Thursday, December 28, 2006

Is Starbucks the Victim of a Coffee Mugging by Oxfam?

I am re-posting this very controversial article originally published on "Seeking Alpha" on December 27, 2006. I think this is one of the better articles on this subject. I particularly like the balanced perspective acheived through the posted comments adjoining the article.

David Phillips (10Q Detective) submits: Oxfam, a development charity that dates back to World War II, alleges that global coffee retailer Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) is depriving Ethiopian coffee farmers of between $88.0 to $132.0 million a year, by opposing the Ethiopian government's efforts to trademark three popular varieties of its specialty coffee—Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe beans.

Oxfam and its broad coalition of supporters say:

More than a year ago, Ethiopia approached Starbucks and asked the company to lead the coffee industry by example and sign an agreement recognizing Ethiopia's legal ownership of its fine coffee names. If companies like Starbucks signed such agreements, Ethiopia would occupy a stronger negotiating position with foreign buyers, capture a larger share of the market associated with its coffee names, and better protect its brands.

Oxfam and its activists allege that there is a huge disparity in the profit distribution to the players in the coffee industry, with Ethiopian coffee farmers often collecting no more than 10 percent of the profits from the sale of their coffees. The rest goes to the coffee industry players that can control the retail price—the international importers, distributors, and roasters like Starbucks.

Starbucks CEO Jim Donald met with Ethiopiaian government officials to discuss trademark issues on November 29, 2006. Given little progress in their talks, Oxfam and its supporters organized “The Starbucks Day of Action” in more than a dozen countries, demonstrating outside many Starbucks stores on December 16, with activists leafleting and carrying the image of an Ethiopian coffee farmer on sandwich board fronts, with the backside reading, "For every cup of Ethiopian coffee Starbucks sells, Ethiopian farmer earn 3 cents. Tell Starbucks: Honor your commitments to coffee farmers." [Ed. note. Watch the video on YouTube now.]

Talks purportedly broke down because Starbucks favored a geographic certification model—much like Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, Florida Orange Juice, and French and Napa Valley Wines—which guarantees a point of origin and standard of quality; whereas, Ethiopia refused, opting for brand ownership.

We laud Oxfam’s good intentions, but question their grasp of Ethiopia’s calculus for peculations.

The rhetoric behind economic development today—especially in African countries—is such that where poverty exists, you can be sure that “corruption” won’t be far behind. Aside from widespread allegations of fraud following the May 2005 parliamentary elections, in which results showed the incumbent Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front retaining a majority, the business environment—while not thought to be as corrupt as political life—in Ethiopia, still ranked only a 3.70 score (with 1.0 being the best & 5.0 being the worst) on an ”Index of Economic Freedom 2006” census taken by The Heritage Foundation/ Wall Street Journal:

Ethiopia's cumbersome bureaucracy deters investment…. Corruption in Ethiopia poses various problems for [the] business environment, as patronage networks are firmly entrenched and political clout is often used to gain economic prowess.

In our view, irrespective of going the certification process or the intellectual property route, in order for the coffee farmers to share in any incremental value—such as an increase in annual income—necessitates a transparent system that shows how the money is going back to the farmers.

In addition to failing to explain what type of transparent ‘checks and balances’ system need be established, nowhere in its press releases does Oxfam explain how the agency derived the incremental annual benefit to farmers of between $88.0 to $132.0 million.

To the contrary, since 2001, Starbucks has been inserting transparency into standard contracts. Today, the Company has economic transparency requirements for 59 percent of all coffee purchased to provide information on the payments made to farmers. This represents 177 million lbs. (80 million kg.) of coffee.

In December 22, 2006, Starbucks' Letter to the Editor of the Seattle Post Intelligencer (regarding the Ethiopian Trademark), Dub Hay, VP-Global Coffee Procurement said, too:

While our purchases of Ethiopian coffee represent a very small percentage of the country’s total coffee exports, we pay premium prices – in 2005 our price exceeded the New York commodity market price by 23 percent -- for all of the coffee we buy in 27 countries. And, between 2002 and 2006 we increased purchases of Ethiopian coffee by more than 400 percent and are committed to growing those purchases in the years to come.

In our view Oxfam and its supporters have not presented a cogent argument to suggest that Starbucks is acting in an unethical or socially irresponsible manner; nor has Oxfam presented any convincing evidence that Starbucks is willfully trying to maximize its own profit margins—by denying Ethiopian farmers their legitimate coffee profits.

