The end of premium coffee?

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A new WCR video

An ongoing fight against the widespread coffee rust disease of Central America and the Caribbean is the subject of a new video produced by the Texas A&M University Division of Research.

In the video, scientists of World Coffee Research (WCR) and the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture review their multipronged approach to fighting a coffee rust epidemic that has devastated regional farmers since 2012, causing specialty coffee prices to spike in the U.S. and across the globe.

The video outlines a partnership that began May 2014 among WCR, The Borlaug Institute, and members of the world’s coffee industry to battle the disease.

The partnership, funded in part by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID,) supports research on rust-resistant coffee varieties and addresses the continuing shortage of disease-resistant coffee seedlings. Partners simultaneously work to expand the capability of the region’s coffee institutions to monitor and respond to coffee rust.

Find out more by watching the video at http://research.tamu.edu/coffee-rust.

Taking on the Challenges for 2015

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 by Leo Lombardini, Deputy Director

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Leo Lombardini in the greenhouse.

All of us at World Coffee Research (WCR) look forward to an exciting 2015. Our first projects will soon be generating their primary results.

The first International Multi-Location Variety Trial plantlets have begun to reach  destination countries and will soon be planted in new fields, while more plantlets from the additional varieties will be propagated and shipped to the remaining countries.

The coffee lexicon developed by Kansas State University and Texas A&M University will be soon completed, tested, and made available to the public.

Our new GDA Project Director, David Laughlin, will relocate to the offices of Promecafé in Guatemala City to direct and supervise all the activities there, thus getting all the GDA-related activities underway.

The upcoming months will also see the completion of the first genetic diversity analysis of the Arabica collection, which will literally be a major breakthrough for coffee research.

Although we are excited to see all these goals achieved, none of them represent the finish line, but instead are springboards for new projects and collaborations. New research will include improving coffee traceability, studying the physiological and molecular responses of different coffee varieties to drought and heat, and facilitating the adoption of high-yielding, rust resistant F1 hybrids by small coffee producers in Central America.

We know there will be challenges, but will keep tackling them with the support of our partners and members.

Time for Roasters and Importers to Check-Off

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In this century, anyone in coffee should be concerned about where coffee is going to come from. World Coffee Research recognizes the serious and fundamental challenges in the coffee supply chain. Vulnerabilities in the supply of quality Arabica coffees are caused by limited genetic diversity, lack of climate change mitigation planning, and weak economic foundations for coffee farmers.

At WCR there is an ongoing commitment to research because big solutions will only come from science and collaboration. WCR is working toward new scientific solutions, enhancing existing science, and putting more scientific innovation into the industry. In our first year of activity, we have developed a global network of leading scientists and research institutions to drive advancements and transfer knowledge across the entire coffee sector.  We are working openly, creating more access points—down to the farmer—so that everyone in the value chain has an opportunity to benefit from our work and to ensure the supply of quality coffees into the future.

“Coffee companies are realizing that with all this talk about climate change, they need to be part of something that will help them sustain a supply of high quality coffee,” Tim Schilling, Executive Director of World Coffee Research says. “There are companies that get it, and companies that don’t.”

WCR core research program

  • Low hanging fruit. The International Variety Trial allows countries to make fast yield and quality gains through variety replacement.
  • Unleashing Arabica’s full power. Broadening the narrow genetic base to breed next-generation varieties with exceptional quality, yield, disease resistance and climate resiliency.
  • No more shooting in the dark. The Sensory Project to develop new sensory methods allowing more efficient and discriminatory evaluation.
  • Coffee biodiversity. Identifying, collecting, and preserving key Arabica strains from the wild to use in breeding the next generation of varieties.
  • Getting it to the grower. Using public and private funding sources to extend WCR technologies in key producing countries .
  • Taking care of rust. Public-private project with United States Agency for International Development to restore productivity and build higher levels of quality, yield, and resistant varieties.

