Doing your coffee research

I think it is fair to say that the coffee industry shows an interest in the science of coffee. Up until this point most of this science has been more relavant to commodity coffee, and its challenges, than it has to do with quality.

It seems a lot of baristas, roasters and others in speciality coffee are looking to do research too. I’m posting this to ask where they are looking and how they are going about it.

Most don’t have access to published papers, and there isn’t a great deal of stuff online – everyone finds coffeeresearch.org pretty quickly but I think coffee has probably moved faster than that particular website has. ASIC is certainly a valuable resource, but perhaps inaccessible to those without a science background.

In their hunt for knowledge, I’m wondering how many people have grabbed the literature review published by the GCQRI, or have grabbed any of the resources on their site. What are people looking for? Bearing in mind there are no easy answers – are we just talking about wanting to do more research, and learn more about coffee rather than having a specific plan of action or a goal to our learning?

In the future there will be more information to share, mostly from the GCQRI, and I think it would be beneficial to understand how people do their research (honestly), to make sure information ends up in the right place. I’m not trying to catch people out here, I certainly spent a long time putting phrases into google and hopefully hunting through the mixture of garbage and occasional information nuggets it produced. I didn’t know a better way.

What about you?

Read this

I don’t often post links to other blog posts on here. I guess maybe twitter, combined with less blog posts out there, equals less for me to post.

However, this is definitely worth a read. Written by Sebastian (of Phil & Sebastian) about his experiences in Colombia recently, I think it offers a new perspective on things there and is impressively informative without being dry.

Reflections on Coffee in Colombia

Comments are closed on this page, as any responses should be left on their blog.

The future of speciality coffee

It was hard to listen to the various presentations at the SCAA Symposium this year without thinking about what it would mean in real terms for quality coffee in the future.
I don’t profess to make particularly accurate predictions (the various annual efforts on here stand as testament to that). However, based on the various talks I would make the following guesses:

A shift in production away from diversity

Currently about 60% of the world’s coffee comes from just 4 different producing countries. I hadn’t realise the distribution was stacked that way, but these are countries that are able to apply new technologies relatively easily that will allow even greater yields without expanding the area given up to grow coffee.

My prediction (in between 10 and 20 years) would be that 60% from 4 becomes 80% from those 4 countries. Right now there is a lot of incentive to grow coffee in Brazil. Not only are prices high but exchange rates make their currency even more valuable. This will spur greater investment and a significant bump in yield. The majority of this coffee will be poor to average. Variety/genetic research will focus on palatability of product, rather than excellence.

Coffee is chased up the mountain

Climate change means that coffee growing at current altitudes will be decreasingly possible and rewarding. Farmers at lower altitudes will likely switch crop to something more stable and less affected by disease and temperature (palm oil etc). Those that can grow coffee higher up, where temperatures remain cooler, will continue to do so. However, this reduction in planted area for coffee (as well as a hopeful focus on quality in order to make a sustainable living) will make coffee grown at altitude increasingly expensive.

Climate change figures (esp likely temp changes) seemed to vary at Symposium, but I hope Dr Peter Baker’s presentation will be made available as it was both informative and compelling. No one seems to be arguing the base fact that less land will be viable for speciality coffee in the future.

Diversity in speciality coffee

Throughout Central America, some of South America and East Africa I expect to see less total coffee being produced – especially less speciality coffee. This will drive up prices further but I think we’ll see some truly exceptional stuff as we learn more about producing higher cup quality on purpose. (Looking to the GCQRI on that one….)

If you retail coffee then start thinking about how you’ll see it when it doubles in price. I think it will, and will be sustainable there too. The gap between speciality and commodity will widen significantly. I think genuine speciality (some would say high-end speciality) will also break away from the broad church that we cover with the term “speciality coffee” today.

GMOs

We’re going to see GMOs in coffee. I don’t like it, you probably don’t like it, nobody wants to talk about it, but I think these will likely appear first in the big 4 producing countries where there is greater need for economic stability from the coffee trade.

I hope that speciality works contrary to this to start to mine the genetic diversity in nature to see if we can’t find what we need there.

In summary

I don’t think fantastic coffee is going to disappear despite the challenges it faces. It is going to become increasingly scarce and its cost of production on top means that we’ll see a much bigger divide between C-market (which will likely drop back) and Speciality. You’ll have to fight to find it and buy it.