Voir dire [Old French: “To speak the truth”] is a tool used to achieve the constitutional right to an impartial jury. Preliminary examination of Oxfam as an impartial juror would show that the aid agency is in an awkward position to comment on the social responsibility of Starbucks:

1. Language found in a Coffee (Rescue Plan) Policy paper [2002] speaks volumes:

Despite the stagnant consumer market, the coffee companies are laughing all the way to the bank…. Until now, rich consumer countries and the huge companies based in them responded to the crises [slump in coffee prices and economic impact on coffee farmers] with inexcusable complacency. In the face of human misery, there have been many words yet little action.

2. In 2004, Oxfam accepted a £100,000 investment by Starbucks into a rural coffee-growing project in Ethiopia and a range of expertise-sharing programs focusing on improving trading agreements for millions of coffee farmers in developing countries.

Given the weaknesses of Oxfam’s arguments and its lapses in credibility, Starbucks comes across less as a coffee-thirsty exploiter of less-developed countries, and more the victim of a coffee mugging.

Editor David J Phillips does not hold financial interests in any of the companies mentioned in this posting. The 10Q Detective has a Full Disclosure policy.

Seeking alpha December 27, 2006

Eugene Clough wrote on Wed Dec 27th @ 3:17 am


Let's hear it for Starbucks.

abera mola wrote on Wed Dec 27th @ 8:31 am

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee holds a trademark, you can check at Second, it is infact Starbucks' argument that makes no sense. It is completely devoid of economic reasoning and the company has chosen to argue its case by citing aid programs it participated in and sometimes even bordering on patronizing comments stating that the Ethiopians wouldn't know how to handle a trademark. 23% over the the New York commodity market for speciality coffees is a joke ... the New York commodity market prices are for bulk auctioned coffee (eg. the folgers blended brands that you find in grocery stores). The selling prices for the speciality coffees is in some cases between 100% - 500% [in some cases more] of what the folgers brands sell for. All Ethiopia is asking is that the prices its farmers get for the speciality coffees [not all its coffees] reflect these differences. The way it hopes to do that is through trademarking.

A most important element you are overlooking is that these coffee brands are the IPs of Ethiopian farmers not that of Sbux and they have a right to do what they will with it [regardless of Sbux sensitivities] ... plus impartiality would have required that you mention Sbux's attemot to trademark the name Sidamo as part of its application in 2004.

Greg Sherwin wrote on Wed Dec 27th @ 3:04 pm

Ahhhh, the answer is "no"?!?

Fair Trade was devised by people who wanted to counter the price squeeze of coffee farmers at the bottom of the chain while retailers profited handsomely with huge margins. Essentially, Starbucks was one of the reasons why Fair Trade coffee came about. Wisely, they saw the opportunity and co-opted it, and now boast their Fair Tradeness as a badge of honor -- in a little smoke and mirrors to deny their prior practices that lead to its creation. So Starbucks is hardly the victim here.

Same goes for the Oxfam case. While I certainly would question the transparency of Ethiopia and the hands over which revenues would flow in that country, it's a bit disingenous to suggest that Ethiopian growers don't deserve protections we afford other food & drink producers around the world because they happen to be unlucky enough to live under problematic government leadership.

I think the most culpable act that Starbucks did surround this was, first of all, denying that they were behind the National Coffee Associations' veto on the measure. And now they've come back front and center publicly stating they were against Ethiopian certification. Talk about speaking out of both corners of your mouth.

I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that Starbucks is some bloodthirsty exploitation machine, the way that Nike has been portrayed. However, like Disney, they profit handsomely from a Potemkin village of ethical propriety when behind the scenes they are no better -- or worse -- than any other profit-making corporation. So calling Starbucks the victim of a mugging is a bit falling for the bait. You should know better.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Feel and look fantastic in a coffee body wrap

Ladies, whether before or after Christmas, awaken your senses and treat your skin to a fabulous Bodycoffee anti-cellulite detoxifying body wrap at Mingala. It will tackle that dreaded cellulite and rid the body of the poisonous toxins many of us will be guzzling this party season!

The therapeutic Bodycoffee body wrap gets to work on cellulite and toxins as the clay, green coffee powder, and other healing ingredients provide maximum firming benefits while encouraging skin to eliminate damaging toxins.

How it works

Firstly sea algae activating serum is gently massaged into the person’s cellulitic areas. This serum contains fat-fighting caffeine and sea algae extract, which is an effective natural moisturiser that promotes the silky texture and smooth finish of younger-looking skin.

Next, spa-goers are wrapped in a detoxifying, coffee-infused cocoon. It is full of Bodycoffee green coffee and utane powder, which was first developed using Kaolin clay to stimulate circulation to the skin, gently exfoliate, and cleanse without drying.

Coffee powder from green coffee beans provides more concentrated antioxidant benefits than the roasted variet; it helps eliminate toxins and make skin look more toned. After this luxurious treatment, clients feel invigorated, with firmer skin, sleeker contours, and a healthy-looking glow.

