Crop Talk with Dustin Fleming
Welcome to Crop Talk, our blog series with Barnie’s Coffee & Tea’s Manager of Coffee Programming, Dustin Fleming. No matter which Crop Ex batch you’ve brewed for the day, Dustin’s the man who saw it through, from sourcing to roast.
Today Dustin delves into the coffee industry at large – how coffee is traded, where the money goes and what it all means for you, the coffee drinker.
We know people love their coffee, but just how big IS Big Coffee, so to speak?
Coffee is the second most traded commodity (in terms of value) in the world, second only to oil. Over 25 million people worldwide—mostly operating small farms in developing countries—rely on coffee as their primary source of income. The coffee they harvest is sold on the International Coffee Exchange (ICE) by massive importing and exporting companies for a flat rate per pound. The price of that coffee changes daily based on current market conditions. For example, if Brazil, the world’s #1 coffee producing nation, has a huge drought and only produces 80% of its usual harvest, coffee prices will rise due to the decrease in supply and the steady demand.
Where do Fair Trade coffees figure into wider coffee market? Don’t Fair Trade beans help protect farmers from market instability?
Fair Trade coffee allows many farmers to charge a higher price for their coffee, provided they show documentation proving certain labor, environmental, and safety standards have been met. This is great, and I love the rationale behind it, but the execution falls short of expectations. That’s due to the exponential increase of specialty coffee and its success worldwide.
What exactly is Specialty Coffee?
Specialty coffee is a term used for coffee that is analyzed by Q Graders and given a score of 83+ on a scale of 1-100. Typically, coffee of this grade is sold at a differential on the ICE to specialty coffee roasters, currently at about $2.50-$350.52/lb. Crop-Ex coffees come from beans in the $14-$20 range, with some outliers such as Kona or micro lots costing much more. Farmers who grow coffee of this quality are rewarded with higher premiums for their product, and they typically reinvest these profits into their employees and farm.
Like many beverages—think wine and beer—there are different tiers of “objective” quality in coffee. With wine, you have the Three Buck Chucks and box wines of the world, but you also world-renowned vintages like Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino (2010 being a personal favorite of mine). A wine drinker can choose between buying a low- or a high-end vintage. Depending on the occasion and the mood, that shopper may splurge for a premium bottle or grab a bottle of your typical daily drinker. People are learning to approach coffee in the same way. You can buy a tub of coffee at $5/lb from a grocery store or a Panamanian Geisha 2 days off roast at $80/lb.
Eighty dollars for a pound of coffee? Really?
Frankly, I don’t buy that for myself. What excites me is the infinitely large space between the cheapest and the most expensive coffees, where Crop Ex fits. All of our coffees use beans that meet high requirements in both bean quality and taste. This means that I will spend much of my day “cupping” all sorts of different coffees while examining the beans for defects. To a coffee lover, this sounds delightful, but it’s one of the most difficult parts of my work as Manager of Coffee Programming.
Specialty coffee is now 30% of the global coffee market and growing steadily year-to-year. But specialty coffee isn’t about pretentious millennials (that’s me), industrial cafes or high prices; it’s about the people behind the scenes and giving them what they deserve for their hard work.
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