Coffee, Climate Change and Canaries

Coffee, Climate Change and Canaries

What’s the impact of global climate change on coffee? I’ve had conversations with a number of coffee farmers — particularly folks in South and Central America — about what they’re experiencing on their farms. The stories they tell are of seasons off kilter: of too much rain at the wrong time of the year, not enough when they need it; of coffee trees flowering and coffee cherries ripening in increasingly staggered spans — especially among farms at varying altitudes —  making harvest more challenging. But still, they are simple anecdotes, these stories farmers tell… and every year has such stories. They are not, themselves, a body of evidence of climate change. The report released by Oxfam this month — Turning up the heat, Climate Change and Poverty in Uganda — now that’s evidence of the impact of climate change on coffee production. And the evidence does not bode well: “The outlook is bleak. If the average global temperatures rise by two degrees or more, then most of Uganda is likely to cease to be suitable for coffee..this may happen in 40 years or perhaps as little as 30.” Keep in mind that the figures that Oxfam cites are for coffee production in all of Uganda. It’s more than possible — it’s likely — that coffees from premiere origins within Uganda could succumb to the devastating effects of a changing climate in only just a few years as they lose those unique microclimates that contributed to their coffee’s character. Coffees like Bugisu, the bluesy, saturated cup from Mbale that I profiled here a short seven years ago: In the cup...

Coffee Notes from All Over

Hey, that’s pretty savvy for Wall Street. TheStreet.com’s Eileen Gunn takes a peek at Fair Trade — and Fair Trade coffee, in particular. For a publication that’s altogether dedicated to Free Trade it’s a remarkably balanced, and only remotely snarky read. Still… “[T]his is where my capitalist instincts start to twitch. I’m always skeptical when someone tries to argue to me that subsidies are simultaneously superfluous and essential. Moreover, those prices include a 10-cent premium for social and environmental programs (such as building schools and health clinics and teaching new farming techniques). In 2006, those dimes added up to roughly $91 million in social aid from the U.S. to growers in places such as Honduras, East Timor and Guatemala. That’s nice, but is it trade — communities benefiting from earned profit and prosperity — or is it non-tax-deductible charity?” That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? The naked capitalist is entirely confunded about the difference between charity, and simply doing the right thing. For them the difference between a hand-up and a handout is entirely a question of whether or not you get a tax write-off. (sigh) Just the same, I’m always happy to see capitalists twitch. Good for the soul. Meanwhile, the big kids continue to play with the box it came in. Procter & Gamble is suing Kraft over packaging. Since introducing its plastic AromaSeal canister in 2003, P&G has seen sales of Folger’s coffee climb. Now that Kraft has launched its Maxwell House brand coffee in a similar container P&G has cried foul. ‘Course the real foul here is their coffee, which, were it lavished with...

Coffee Notes from All Over

National Geographic News reports that — as if Uganda didn’t have enough to worry about, already — Uganda’s coffee crop is under threat of collapse due to global climate change. I find this report extraordinarily worrying, as I suspect it’s merely the tip of the proverbial (and ironic) iceberg. Ugandan coffee has the capacity to be really remarkable stuff… more about that here.) …Even a slight increase in temperature could wipe out Uganda’s entire coffee crop, which brings in more than half of the East African country’s revenue. “Climate change has affected coffee production already,” said Philip Gitao, executive director of the East African Fine Coffees Association. Starbucks is raising prices. Again. Despite having switched from whole milk to 2% across the board, its dairy prices are beginning to hurt. Moo. It’s the new, new way to office… WiFi-powered cafes are fast becoming mobile sales departments. And some cafes are happy about that. Of Panera’s 1,056 locations in the country, 940 are equipped with free WiFi, said spokeswoman Liz Scales. “We’re the largest provider of free WiFi in the country,”Â? Scales said. “There are people that are there and don’t want to buy anything and that’s all right. But most people do and we have had nothing but positive remarks about this.”Â? Six years ago this week Bloggle was recognized as a Blog of Note by the nice folks at Blogger.com. It’s been all downhill from there....

Tasting: Uganda Bugisu Mbale

Rating: [rating:3.5/5] Pondering my coffee cup, my thoughts inevitably turn to the land where the coffee was grown. And when that land is locked in a civil struggle I’m frequently curious and wary… Who grew this coffee? Which side are they on? Which side is right? (That’s rarely an easy answer.) And most importantly, are my coffee dollars part of the problem, or a potential solution? Uganda — five years since last mentioned here — is still a nation struggling for rule of law, for the safety of its children, for its identity and place on the world stage. Landlocked, Uganda is besieged by threats from without and within, and has been largely abandoned by most all of the world powers and much of Africa, too. There is no oil in Uganda (or there hasn’t been… it seems there’s some reserves only just discovered.) And so unlike the Middle East, instead of being on the brink of war Uganda is for two decades now on the brink of a peace that is always just out of reach. The coffee-growing lands of Uganda — butted up against Mount Elgon in the east — have been spared much of the struggle that’s come to define the nation’s north. In fact, it seems the only struggle of late that matters to the folks of MBale centers around competing soccer clubs. That’s a healthy sign. So too is the continued success of the Uganda Coffee Development Authority. In Uganda, success remains a relative term… but it appears that coffee farmers and processors are, in fact, the beneficiaries of coffee dollars. My last taste...

Uganda Bugisu A, Mbale, 2001 Crop

Rating: [rating:3.5/5] If Kenya is the elder statesman of East African coffees, Uganda is the uncle that nobody talks about. You know the guy… he got in some trouble a few years back, he’s got a history of hanging around with the wrong crowd… and if he ever got around to really coming clean, nobody’d be likely to believe it. While Uganda rubs shoulders with big brother Kenya–in fact, it shares Mount Elgon, the origin of Bugisu–the coffee of Uganda shares little else with its neighbor. Produced mostly by small crop family farms, this coffee has flavors and dimensions that are uniquely its own. Bugisu is a washed arabica [okay, so maybe it shares one trait with Kenya.] Even green, this bean has something to say, with a remarkably pungent and grassy aroma, simply loaded with hints of what’s to come. Once roasted it’s not a particularly fragrant coffee, and brewed it’s aromatic qualities nod more toward Centrals than other Africans. At first sip, though, everything changes…. In the cup this is a deep, dark mysterious liquor. It’s muscular, musky and oozes languidly on the tongue. Its deeper tones are bitter chocolate, its high notes ripe fruit… very ripe. It’s slightly wild, rich, fat and funky. Not the fuzzy stuff of a monsooned Malabar–it’s far too smooth for that–but still it’s earthy and intense. The Bugisu has got the body of a Java, and while its finish is long and syrupy, it is decidedly not sweet. The roast: I’ve cupped Bugisu from City to Full City and beyond. I’ve settled on a melange of two roasts. The low notes...

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