Adventures of a Coffee Trainer by Emma Haines

Adventures of a Coffee Trainer by Emma Haines

The real cost of coffee: Unless you’ve been hiding away under a rock recently, it would have been difficult for you to miss the discussion and reporting around the coffee market struggles.

It can be hard to decipher what this means. If you’re not involved in trading, growing or processing coffee, then the language used to report on the state of the markets can be confusing. I mean, it’s normal for the market to change constantly, right?

Well, the truth is ‘no’. This isn’t normal or something that can be ignored - wherever you are in the chain. Even if you are just an occasional consumer, you have a part to play.

Much like any other commodity, the market fluctuates constantly. It’s affected by the strength of a producing country’s currency, harvest predictions, weather conditions, political unrest, the consumer demand, as well as the volatility of other commodities, such as crude oil, steel and iron ore. Therefore, coffee farmers have an incredibly tough time ensuring that their product goes to auction for a fair price.

With the terrible news on August 20 that the international price for coffee (C-price) dropped below $1 per pound (the lowest since 2006), against the cost of production that exceeds $1 per pound, it is hard not to realise the affect this has on producing countries.

Producers are being pushed further into poverty, while canny investors use short-term instability to make a quick buck, with farmers having little time to react.

If you imagine that a coffee plant will take on average five years to reach maturity, then the change in trends are not something that can be easily managed at source. Farmers are too often overlooked and are left supporting our cup of coffee directly from their own pocket.

So what can we do?

Sadly, there is no quick fix. However, we can work together to begin to address this crisis. We need to stop helping the rich becoming richer and start to put our money where our washed El Salvador sipping mouth is.

Whatever your involvement in the industry, we all need to talk about it. Don’t be afraid to discuss it, just because you don’t have a vast knowledge of the markets. We need to reach out to producers, look to source directly from them, paying a sustainable price. We need to work with green importers that are actively supporting farmers and their families.

Look at the projects and ask where your money is going.

We also need to close the gap between Commercial and Speciality coffee. Whilst Speciality has done absolute wonders for farmers, helping them increase the price paid for their green product dramatically, Commercial coffee has sadly not seen the same support. Whilst understanding that improving quality and pushing boundaries with processing can lead to some absolutely outstanding coffees, we need to accept that for the majority of growers, a ‘good’ coffee still holds value and deserves the right compensation. It’s ok to seek something with a lower cupping score, especially when you know the farm workers are paid a living wage.

After all, there’s nothing sweeter than a cup of coffee with a transparent supply chain that has paid fairly. Nobody should seek the bitter aftertaste of undervalued production.

  • Emma has worked in hospitality and catering training for the last 10 years. For the last five years, she has focused on coffee training, in particular specialty coffee training and how to incorporate specialty elements into commercial environments. She works all over Europe and beyond, and is a resident trainer at London School of Coffee.


Further reading: Reuters - coffee producers seek urgent talks on low prices.


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