Whether you can plan that far ahead about how to be effective in a market that different, I don’t know. It is certainly worth some thought.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who was at Symposium, or who is interested in this sort of thing, about how wrong they think I am!

Episode Five – Peter Giuliano

I really hope people enjoy this one – because I really, really enjoyed the conversation I had with Peter.  We’d planned to talk about some fermentation experiments he’d been working on, but we cover a range of things. Listening back it seems like we planned this more than we had – this wasn’t the case, it was just a little serendipitous.

In this podcast:

– What is fermentation in coffee?
– What can a coffee being “washed” mean?
– Some experiments with fermentation
– Peter’s favourite coffee books
– Variety Vs Varietal

There is more stuff in there too. I think it is a really helpful listen if you want to better understand this incredibly important part of the process. I just couldn’t chop this one down – so if you hate the longer podcasts I’m (sort of) sorry!

You can do stuff like subscribe or leave some sort of rating or comment on iTunes here, or you can subscribe to the podcast feed here.

Feedback always welcome – really hope people enjoy this one.

Play

Coffee Berry Borer & Global Climate Change

Dr. Juliana Jaramillo, a researcher working in Kenya at ICIPE, kindly sent me a few papers concerning Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus hampei) and the effect on climate change.  For a lot of people reading this, the ins and outs of pest control in coffee producing countries isn’t particularly compelling stuff.  That doesn’t mean it is isn’t important, nor deserving of wider attention and interest.

To give a quick idea of its impact:  It is estimated to cause losses of over $500 million USD per year, and affects 20 million coffee producing families worldwide.  Despite this there seems to be a lack of funding in research to provide solutions.

A quick primer on the beetle

Coffee Berry Borer, also known widely as Broca, is technically a small beetle native to Africa – though its effects are now global.  It destroys crops by using the fruit as a home for its young.  The female beetle burrows into the fruit and lays eggs inside.  These eggs hatch and the larvae eat the coffee seeds from the inside out.  By doing this they massively reduce income for coffee producers by reducing yield, as well as quality.

drawing by Gonzalo Hoyos, CENICAFE

Pest Control

There are a few different ways to control the pest – some to prevent attack, and others to deal with damaged fruit.  Pesticides are only useful before the fruit has been infested.  I found a few different suggestions for pesticides online, only to later find that they had been banned in some countries for the unsustainable and negative impact on the environment.  (Pesticides like endrin)

Traps

Probably the most common solution are traps. These are pretty easy to make yourself, though they can be purchased. These work by luring the beetles into the traps (often using pheromones), where they are captured and drown.

CIRAD claims that traps can increase affected yields by 10-16%, and cost less than using insecticides. You still have to use some form of chemicals. There is more information about traps here (pdf), and a guide to making one yourself here.

 A control that is considered more sustainable (and acceptable under organic farming certifications) is the introduction of a natural enemy of the beetle.

Thrips

Enter Karnyothrips flavipes which are a species of thrips, and quite possibly a natural predator of berry boras.  Dr Jaramillo’s latest paper 1 looks at whether this is a viable predator that could introduced to help suppress the coffee berry borer.  Obviously introducing a species into a new environment comes with a whole new set of issues, though it may already be in various countries and simply needs an increase in numbers and concentration.

The thrips follows the borer into the cherry and lays its eggs, and then eats the borers undeveloped young.  Obviously it doesn’t prevent initial infestation and damage, but can limit the size of the borer population.

The other organic option was similar – to introduce a parasitoid.  A parasitoid is very much the same as a parasite, with the exception that it will ultimately kill the the host.  In the past various wasps have been used, with limited success.

Global Climate Change

I don’t think we can really question this is happening.  We’re seeing its effects and there is plenty of data to support it.  Below is a graph from a paper titled “The impact of climatic variability and climate change on arabic coffee crop in Brazil”, which can be found (in English) here.

The effects have also been studied in Mexico.  In a paper titled “Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture: A Case of Study of Coffee Production in Veracruz, Mexico” (abstract available here) one conclusion is that by 2020 the model projects that the increase in temperature would result in a 34% reduction in crop, meaning that growing coffee would no longer be financially viable there.

I also found this interesting little graphic showing the change in coffee producing area with temperature in Uganda.  I know it is concerning robusta but I still think it is relevant.