Spa-goers are drawn to this innovative new way to energise their bodies and pamper their skin. After a Bodycoffee treatment, clients emerge radiant, refreshed, and positively glowing.

The coffee plant is acknowledged the world over for its healing properties. It is renowned for its abilities to mend broken skin, soothe irritations, and revitalise cells. The coffee plant is also a free radical scavenge; it neutralises destructive oxidation reactions, which are the culprit of everything from acne to eczema.

Coffee is also a gentle exfoliant, removing dirt and dead skin cells, opening pores so wastes and toxins can be easily released. This plant is also a great cleanser; it neutralises and absorbs strong odours.

Caffeine improves micro-cellular circulation and breaks up the fatty deposits that can cause cellulite. It is an effective astringent; with the same 4.5 pH as the skin, it helps to fend off acne and other blemishes. There is a UVA/UVB protector in the coffee plant, it helps to screen out the sun rays responsible for burning, premature ageing, and skin cancer.

Origins of Bodycoffee

The idea behind Bodycoffee products came from founder Stephanie Profitt and her partner Serge Kogan. Stephanie was inspired while on a traditional Russian bathhouse (known as the "Banya"). People there were using coffee in a way she had never seen before - rubbing it on their bodies as a stimulating exfoliant. It has been a tradition in Russian bathhouses for generations, and coffee also is a natural astringent, antioxidant, and deodorant. It cleanses, moisturises, and protects the skin from the dulling and damaging effects of environmental toxins, revealing a youthful, more radiant appearance.

In 2001, they set up their company Stephka, appointed a team of the best skin care experts, and together set out to combine the therapeutic benefits of coffee with other healing ingredients such as olive and hemp seed oils, shea butter, sea salt, and herbal extracts to create products that can be used every day to diminish the effects of oxidation, sunlight, and pollution. The result was Bodycoffee, a collection of body care products that revitalise tired, dull skin to reveal the soft, new self within.

Bodycoffee treatments are available at Mingala, Pearse Court, Pearse Street, Athlone. You can contact them on (090) 6477770.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Arabica coffee project a fantastic hope

VietNamNet Bridge – The project on developing Arabica coffee in Vietnam, which was kicked off eight years ago, is facing failure.

This is an ambitious project that aims to develop the Arabica coffee plantation area in 15 northern mountainous provinces, allowing Vietnam to export Arabica coffee to the world. The investment capital for the first phase of the project was VND800bil ($50mil), a part of which came from French AFD loans.

Wrong investment?

The 2005-2006 crop provided 18,000 tonnes of Arabica, and 11,000 tones were exported, down by 1,000 tonnes in comparison with the previous crop.

Nguyen Nam Hai, Director of Cafecontrol, said that the quality of Vietnam-grown Arabica was alarmingly bad, with the size of coffee beans becoming smaller and smaller.

“There are problems in picking and processing processes,” said Mr Hai.

As a result, a large proportion of product cannot be exported.

“Vietnam-made Arabica is just average quality in comparison with the world’s products. Though Vietnam has exported Arabica for the last eight years, Vietnam is still not a big name in the world,” said Mr Hai.

He thinks that the problem lies in the coffee seed. Catimor is the kind of seed, which is being planted widely in Vietnam; however, Catimor cannot bring good-quality products.

The height of the land for growing Arabica, according to experts, can decide the quality and taste of Arabica. Arabica coffee has been grown on land not high enough above sea level. It is more difficult to grow Arabica than Robusta, which is popular in the Central Highlands and southeastern areas.

The habit of Vietnamese farmers of picking ripe and unripe coffee beans at the same time has also been cited as one of the reasons behind the bad quality of Vietnam-made Arabica.

Hope still cherished

According to the Vietnam Coffee and Cocoa Association (Vicofa), the total area for growing Arabica in the 2005-2006 crop was 2,000 ha higher than the previous crop, about 20,500 ha, mostly in Lam Dong, Quang Tri, Son La and other northern provinces. Of these provinces, Lam Dong can provide 10,000 tones of Arabica every year, 50% of total Arabica output.

Under the development strategy drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the plantation area will be five times greater in the next five years than the current level, which will allow the industry to harvest 150-200,000 tones every year.

The area for growing Robusta will gradually decrease from 500,000 ha to 400,000 ha in the next five years. Doan Trieu Nhan, Vicofa Chairman, stressed that it was an effective solution to get sustainable development, while helping reduce the overproduction of Robusta.

In addition, according to Mr Nhan, Vietnamese producers and exporters will be able to earn more money with Arabica coffee. Arabica prices are always 1.5-2 times higher than Robusta in the international market, and Arabica has never seen overproduction as Robusta has.

