GCQRI Day Two – Identifying Research Projects

I think a lot of people came to this event brimming with ideas for research into coffee cup quality. This part of the day was something of a data dump from the group. There were several sections that we all got to visit to just throw ideas out: Genetics, Agronomy, Processing, Storage, Roast/Grind/Brew & Miscellaneous.
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GCQRI Day Two – Carlos Brando

While I have probably mentioned more than once that we lack research into coffee quality – Carlos Brando’s talk not only highlighted that a lot has been done in coffee research but also talked about the potential to partner the GCQRI with coffee research institutions around the world.

Every coffee producing country, or nearly every one, has some sort of coffee research institutions already doing a lot of work. In his talk Carlos used the Brazil Consortium model as an example.
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GCQRI Day Two – Focused Discussion Sessions

Today is going to be a difficult day to write up as it isn’t presentation led, as yesterday was. Today was more about kicking ideas around and starting to flesh out some aspects of the structure.

The first part of today has the group split up into three different sessions that run at the same time. We attended two different sessions in total. The discussions covered “Structure & Governance”, “Finance & Funding” and “Determining Research Priorities”.
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GCQRI Day One – Dr Ray McEachern

This was a talk about wine, and the title should explain things: “Examples of how research has been effective in addressing other commodities production and quality concerns.” Simply put: the result of research into wine quality.

Dr McEachern opened up with highlighting the massive changes in the wine industry in the last 20 or 30 years. He gave a few examples:

– Vinegar has now pretty much gone from wine
– Cold settling as part of fermentation is a new and near universal practice
– Reduction in the use of native yeasts, in exchange for specific flavour producing cultures
– Sterile filtration

He talked about how research has disproven the idea that low yield = high quality, citing examples in Australia where 8 tonnes/acre can be of the same quality as a yield of 1.4 tonnes/acre in France. He talked about the negative impact of fast growing vines. Very fast growing vines cause what he calls a “vegetative sink” on the plant – resulting in a vegetable taste in the wine. In higher yielding plants the growth is slower so the vegetable taste is reduced.

He talked about how the wine industry has worked to define quality – either using terms like “cassis” and rating the potential for “cassis” within certain varieties. There has been work to define and correlate certain compounds with mouthfeel.

My favourite quote of the talk was “When you have a great wine, no one has to tell you it is great.” I can’t emphasise enough how relevant this is to coffee.

There was some interesting stuff on how he classifies wine, but I suspect many here are more interested in me posting about coffee than about wine…

He did cover the way that funding is accrued for wine research. In the past much of it was from State and the Federal government. UC Davis was able to run 30 years of indepth research this way. More recently that has changed, with industry funding the majority of research work. How this is funded is something that will come up later (and many times over I am sure).

GCQRI Day One – Dr Tim Schilling

Tim’s title was “Insufficient understanding of the mechanisms affecting quality coffee and measuring quality – and potential for GCQRI to address these.”

Serious as that sounds, it was all very accessible! The talk covered what we know (very little), why we don’t know much (I’ll come to this) and a little about sensory techniques.

So what do we know? Not very much sadly – coffee exhibits great variability in quality, we know that altitude affects quality, we know that variety affects flavour, we know that terroir affects the quality. All very general – and we are unable to get into real specifics. While we might see a correlation between altitude and quality we don’t know that altitude is the actual cause of the quality.

We were then given a draft review of the literature published on coffee cup quality. This is broken down into determining factors such as fertilizer or shade. It is 18 pages long (sadly) and will be published for free on the new GCQRI website, and free to download for anyone. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I will post something when I do I guess.

So why don’t we know more about cup quality? Tim suggested a few things – we’re a young industry, origin research has had to focus on yield and disease resistance and also there aren’t many institutions at origin with the capacity to run this kind of R&D. (There are obviously quite a few countries where this is possible, but I don’t think we could claim the majority of arabica producing countries).

What came up next is going to be something of a theme and a definite issue for this program: assessing cup quality. As Peter Giuliano said earlier, “We’re in the flavour industry”. Right now there are many different ways to assess cup quality as put forward by SCAA, CoE, Q, the ICO as well as consumer panels and focus groups. There are also objective scientific methods like NIRS,GC, pH, citric acid etc etc.

