Coffee is cheap. Way cheap.
Coffee is a commodity that’s traded on the futures market. The vast majority of coffee is bought by the cargo-container load by mega corporations that roast it, grind it, stale it, spray it with aroma du cafe and pack it in vacuum cans. We’re not terribly interested in that stuff, for the obvious reasons.
The top 5 or so percent of coffee is sorted out, and graded as specialty coffee. The grading system varies wildly from one growing region to another, but one way or another the good stuff is sorted out by agents working around the world for specialty coffee brokers and importers. Oddly enough, the price these brokers pay for the very best coffee isn’t much different–if at all–than the price that coffee is traded for on the futures market. So there’s no particular incentive for the coffee grower to go to the extra effort to produce great coffee. And those who do are finding prices so low they can’t afford the labor to pick and process their coffee… prices are too low to recoup the investment.
And so, we find ourselves in what’s being described as one of best growing seasons in years, and far too many growers are watching those big, red berries ripen on the tree, with nothing to do for it. The story here isn’t just that there’s some great coffee that nobody will get to drink…it’s that there’s a lot of small family farms that are face-to-face with ruin, and maybe the loss of their land.
The pricing system for specialty has got to change, and soon. Otherwise we’re all of us back to drinking aroma du cafe.