However, it is not so easy to develop Arabica plantation area and exports. Nguyen Van An, Director of Thai Hoa Trading Company, the biggest Arabica exporter, said that farmers and processors have to change their habits of farming and processing. They also have to make investment in equipment and technologies suitable to processing Arabica, while they need advice from scientists on the areas for growing and other technical issues.

“Vietnam is a big Robusta exporter, and Vietnamese farmers have been growing Robusta for many years. However, this does not mean that they will be naturally successful in growing Arabica,” Mr. An said.

orginally posted 13 December 06 on

Friday, December 08, 2006

More support for coffee’s anti-diabetes benefits

By staff reporter

08/12/2006- Drinking four or more cups of coffee a day could cut the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by over 23 per cent, say American and Finnish researchers.

Led by Nina Paynter from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the scientists looked at coffee and sweetened beverage consumption and the risk of type-2 diabetes among 12,204 nondiabetic, middle-aged men and women taking enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study.

While no significant link between sweetened beverage consumption and type-2 diabetes was observed, the researchers do report a significant protective association amongst coffee drinkers.

The research adds to previous large prospective studies that reported a beneficial link between coffee intake and the risk of type-2 diabetes, but whether these apparent benefits are related to the caffeine content is controversial.

However, the doses reported to offer a protective effect are higher than the average worldwide daily coffee consumption of one and a half cups, while the US average is more than three and a half cups.

The ARICS study, conducted between 1987 and 1999, assessed dietary intakes using a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) and classified coffee and sweetened beverage consumption according to the number of cups per day. Diabetes diagnosis was obtained by self-reporting of physician-diagnosed diabetes, diabetes treatment, and/or a fasting or non-fasting blood sugar test

Paynter and her co-workers report in the American Journal of Epidemiology that consumption of at least four cups of coffee was associated with a 23 per cent reduction in the risk of men developing type 2 diabetes mellitus, compared to men who “almost never” drank coffee. Similar intakes in women were associated with an 11 per cent reduction of type-2 diabetes in women, although this was not statistically significant, said Paynter.

Sweetened beverage consumption is reported to have no significant link to the incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

“The lack of association between sweetened beverage consumption and type-2 diabetes risk is surprising,” said the researchers. “Sweetened beverage consumption may be more important risk factor for younger or leaner people and should be studied further in that population.”

“In conclusion, a higher consumption level of coffee was associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes in middle-aged adults,” concluded the researchers.

Being an epidemiological study, no investigation of a potentially protective underlying mechanism was performed. Previous studies have stated that association between diabetes and coffee appears to be complex., with some scientists advocating coffee’s magnesium content for improve insulin sensitivity. Additionally, the range of polyphenols, particularly chlorogenic acid, may explain some of the inverse association between coffee intake and risk of type-2 diabetes mellitus.

Some reports have stated that caffeine could also increase insulin sensitivity, but this relationship is controversial. A study published in June in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine(Vol. 166, pp. 1311-1316) reported that drinking six or more cups of coffee every day could reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by more than 20 per cent, but if the coffee is decaffeinated, the reduction in risk rises to over 30 per cent – a result that suggested the benefits of coffee for this population group are not due to caffeine.

There are several limitations with this study, most notably that the data was obtained by observational self-reporting, which is dependent on the recall and accuracy of the individual participants.

“Although several observational prospective studies have yielded consistent findings and although biological explanations for decreased diabetes risk with increased coffee consumption have been postulated, further research, particularly experimental studies that can examine the long-term effect of coffee consumption on glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and diabetes risk, is needed before recommendations can be made about coffee drinking with respect to the prevention of type-2 diabetes,” said Paynter.

Source: American Journal of Epidemiology

Volume 164, Issue 11, Pages 1075-1084; doi:10.1093/aje/kwj323

“Coffee and Sweetened Beverage Consumption and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus - The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study”

Authors: N.P. Paynter, H-C. Yeh, S. Voutilainen, M.I. Schmidt, G. Heiss, A.R. Folsom, F.L. Brancati and W.H.L. Kao

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More cafes, varieties boost U.S. coffee roastings

Dec 5, 2006

By Susan Buchanan

Of Dow Jones NewsWire

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. coffee companies are roasting beans at the strongest pace in over 30 years, reversing an earlier downtrend, as consumers lap up gourmet java and try new products and origins, according to industry members.

American adults now drink almost as much coffee as soft drinks, for the first time since 1990, the National Coffee Association says.

Roastings nationally reached 19.535 million, 60-kilogram bags in 2005, according to Coffee Publications Inc. in New York, and should exceed that level in 2006 - possibly by 5%. Those widely watched numbers cover most, but not all American roastings.