The problem we have is that there is no solid definition of quality, and secondly – many of our assessment methods do not produce statistically significant data.

We’ve barely dipped a toe into cup quality research and the takeaway message is that there is so much unexplored possibility and that is very exciting.

GCQRI Day One – Peter Guiliano

Unfortunately Ric Rhinehart was unable to make it to the event due to illness, so Peter Giuliano delivered Ric’s presentation and then followed with his own. I’ll try and distinguish the boundaries of them!

General Arabica shortages, market trends (macro)

The key part of the this presentation was a single slide comparing global production and global consumption. Coffee productions seems to run an alternating cycle of high and low production, year on year. Usually there would be a year of excess, followed by a year of deficit which meant that global stores were able to stabilise the market.

As we all know prices on the coffee market are unusually high right now. This is linked to supply and demand. Coffee has not had a year of surplus since 2006, and since then has been in deficit or has met demand. Demand continues to grow and this has resulted in the global stocks being depleted which further results in increased market volatility. The scariest part of the graph was that production met demand this year, but it was on the higher production cycle for coffee. Next year data suggests a drop in production, another increase in consumption and no stocks to make up the missing requirement of coffee. This will result in further price hikes until one of two things happen:

Consumer resistance – when the price gets too high, we’ll start to buy less, and decrease consumption.

Supply increase – with more money in coffee more people will respond by increasing production to meet demands.

It should be noted right now that while this potential crisis presents an opportunity for speciality coffee, many people here hope that it is not our main motivating factor. If it is then it will disappear when the market shifts again and this project requires long term research to really delivery significant rewards.

I will add the chart when I get hold of a digital version of this presentation.

The Understanding Crisis

This was Peter’s own presentation. For this he passed around coffee from Kenya for us to smell. The reason was to highlight the blackcurrant note that is found in Kenyan coffees and highly prized.

This particular coffee had sold for $6.50/lb through the auction system. The price was so high because, despite the strong preference for blackcurrant in Kenyan coffees, coffees like this are becoming harder to find.

While, through anecdotal evidence, we believe this flavour comes from the SL-28, or from particular washing techniques – we have no solid evidence of this. Anecdotal evidence also says that not only is the frequency of this flavour diminishing, so is its intensity in coffees that exhibit it. It is, in Peter’s words, “an endangered species of flavour”.

The talk really highlighted the importance of understanding in coffee, and the value of this kind of knowledge in the future.

GCQRI Day One – Expected Outcomes

More on presentations coming after this. I did want to share the expected outcomes of this congress – just for transparency, and also to clarify the structure of the days:

1. To achieve shared clarity on the problem – a challenged supply of quality coffee and a paucity of research related to coffee quality.
2. To achieve shared clarity on the benefits of the Collaborative R&D model to industry, and on GCQRI as a feasible solution to coffee’s looming supply problems.
3. To present and gather input on key components of GCQRI model: the financing mechanism, structure and governance, and research priorities.
4 . To expand industry involvement and identify clear next steps in the areas of: raising awareness of the program; launching Temporary Task Forces around financing, structure and governance, and research priorities; increasing GCQRI’s funding base and funding opportunities.

Day one is mostly focused on points 1 & 2 – getting everyone on the same page so we’re more effective when it comes to points 3 & 4.

GCQRI Day 1 – Dr Vince Petiard

I will try and post a few summaries of talks here – it seems overkill to liveblog an academic congress. I suspect that what I post here will suffer from my brain not being able to process these things fast enough, and I won’t get a copy of the slides until afterwards.

The first full talk of the day, after the opening address, was Dr Vince Petiard. He is Executive Vice-President of Business Development for Natural Source Genetics and former Director of Plant Science and Technology Centrer for Nestle, L’Oreal and the Syntheloabo. I’m not sure exactly what that all means but in his talk he explained that he worked on raw material research for various companies as they were acquired by various larger companies.
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