Added to the fact that climate change is already causing problems for coffee in places like Colombia, specifically with a substantial increase in leaf rust, it is also worrying to read Dr Jaramillo’s paper from 2006 ((.  To quote from it:

In the case of H.hampei, average daily temperatures of 26°C could lead to a reduction of the maximum intrinsic rate of increase, and, consequently, reduced pest activity in coffee plantations. Over the last three decades, the average daily temperature per year ranged between 17.3–22.3°C for Ethiopia, 18.7–24.5°C for Kenya, 22.3–29.8°C for Tanzania and for Colombia 15.5–29.3°C (data from 1989 to 2007, as H. hampei was introduced in 1988 into the country). The potential number of H. hampei generations per year was in average 3.4 for Colombia, 3.1 for Kenya, 3.1 for Tanzania and 1.3 for Ethiopia. According to our predictive model, in regions where the actual average daily temperature has not yet reached 26.7°C, every 1°C increase, would also increase the actual rate towards the maximum value by an average of 8.5%.”

Many coffee growing regions are below the temperature threshold that sees a reduction in broca. Global warming will push many regions into the temperature zones that will see a significant increase in the rate of reproduction – which is obviously a concern.

So we’re looking at an increase in borers in many parts of the world.  Not good.  I’d be interested to hear from people, especially those with an interest in organic and sustainable growing, about how they feel about introducing predators from outside the specific ecosystem to deal with the problems.  

Combine CBB with leaf rust and other issues, and there are certainly some serious challenges for coffee ahead due to the effects of climate change. I’d love to hear more from people who are travelling and dealing with lots of producers on this subject. Tom Owens briefly mentions some issues in this post (which you should all have read!). I also feel like I’ve skimmed this topic slightly – so if people have good links they want to share do please post a comment!

  1. Juliana Jaramillo & Eric G. Chapman & Fernando E. Vega & James D. Harwood (2010) Molecular diagnosis of a previously unreported predatorprey association in coffee: Karnyothrips flavipes Jones (Thysanoptera: Phlaeothripidae) predation, on the coffee berry borer  ↩︎

The Speciality Coffee Crisis

This isn’t designed to be a fear-mongering post, but this is really something we have to talk about and think about as an industry.

I think we can accept as fact that the growth in consumption of high quality coffee is not being matched by growth in production. At some point in the not too distant future there will be a tipping point where total demand starts to comfortably exceed total production and this will result in a dramatic price spike.
Continue reading “The Speciality Coffee Crisis”

Coffee Leaf Rust

There are many large and embarrassing gaps in my coffee knowledge, and coffee leaf rust is one of those. However, it seems that this is something that is having an increasing impact on producers and the industry so it seemed like time to do some research.

Before having a look at recent changes in global climate, rust resistant varieties and the conflict of crop vs cup we should probably start with exactly what coffee leaf rust is:
Continue reading “Coffee Leaf Rust”

Tick, tick, tick….. boom.

The internet is quite talkative at the moment.  The coffee sliver of the internet anyway.  Lots of talk about seasonality, which is a good thing.

This does beg the question – how long is coffee good for?  Green coffee I mean – we’re still arguing about roasted coffee’s shelf life and a great deal more time and money has been spent on that topic in the last 100 years.

If anything, and we are getting into the realm of personal opinion here, green coffee is trickier because green coffees don’t age the same way.  Each lot is an individual little time bomb.  As much as we can look after it as well as we can in storage/in roasteries – we are still working with an individual fuse whose approximate length was determined before the coffee left the producing country. Continue reading “Tick, tick, tick….. boom.”

Recommended Coffee Reading List – Part 1

coffeebook

Back in 2006 I published a recommended reading list. Since that time my collection of books has (worryingly) increased so I thought I should probably update it. I could easily write a list of coffee books that one should avoid (having learned the hard way) but I suspect that would get me into rather a lot of trouble, so I shall leave that for now. I’ve broken it down into two parts and then down into sections, and have indicated which are nice to have, and which I would consider are essential on that subject.

I will try and keep this one updated – if you think I’ve missed something obvious then let me know.  I haven’t recommended books I don’t own, so this means some books may be missing that you would expect to see here.

Continue reading “Recommended Coffee Reading List – Part 1”