Hernando de la Roche, managing director of Hencorp Coffee in Miami, says a buoyant U.S. cafe culture - with shops owned by Starbucks and other chains popping up on nearly every city corner - has spurred young adults to drink java, while new offerings on supermarket shelves have also lifted demand.

"The coffee-shop phenomenon has exposed a broader base of consumers" to the brew, said Lars Atorf, spokesman for Procter & Gamble (PG), maker of Folgers. "Coffee's become more popular among younger adults - a group that in the last 10 to 20 years was trending towards sodas and other beverages."

Research supporting java's health benefits has altered consumers' views from "I love coffee, but it might be bad for my health (to a) belief it's good for my health," he said.

P&G, Kraft (KFT), Starbucks Coffee (SBUX) and other U.S. roasters and retailers raised their prices in September and early October as the cost of robusta coffee, a hardy bean grown mostly in Asia and used in U.S. blends, swelled. Since then, prices of arabicas - the milder variety cultivated in Brazil and Central America - sped to a 10-month high of $1.2835 a pound on the New York Board of Trade this week, as inventories dwindled and Brazil's harvest next September could be 25% to 30% smaller.

Most American consumers don't mind paying up for the brew they love, however, coffee analysts said.

Meanwhile, roasters have developed new products as consumer tastes become more sophisticated, Atorf said. New items at P&G include various flavors of Folgers and Millstone coffees, stomach-friendly Folgers Simply Smooth, Folgers Gourmet Selections and a single-cup brewing system called Home Cafe. Folgers recently introduced AromaSeal plastic canisters, he noted.

Ted Lingle, senior adviser to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, said growing enthusiasm for specialty or gourmet beans, which account for 15% of U.S. java demand, explains part of the recent growth in roastings. But, he said, the Coffee Publications numbers that the industry uses may only cover 80% of all roastings, missing some of the specialty companies. Coverage is nonetheless improving, especially as bigger firms buy smaller roasters.

"Coffee is on the minds and lips of American consumers like never before -56% drink it every day, and market penetration is back on par with soft drinks after 16 years," said Robert F. Nelson, president of the National Coffee Association. "With more varieties than ever, consumers are not only drinking more coffee, but mixing and matching options to satisfy expanding tastes." Mixing and matching, he explained, means drinking traditional and gourmet beverages and trying new products.

According to the National Coffee Association's drinking survey, released in March, recent growth in demand was driven by the 25-39 year-age group, with daily use in that crowd reaching 47% in 2006 from 38% in 2004. Demand among those 18-24 years of age rose to 31% in 2006 from 22% in 2004.

Some 73% of U.S. seniors, traditionally big coffee drinkers, imbibed in 2006 versus 67% in 2004.

The U.S. is the top consumer, drinking nearly 21 million bags of coffee annually. The European Union swills almost 39 million bags a year, with per-capita consumption particularly high in northern Europe.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Coffee drinkers show lower diabetes risk

November 30, 2006

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - It might be better to start your morning with a cup of coffee than a sugar-sweetened juice, at least where risk for type 2 diabetes is concerned, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among more than 12,000 middle-aged adults, those who drank four or more cups of coffee each day had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who rarely had a cup.

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, agree with those of several past studies.

The reason is not fully clear, but one possibility is that certain coffee components -- such as magnesium or chlorogenic acid -- improve the body's regulation of blood sugar. Some research also suggests that caffeinated coffee spurs a prolonged spike in metabolism that may help control body weight.

Type 2 diabetes arises when the body loses sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which shuttles sugar from the blood into cells to be used for energy. The disorder is closely associated with obesity.

In contrast to the case with coffee, sugar-filled soft drinks and juices have been linked to obesity and higher diabetes risk in certain studies.

In the current one, however, a taste for sweet drinks was not a risk factor for diabetes.

Still, the findings are not a green light to fill up on coffee and sugary drinks, according to the researchers, led by Nina P. Paynter, a doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore.

Moderation, as always, is in order, the study's senior author, Dr. W. H. Linda Kao, told Reuters Health.

"We feel it is definitely premature to recommend coffee consumption," she advised.

While there's no evidence coffee is "bad" as far as diabetes risk, research has linked it to other conditions, such as elevated blood pressure, Kao pointed out.

As for the lack of a connection between sugary drinks and type 2 diabetes, the researchers say it's something of a surprise. In general, though, the middle-aged adults in their study drank few sugar-laden beverages, so it's possible this obscured any relationship to diabetes, according to Kao and Paynter.

"Moderation with coffee is still important and sweetened beverages should still be approached with caution," Kao said.

The Hopkins researchers based their findings on data from 12,204 middle-aged U.S. adults who were followed from 1987 to 1999 -- all of who were free of diabetes at the outset.

