Coffee News Club: Week of October 23rd

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Peet’s and Nespresso kiss and make up. Plus, climate change means fewer pollinators and thus less coffee, and three new shops unionize.

‘Climate Change Is Killing Pollinators, And That’s Bad News For Coffee Production’ – via Sprudge

Coffee faces many challenges due to climate change, from unpredictable weather patterns to increased disease risk. Now, new research from the University College London points to yet another threat, as climate change and habitat loss combine to reduce the umber of insect pollinators in the tropics.

The study, published in Science Advances, examined data on thousands of pollinating insect species from crop-growing sites worldwide, such as bees, moths, hoverflies, and more. The authors found that increased temperatures and shrinking habitat from land use changes decreased the total number of pollinators by 61%. Robusta coffee requires cross-pollination to grow, which means robusta needs insects to carry pollen from one plant to another. While the Sprudge article notes that arabica coffee is self-pollinating, previous studies have shown that insect pollination increases coffee yields

“Our research indicates that the tropics are likely most at risk when it comes to crop production from pollinator losses, primarily due to the interaction of climate change and land use,” lead author Dr Joe Millard said in a press release. The authors cite Brazil, Indonesia, China, India, the Philippines, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa as countries most at risk from pollinator loss.

The study’s authors point to coffee, along with cocoa, as being particularly vulnerable to pollinator loss. “Similarly to cocoa, coffee production provides income to millions of small-scale farmers and their families in the tropics,” the authors write. “Therefore, the increased production risk due to loss of pollinators could lead to increased income insecurity for some of the most vulnerable people globally.”

Read the full story here.

‘Nespresso Ends Trademark Fight With Peet’s Over Coffee Pods’ – via Reuters

A longstanding trademark fight is finally coming to an end. 

In 2022, Nespresso USA, Nestlé’s high-end coffee subsidiary, sued California-based coffee chain Peet’s Coffee over pod design: Nespresso claimed that the design of Peet’s coffee pods was “nearly identical” to the ones they make. Nespresso claimed the design could “cause consumer confusion with its competing capsules,” according to Reuters. The similarities, Nespresso says in the lawsuit, included “the opaque color, frustoconical top portion, angled and straight sides connecting to the flange of the capsule, circular bottom, and inverted frustoconical indentation at the top” of Peet’s capsule.

Nespresso also accused Peet’s of purposefully confusing customers with its marketing, citing online reviews that mixed the two brands up. Peet denied copying the capsules’ design, arguing that Nespresso’s pod design didn’t warrant trademark protection. They also accused the company of trying to “extend a monopoly it had lost when patents covering its capsule system expired.” 

The capsule copyright wars have been raging for years, with Nespresso on both ends of lawsuits. At one point, the company had a monopoly on the pods people could use with its machines, and it sued multiple third parties to block them from selling compatible capsules. “Each time it has tried to stop one of [these companies] from selling similar, often cheaper, versions of its coffee pods,” a 2014 article in Quartz noted, “it has been forced to retreat.”

Finally, on October 18th, Nespresso and Peet’s “agreed to amicably resolve and dismiss all claims and counterclaims in their federal lawsuit concerning single-serve espresso capsules,” the two companies said in a statement, “as well as Peet’s opposition to Nespresso’s trade dress application in connection with the shape of single-serve espresso capsules. Nespresso and Peet’s cannot further comment on that resolution.”

Read the full story here.