All of this work naturally comes at a high cost. In general, Tim Schilling says coffee roasters have responded well to the need for these research efforts. WCR has secured ongoing funding of around US$1.9 million thus far, mainly from large roasting companies.

Importers and roasters can make a difference with Check-Off

Overview. The long-term supply and availability of high quality, washed Arabica coffee is seriously challenged and there is a lack of research to identify appropriate and innovative ways of increasing cup quality and volumes of quality coffee. World Coffee Research provides a mechanism for quality-focused research that will be shared industry wide.

Funding. Almost all food and beverage commodities have research and development initiatives funded through a program of taxation applied to the cost of the raw material. These initiatives all show positive and consistent rates of return on investments. In industry they are called “Check-off” programs and are very common in dairy, beef, pork, and a myriad of other commodities.

The program for coffee is a “voluntary” program where all companies are encouraged to participate but it is not legally required. The proposed rate is a 50 basis point ($.005) per pound assessment on all Arabica coffee imports into the US. The advantage of this program is that a donation will always be in concert with the company’s activity; in a slow year donations will be small and vice versa.

Collection of funds. To simplify the reporting and collection of funds, the natural collection point is at the importer level. The importers add the nominal fee to all Arabica coffee sold to roaster and include it as a cost of doing business, similar to ex-docking costs, brokerage fees, warehousing costs, etc. This cost is ultimately passed on to the roaster in the same manner as the other incremental costs.

Reporting. The importer runs a sales report per roaster on a regular basis (quarterly is preferred), multiplies pounds sold by the $.005 fee and submits the funds to World Coffee Research. WCR will then acknowledge the receipt of funds to the roaster as well as the importer, so both can keep track of the donations made.

Participation. All participating importers are listed on the World Coffee Research website as members, allowing roasters motivated to support this initiative to direct their purchases through importers that are part of the program. The importers will also be able to advertise their participation on their own website and marketing materials.

Matching. WCR encourages participating importers to match their roaster’s donation and, doing so, to become donors themselves. The greater the participation and support from all segments of the industry, the more effective the research programs will be. World Coffee Research will be actively promoting the participation of all roasters and importers on an on-going basis.

How roasters can help

To donate one half cent per pound, donors should register on the WCR website what their company purchases. They will be asked to supply the name and contact information for importers they work with, as well as their own preferred contact information. WCR will contact these importers and put the agreement into place. See Make a Difference to register.

Importers who want to do their part

The following importers have agreed to work with the WCR and collect funds to support research work. For the most current information please check the website:

  • worldcoffeeresearch.org/check-off-importers
  • Atlantic Specialty Coffee, Inc.
  • Atlas Coffee Importers, LLC
  • Café Imports
  • Caravela Coffee
  • Falcon Coffees
  • Hacienda La Minita – 100% matching
  • InterAmerican Coffee – 50% matching
  • Knightsbridge
  • OLAM America - 100% matching
  • Paragon Coffee Trading Company
  • Sustainable Harvest Specialty Coffee Importers
  • Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company, Inc.
  • The Coffee Source – 100% matching
  • Trabocca
  • Volcafe Specialty Coffee – 100% matching
  • Zephyr Green Coffee LLC

For more information about how to join and support the work of WCR see Get Involved.

Contributions to WCR by members of the coffee industry may be allowable as business expenses under 501c(5) by applicable federal and state tax law. Please consult with a tax adviser as to the appropriate method of contribution for individuals or companies.

Companies who want to have a conversation with a WCR representative, please call +1.979.458.5579 or email at info@wcr.tamu.edu.

Welcome new member Batdorf & Bronson

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cup_sIn the final years of the twentieth century, there were only a handful of specialty coffee roasters in the Pacific Northwest. One of those companies believes that everyone deserves to drink specialty coffee, and to deliver on that promise the company has made the commitment to join World Coffee Research.