Participants completed detailed questionnaires on their diets, including how often they drank coffee and sugar-sweetened soft drinks and juices. They also reported on their exercise levels, smoking habits, alcohol intake and other lifestyle factors.

Even with these other factors considered, coffee drinkers showed a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Those who downed four or more cups each day were about one-third less likely to report a diabetes diagnosis over the study period.

But while the coffee-diabetes connection is "intriguing," Kao said, more research is needed to determine whether the beverage itself has a true effect on diabetes risk.

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, December 1, 2006

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Starbucks CEO Meets With Ethiopia Over Ownership Of Coffee Names

Corporate Social Responsibility Press Release

Provided by CSRwire

11/29/2006: Press Release from Oxfam America

(CSRwire) Parnassus Investments November 29,2006- International aid agency Oxfam welcomed Tuesday’s meeting between Starbucks CEO Jim Donald and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, but urged the international coffee giant to stop dragging its feet before the holidays, and instead recognize Ethiopia’s ownership of its coffee names and the enormous benefits that ownership could bring to the 15 million poor Ethiopians who depend on coffee for their livelihood.

“It’s significant that after a year of trying to engage Starbucks on trademarks, the company finally sat down to discuss the issue directly with Ethiopia,” said Seth Petchers, Oxfam International’s Make Trade Fair campaign coffee lead. “Starbucks must now follow up with immediate action to recognize Ethiopia’s rights to own the names of its coffees to ensure that coffee farmers get a fairer share of the value of their crop."

Ethiopia’s farmers produce some of the finest and most sought after coffees in the world—including coffees that have been sold under Starbucks’ Black Apron Exclusives line for up to $26 a pound—but receive only 5 to 10 percent of the retail price, in a country where millions live on just a dollar a day. Ethiopia is working to gain greater benefits for its coffee growers by seeking control of its coffee names, a move that would give Ethiopian coffee farmers a fairer share of the profits in the global coffee trade.

“Small-scale coffee farmers are economically vulnerable, in part because large foreign buyers, such as Starbucks, are dictating trading conditions with their extraordinary market power,” continued Petchers. “If poor countries are able to obtain trademarks for unique, locally grown products like coffee, they can capture more of the value of their products for the benefit of the people who produce them. This initiative is a significant and innovative approach to alleviating poverty.”

For over a year, Ethiopia has sought a dialogue with Starbucks about supporting the country’s efforts to return more of the price of its coffees in world markets to the farmers who produce them by seeking trademark rights for Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe coffees. Despite its much-publicized commitment to farming communities, however, Starbucks has continually rejected Ethiopia’s requests to resolve the trademark issue. Absent that step, no agreement was reached at Tuesday’s meeting.

“This is a rights issue and we deserve to have our rights recognized. We strongly believe that trademarking is the way to go,” said Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. “The right to own our coffee names is the only way that we can preserve our rich coffee heritage; Ethiopia has an obligation to coffee consumers worldwide to protect and preserve our unique coffees.”

Legal and intellectual property experts have supported Ethiopia in its approach, expressing the opinion that the trademark and licensing project is a viable solution to the poverty that plagues Ethiopian farmers. Trademark rights for Ethiopia’s coffees have also been recognized in several European countries, as well as Canada and Japan.

“Our coffees are some of the best in the world and although they often sell for two and three times the cost of other coffees, we are getting a tiny fraction of this price,” said Tadesse Meskela, manager of Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union who is featured in the new documentary Black Gold. “Our objective here is to return more money to the coffee growers’ pocket.”

Last month, Oxfam launched an international public campaign to encourage Starbucks to engage with Ethiopia directly on the issue.

“Over 85,000 people around the world have joined Oxfam in calling on Starbucks to do right by Ethiopia’s coffee farmers and sign the licensing agreement," continued Petchers. “Oxfam and its supporters will continue to work with the Ethiopian government, coffee growers, and exporters to encourage Starbucks to come to a mutually beneficial solution that could make a world of difference for millions of poor people.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

'Smart' Coffee Maker Delivers Weather Forecast

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Associated Press

A new coffee maker hitting stores for the holidays can display real-time weather data, using a "smart objects" technology that Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has been touting for years.

The $200 Melitta Smart Mill & Brew, made by Salton Inc., (SFP) takes advantage of a wireless-data system built by Microsoft to automatically display current weather conditions and forecasts.

This concept — imbuing everyday objects with the ability to deliver at-a-glance information — has been in the works at Microsoft since at least 2000.

Chairman Bill Gates highlighted the "Smart Personal Objects Technology" (SPOT) in his keynote at the Comdex trade show in 2002, calling it part of a seminal shift in computing that would soon make a mark.