More News

Crunch Time for Brazil Ports as Coffee Flow Hit, Sugar Vessels Delayed’ – via Reuters

Buoyant US Branded Coffee Shop Market Exceeds 40,000 Outlets for the First Time’ – via World Coffee Portal

Roast Magazine Announces 2024 Roaster of the Year Winners’ – via Daily Coffee News

New Sustainability Center Promotes ‘Circular’ Paradigm for Coffee Supply Chain’ – via STiR Coffee and Tea

‘It Was a Plague’: Killarney Becomes First Irish Town to Ban Single-use Coffee Cups’ – via the Guardian

ILO’s Vision Zero Fund and GCP Promote Occupational Safety and Health’ – via Global Coffee Report

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

  • Starbucks is taking its union to court over a social media post by Starbucks Workers United supporting Palestine. The company argued that the union’s use of the name Starbucks could confuse customers into thinking the statement reflected the company’s views and that “the ongoing confusion from this misinformation has sadly led directly to incidents where angry, hurt customers are confronting partners in our stores and sending graphic and violent messages to partners in our Customer Contact Center.” The union filed its own lawsuit alleging that Starbucks is using the incident to continue an “illegal anti-union campaign by falsely attacking the union’s reputation with workers and the public.”
  • Baristas at Maine-based Coffee By Design have announced plans to unionize, with 89% of retail workers at the company’s three Portland locations signing union cards. Local 327 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America will represent the workers in collective bargaining, who cited wages, hours, and benefits as reasons for organizing. Owner Mary Allen Lindemann said she supports the right of employees to unionize and that the company is “prepared to begin good-faith negotiations on a contract that protects our employees and the long-term viability of Coffee By Design.”
  • Thirteen workers at Rare Bird Coffee Roasters in Falls Church, Virginia, filed to unionize with Workers United. “This action is not anti-Rare Bird Coffee Roasters nor its owners,” the group said on Instagram. “We’re very pro-Rare Bird, which is why we’re seeking a place at the table. We want to see the business grow and succeed, and we want to be a part of it. We view this as a win-win situation for all of us involved. The business, the community, and ourselves will all see net positive benefits from us forming this union.”
  • Workers at Vibrant Coffee Roasters in Philadelphia are the latest to petition to join Local 80, a union set up to organize coffee shops and roasters across the city. According to workers, the company’s ownership first agreed to voluntarily recognize the union, but the company didn’t follow its words with paperwork and then hired an employment lawyer, which prompted workers to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board.

Is Coffee Good For You?

A specific plant alkaloid found in coffee could help with memory as we age.

Trigonelline is a plant alkaloid found in coffee as well as fenugreek seeds, garden peas, potatoes, and oats, among others. Researchers at the University of Tsukuba in Japan studied the effects of trigonelline on the memory of mice and found that it led to “significant improvement” in their performance navigating clinical memory tests. Trigonelline is present in both arabica and robusta coffee and “has been shown to possess hypoglycemic, neuroprotective, anti-invasive, estrogenic, and antibacterial activities.” 

For the study, published in GeroScience, researchers gave specially-bred accelerated-aged mice trigonelline for 30 days and then tested their memory and spatial learning skills using the Morris water maze. This test involves putting mice into a tub of cloudy water with a raised platform under the surface. The mice must locate, swim to, and climb out of the water using the platform. 

Researchers then performed analyses of the mice’s brains, finding that “the levels of neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin were significantly increased in the hippocampus.” Overall, the mice that had consumed the trigonelline showed “significantly improved” spatial learning and memory and less neuroinflammation, a “common phenomenon of cognitive aging.”

There’s plenty of research linking drinking coffee to improved memory. One study showed that coffee positively affects long-term memory, while another found that “moderate coffee consumption may provide neurological benefits.” In 2002, researchers found that caffeine may be a protective factor for Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, health findings about coffee tend to swing back and forth, and some studies have noted coffee’s negative impact on memory and brain health, including one study in 2021, which found that too much coffee could raise the risk of dementia.

Beyond the Headlines

‘Is the End of the Disposable Coffee Cup in Sight?’ by Aline Maigret

‘’Specialty Coffee Should be Enjoyed by Those Who Grow It’: The Farmer’s Daughter Joining Kenya’s Coffee-drinking Revolution’ by Fionn Pooler

‘A Brief History Of Alternative Coffee Substitutes’ by N.C. Stevens

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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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