“I’ve known Batdorf & Bronson for many years. They are the quintessential specialty coffee roaster placing extraordinary emphasis on quality and on producer livelihoods,” said Tim Schilling, Executive Director of World Coffee Research. “They have always been forward thinkers and specialty coffee industry leaders.  In fact, Lindsey Bolger, the WCR Chairperson, was their roaster back in the 90s! We are especially grateful to have them join our family.”

Larry Challain, President of Batdorf & Bronson.

Larry Challain, President of Batdorf & Bronson.

To see the start of the union between Batdorf & Bronson and WCR, look back thirty years ago, to Larry and Cherie Challain falling in love with coffee and the coffee culture. Determined to make coffee part of their lives, they spent several years researching coffee roasting and coffee houses up and down the west coast from San Francisco to Alaska and through historic European coffee houses, before opening the Dancing Goats Coffeehouse in Olympia, Washington in 1988.  Not long after that, the Challains acquired Batdorf & Bronson Roasters, and in 1994 they opened a second roasting facility in Atlanta in order to provide fresh roasted coffee to customers on the east coast.

At the time, sourcing green coffee at its origin was an undertaking left largely to importers, but as the Challains began to expand Batdorf & Bronson, visiting coffee farms became their standard operating process. These visits fueled interest in the sustainability of the environment where coffee was grown, and encompassed the people who lived in coffee growing communities. The company became an early supporter of Coffee Kids and sought relationships with sustainability driven coffee importers, which in turn helped establish relationships and innovative purchasing arrangements with coffee farmers long before anyone had coined the phrase “direct trade.”

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Coffee buyer Bob Benck with producing partners in Tarrazu, Costa Rica.

As early supporters of the Coffee Quality Institute and members of SCAA, Batdorf & Bronson believes in a vibrant and growing specialty coffee industry, with greater understanding and standardization of quality products, the necessity of long-term viability of coffee supply, and the well-being of those who grow coffee.

“And this is why we support World Coffee Research,” said Larry Challain. “The idea of sustainability in the coffee industry is used to refer to many different things, the people who grow the coffee, the environments where coffee is grown and, in recent years, the environments where coffee is roasted and retailed.  But in a very fundamental sense, sustainable coffee is the coffee we will be drinking in 50 or 100 years. We support WCR because it is long past time that the concept of sustainability in our industry includes long term viability and availability of specialty grade green coffee. Not only do we believe in the mission of WCR, we support enthusiastically the collaborative nature of its methodology.”

Like Arabica, coffee has a small family

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Lindsey Bolger with a coffee worker at a warehouse in South Sudan.

One of Batdorf & Bronson’s baristas was a young woman working her way through college at Evergreen State College in Olympia. That barista was Lindsey Bolger and she has referred to it as “one of those strange twists of fate and opportunity that has influenced the rest of my life.”  Her academic career included Habitats and Political Economy and also Social Change, two programs that aligned with her work at Batdorf & Bronson where she would go from barista to roast master and green coffee buyer, and eventually to  Vice President of Coffee Sourcing Excellence at Keurig Green Mountain, as well as Chairperson of the Board of Directors at World Coffee Research.

“Batdorf & Bronson have long been leaders within the coffee industry, expressed through their deep commitment to quality and a high degree of engagement with coffee suppliers and with their local communities.  The company integrates sustainable business practices into daily operations as well as their coffee sourcing strategy,” said Bolger. “Their support for World Coffee Research reflects a long standing interest in ensuring the future supply of high-quality coffee while enhancing the livelihoods of coffee farmers and coffee farming communities.  As a former member of the Batdorf & Bronson team, I’m especially pleased to welcome them to World Coffee Research and deeply appreciate their support.”

At  Keurig Green Mountain and with World Coffee Research, Bolger has continued to travel widely in the coffee-producing world, building relationships with farmers and supporting sustainable farming practices.

Having a Cuppa with the Future of Coffee

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Coffee farmers around the world face many problems, but most don’t have to deal with monkeys feasting on coffee berries, leaving the ground littered with seeds.

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Indian workers are given housing, child care for their children, and other civic amenities, but there is a critical shortage of workers.

