and managers signed an open letter to the company, also decrying its return-to-office mandate. “We love Starbucks, but these actions are fracturing trust in Starbucks leadership,” the workers wrote. “Morale is at an all-time low, and the brand reputation and financial value of this publicly traded company are at risk.” The letter follows an internal survey from 2022 that showed historically low faith in the company’s values among corporate employees due in part to upper management’s handling of the unionization drive among hourly workers.

Is Coffee Good For You?

It soon could be, officially.

The National Coffee Association has weighed in on an FDA request for comment on a proposal to allow “calorie-free beverages, coffee, and tea to bear the ‘healthy’ claim.”

The FDA seeks to update the definition of “healthy” on food and beverage labeling, proposing to align it with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, up-to-date nutrition science, and the updated nutrition facts label.

In response, the National Coffee Association wrote: “a deep body of scientific evidence spanning decades of independent research and many high-quality studies and meta-analyses concludes that coffee consumption is associated with multiple health benefits, including healthy body weight, improved liver health, improved cognitive functioning, and reduced risk of depression, among others.”

The American Heart Association also submitted a letter favoring coffee’s “healthy” label, although with a little more ambivalence on which coffee drinks might qualify. “AHA includes unsweetened coffee and tea as two beverage options in sample menus to help consumers achieve a heart-healthy dietary pattern.”

However, it also notes, “as with flavored waters, the FDA would need to carefully develop criteria to ensure that the ‘healthy’ designation would not appear on coffees and teas that do not contribute to a healthy diet, such as those with added sugars or heavy creams.”

Beyond the Headlines

‘All Neon Like: The Glowing, Glorious History Of Neon Coffee Art’ by Jenn Chen
‘Restaurant Chains Make It Cost More to Be Loyal’ by Julie Creswell

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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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