In practice, though, making SPOT run has been laborious. To shoot real-time data to household gadgets, Microsoft and partner companies had to design a mini-operating system and power-friendly microchips for them. It also set up a nationwide wireless data system using the FM radio spectrum.

The first SPOT-infused products, watches from three companies that offered real-time news and other information, hit the market in 2004, followed by a home weather gadget from Oregon Scientific Inc.

That makes the coffee maker just the third kind of item to deploy the technology.

But Eric Lang, who manages the SPOT initiative, said the project "is on a roll now."

Microsoft has simplified the process by which gadget makers can add SPOT to products, and several are due to be announced in coming months "It's clear this is where technology is going, there's no doubt about it," Lang said. "It might be a little before its time for mainstream America, but it's absolutely where things are going."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Cafe Opens to Serve a Mission to End the War


November 19, 2006
The New York Times

On Veterans Day, John Hartlaub wandered into the newest cafe in Watertown, N.Y.

It was sparsely furnished, with three Internet stations, a black sofa and an offering of hot or cold cider. A customer who actually wanted coffee would have to buy it a few doors away.

Mr. Hartlaub stayed most of the afternoon anyway. He browsed a few dozen military books for sale, then pulled up a folding chair to watch “Poison Dust,” a documentary about the health effects of depleted uranium weapons on soldiers returning from Iraq.

He left with mostly positive feelings. “It could end up being very informative and helpful,” said Mr. Hartlaub, 41, who has served in the military on and off since 1985.

The organizers of the cafe were hoping for such a reaction. But, being not far from the largest military installation in the Northeast, they are prepared for backlash, too.

They say theirs is the country’s first G.I. coffeehouse for the war in Iraq. It is a project of the peace movement that is focused on changing opinions within the military, with an ultimate goal of ending the war.

During the Vietnam War, about 20 G.I. coffeehouses, as they were known, operated around the country. Each was close to a large military base and was intended to support the efforts of soldiers who were against the war. The coffeehouses were incubators for war resistance and part of the counterculture. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were on the jukebox. A decent cup of coffee was on the menu.

“It was extremely important,” said David Zeiger, the writer and director of “Sir! No Sir!” a 2005 documentary about the G.I. movement to end the Vietnam War. “One thing coffeehouses will do is link civilians and soldiers.”

The idea is that the two can meet, learn about movements against the war and talk about the contradictions of what the public hears versus what soldiers have witnessed, he said. In the past, coffeehouse patrons were sometimes subjected to arrests and intimidation. A cafe in Mountain Home, Idaho, was firebombed, and another near Camp Pendleton, Calif., was shot up.

But the main organizer of Watertown’s new coffeehouse, called Different Drummer Internet Cafe, said he did not expect such confrontations this time around. “The military today is very different, and we have to adapt to that,” said Tod Ensign, the organizer, who is also a lawyer and director of Citizen Soldier, a veterans advocacy group in New York City. “The soldiers are all volunteers. The Vietnam protests were driven very much by the draft.”

After Mr. Ensign decided this year to open the coffeehouse, he sent out a few dozen letters asking for financing, including one to the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation. “They talk a lot about peace,” he said.

The appeals went unanswered. Undeterred, he used small donations from activists, farm workers and war resistance leagues to start the project, which he estimates will cost $50,000 a year. He chose Watertown, a city of 27,000 people near the Canadian border and Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division. The division has deployed more soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other in the Army.

Mr. Ensign has three goals for the cafe. They are to allow the free exchange of ideas, to provide accurate information and to be an enjoyable gathering place, with live bands and karaoke. He and his supporters have not decided whether they will serve coffee.

Most in the community do not seem to know what to make of the cafe, several people said. Watertown’s mayor, Jeffrey E. Graham, said he did not attend its ribbon cutting on Oct. 27. In part, because it was inconvenient and in part because he was not sure of the cafe’s purpose. “I don’t think people want to be openly antiwar for fear of dissing the families that make that sacrifice,” he said. “On the other hand, I don’t see any harm.”

In the cafe’s first three weeks, foot traffic has been minimal. Its manager, Cinthia Mercante, who served for eight years in the military before the Persian Gulf war started, recently found herself calling out to a few soldiers hovering near the entrance: “Folks, you can come in. We won’t bite.”

Paul Foley, a volunteer who works in highway design, said he hoped the community would warm up to the cafe. “There’s been a little talk,” he said. “But the people who come will see that we’re not dangerous rabble-rousers. We’re just giving people a place to talk.

This was orginally published byThe New York Times on November 19, 2006
November 19, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

Coca-Cola ventures into premium specialty coffee

17 November 2006 1853 hrs (SST)

SINGAPORE: Coca-Cola is serving up freshly brewed gourmet coffee and tea in Singapore.