But wildlife threats did not stop World Coffee Research from signing an agreement with the Central Coffee Research Institute of India to work as partners within the International Multi-Location Variety Trial (IMLVT). The Institute is headed by Dr. Y. Raghuramulu as Director of Research, and the project is being coordinated by Dr. Nayani Surya Prakash, Divisional Head, Plant Breeding and Genetics. Test fields set aside for IMLVT plants represent the four important coffee growing regions of India — Chikmagalur, Hassan, Kodagu in Karnataka state and Shevroys in Tamil Nädu state. These four regions cover the major geographical climates traditionally capable of growing Arabica coffee within India.

“In the light of recent climate change effects and flare-up of pests and diseases, cultivation of Arabica is facing a great threat across the globe, more so in countries like India where Arabica is highly vulnerable to stem borer and leaf rust.” Mr. Jawaid Akhtar, Chairman and CEO of Indian Coffee Board believes that the initiative of WCR is a welcome step that will help sustain production and supply of good quality Arabica coffee.

indian_map“The Central Coffee Research Institute realized that the Multi-Location Trials fit perfectly with our existing mandates to develop improved coffee varieties that are sustainable and we are happy to use our research stations to support this effort,” added Dr. Y. Raghuramulu, Director of Research at the Coffee Institute.

Coffee has been part of Indian life for a long time. In the 1600s it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, which shipped coffee out of the Yemen port of Mocha. In Uncommon Grounds, Mark Pendergrast writes that Turks guarded their coffee monopoly by steeping beans in boiling water or partially roasting them to prevent the possibility of germination before allowing the beans to leave Yemen. When it comes to feeding a caffeine hunger, where there is a will, there is a way. A Muslim pilgrim named Baba Budan managed to smuggle seven coffee beans out of Yemen and all the way to India where he raised seedlings in an area of Karnataka. To this day coffee forests are still visible in all directions.

For many generations, coffee was a backyard crop in India. But British entrepreneurs cultivated coffee as a cash crop under forest canopies, then to see their efforts fail to “white stem-borer” (Xylotrechus quadripes) and leaf rust (Hemileia vastatrix). It has been an on-going battle ever since. Planters stemmed their losses by planting temporary shade plants like the dadap tree (Erythrina caffra) to protect Arabicas from enervation by leaf rust and borer attacks, and began to plant Robusta at lower elevations. All the while, breeders searched frantically for disease-tolerant selections.

By 1925, the Mysore Coffee Experimental Station was established in Karnataka. It was developed by the Coffee Board of India into the Central Coffee Research Institute in 1946. The prime mandate of the Institute is to develop improved coffee varieties and the supply of plant materials to growers, to develop sustainable coffee technologies, to conduct location specific research regarding agro-climatic coffee zones, and to disseminate technical information and training to growers and other stake-holders.

“We strongly believe that the coffee breeders across the countries should work with more synergy to accomplish their goals, and the international collaborative projects like the IMLVT provide the right opportunity at the right time.” Dr. Prakash feels this is the right time for coffee and is looking forward to the arrival of the first IMLVT plants to India.
The predominant coffee grower in India is a small holder enterprise for whom there are two major problems, those caused by weather extremes such as ill-timed rains, drought, and pests, and those caused by a labor shortage. The Plantation Act of 1951 (and similar ones with respect to other coffee growing states) ensures that all plantation workers are provided with work through the year, local housing, childcare, education, pensions, and all other civic amenities that are mandatory as per the Act. But to attract employees away from the lures of urban life, coffee producers go beyond government requirements by building housing for coffee workers with modern bathrooms and satellite televisions, as well as the temples that are part of India’s long and rich cultural heritage.

India is currently sixth in the world in coffee production, and with growing economy, urbanization, and the café culture, it is a rising market that coffee producers are taking note of. India is expected to pass China as the world’s most populous country in 2025 according to projections the U.S. Census Bureau, and the discretionary spending is growing as fast as the country.

Even though India is known for its love of tea, major players in coffee from Italy, U.K., U.S., and Australia are already building stores in India. Barista, Costa Coffee, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Gloria Jean’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks have opened stores to compete with Coffee Day and Mocha, two home-grown Indian chains.

And those coffee cherry eating monkeys? They are Rhesus monkeys who chew the fruit, spitting the parchment and seed out on the ground – which for coffee producers is the coffee bean. Indian producers decided to have their workers collect the seeds that the monkeys spit out, even though some have tooth marks from the monkeys. After washing and drying, the beans look gray rather than the usual green of raw beans.

The coffee from these parchment beans tastes very different from typical coffee, because the monkeys’ saliva contains enzymes which contribute to the beans breakdown. This causes a distinctive overall flavor profile that sells for nearly twice the price of regular beans. Though it is available in very minute quantities at present, it might have the scope to be marketed in the lines of Kopi Luwak of Indonesia in the future.

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IMLVT Update

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First plantlets transplanted in Guatemala.

The first coffee plantlets have been received in IMLVT organizations designated as Gate Keepers. The countries involved were El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Mexico, and Laos. The first shipment included the varieties Parainema, EC15, and EC16.

After receiving the first shipment, the report from El Salvador stated that although in some containers the gel medium had liquefied, the plants were undamaged. One hundred per cent of plants were able to be transplanted.
The first shipment to any country is designed to be a small grouping, which gives each country a test case and gives them time to organize the customs process more efficiently for larger shipments. Plantlets are continuing to be shipped as the IMLVT countries clear the often extensive paperwork requirements for receiving live plants.
The second shipment of the primary varieties (Lempira, Oro Azteca, S4808, S5B, S6, S795, Col 1, Col 2, Col 3, Col 4, Col 5, K7, Ruiru 11, SL 28) will be reaching Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, India, and Jamaica in November if all paperwork is completed.

The third shipment of fourteen varieties is in progress, and will be shipped to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Laos, Kenya, and Costa Rica.

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New members and partners

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More coffee companies that want to help sustain the supply of high quality coffee have stepped forward to support WCR research.

Two Genesis donors who helped fund the start-up of World Coffee Research recently renewed their memberships, La Marzocco and Kyokuto Fadie Corporation.  A new member and the first member from Myanmar, is Genius Coffee.

 

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WCR staff additions

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davidTwo positions were recently filled at World Coffee Research to assist in the ongoing work.

David Laughlin is now the Coffee Rust Project Director  and will work on the coffee rust project alliance with USAID. Although born in the United States, David’s roots are in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala.  In addition to spending a significant portion of his life in Guatemala, David has also participated in two training trips to Guatemala focusing on general plant pathology, plant disease diagnosis, and coffee rust.  David is an alumnus of the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Texas A&M University where his research focused on biotrophic plant/pathogen interactions and biocontrol.

When it comes to coffee, David is an enthusiastic coffee drinker, preferring strongly brewed light roasts.  He is fluent in both English and Spanish.

stashaAlso recently hired is Stasha Kraguljac. As the Program Coordinator, Stasha provides administrative and financial support for the World Coffee Research Program, and will be working with the Check-Off Program. She also coordinates travel for WCR board, staff, and committee members as well as organizes meetings, trips, and special events. Stasha came to the United States in 2008 from Belgrade, Serbia, with ten years of banking experience.

She has a passion for coffee and cannot start the day without it.

Organic coffee threatened by fungus

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Global warming-stoked fungus causes problems

Teodomiro Melendres Ojeda, an organic coffee grower in Cajamarca, Peru, stands at a crossroads. Neither path is attractive.

Leaf-rust fungus, known as roya in Spanish, has devastated about a third of his crop. Melendres, 48, can use chemicals to kill it, though he risks forfeiting his organic certification and the 10 percent price premium it brings. Or he can preserve the certification and watch his plants die.

“We coffee producers are living between a rock and a hard place,” Melendres said.

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