The 120-year-old beverage company best known for its range of soft-drinks has launched its premium brewed beverage business here under the Far Coast brand.

The move is part of plans to diversify its business.

Coca-Cola says it wants to tap into its traditional distribution network to grow its new coffee and tea operations.

Unlike other brewed coffee and tea outlets, no specially trained barista is needed to brew each cup of Far Coast coffee and tea.

In its place is a patented dispensing machine that can brew a cup of hot beverage in 40 seconds.

According to Coca-Cola, the trick lies in its proprietary technology in packing grounded coffee into containers called pods.

These can keep the coffee seeds fresh for up to 6 months, compared to 3 days when stored by conventional means.

Louis Heinsz, Director of Premium Brewed Beverages Research & Development, The Coca-Cola Company, says: "What we've managed to design is a technology that speeds the service for our quick service restaurant customers - that's one of the key ambitions in this overall programme. The turret permits the pods to swing into position and the dispenser operator to continue doing other things while actually brewing the product. There's a big technology breakthrough in that."

Coca-Cola says with gourmet coffee outselling soft drinks by 2 to 1 globally, and the business worth some US$22m a year in Singapore, it is only logical for it to look into this sector of the beverage market.

Udaiyan Jatar, Vice President of Premium Brewed Beverages, The Coca-Cola Company, says: "We're not getting into the retail business. Our business model is really simple - it is to help our restaurant customers deliver products like specialty coffees - cappuccinos, lattes, chai lattes - to their consumers who are seeking these products but cannot get them inside the restaurants that they visit."

Together with its first concept store set up in Toronto, Canada two months ago and one to be opened in Oslo, Norway early next year, Coca-Cola says its Singapore outlet along Orchard Road will allow the soft-drinks giant to gather consumer feedback and fine-tune its business model.

Coca Cola also plans to launch Far Coast to consumers all across the world, a country or a city at a time.

Far Coast says there will only be one concept store in Singapore which will serve as a training centre and product research and development. - CNA/so

This story originally appeared in 17 November 2006

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Hot Cup of Money

Starbucks, Ethiopia, and the Coffee Branding Wars

By Joshua Gallu

Spiegel On-line - November 16, 2006, 09:53 AM

Fine coffee beans may be Ethiopia's most precious natural resource. But Starbucks is standing in the way of the country's efforts to trademark its gourmet product. The row is escalating.

Fancy a hot cup of Yirgacheffe?

Think you know what's in your coffee cup? It used to be simple: ground coffee beans and water. Now though, your average robusto has given way to a grande double non-fat latte with a shot of vanilla syrup. The 20 cent cup of mud has turned into a $4 coffee experience.

Still, even as coffee has gone upscale, the barista whipping forth your drink still works with coffee beans. How they find their way from plantations to your mug is a quintessential tale of globalization, complete with giant wealthy corporations, poor local farmers and conflicts over who is entitled to what.

The most recent dispute in this economic food chain involves Starbucks and the Ethiopian government. The giant coffee franchise opposes Ethiopia's efforts to trademark the names of its most famous coffee regions Sidamo, Yirgacheffe and Harar. Starbucks, after all, is already using those names to sell coffee for top dollars across the globe. A clear case of a developing country defending itself against rapacious Western business interests, right? Oxfam, the UK-based development agency, thinks so. It is championing Ethiopia's move and has embarked on a massive media campaign accusing Starbucks of keeping the small farmer under its thumb.

"Harar and Sidamo have sold in coffee shops for up to $24 and $26 per pound," Seth Petchers from Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Farmers who grow these specialty coffees get as little as $.60 to $1.10 per pound.... We want to work to find a win-win solution." Oxfam estimates that over time Ethiopia's coffee industry would benefit from an additional $88 million annually were the trade marking plan to go through.

Ethiopian names "generic"

Starbucks, though, insists that it is not trying to deny Ethiopian farmers their legitimate coffee profits. Alain Poncelet, Starbucks' head of Green Coffee Purchasing, told Spiegel On-line that his company is all for Ethiopia "protecting its regional names." Just not through trademark. Starbucks favors a geographic certification model -- similar to Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, Florida Orange Juice and Napa Valley Wines -- which guarantees a point of origin and standard of quality.

So which model is best? Your answer to that question likely depends on which end of the supply chain you're on.

Ethiopia's efforts to protect the "Sidamo" name actually began way back in March 2005. But the country's application to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) went nowhere for the next 15 months. Starbucks, as it turns out, had already applied to trademark an expression that included the word "sidamo."

In June 2006, the giant coffee distributor withdrew its application and took a different approach to get its way. According to Oxfam, Starbucks leaned on the National Coffee Association (NCA) to help block Ethiopia's bid. And it worked. In refusing Ethiopia its trademark, the USPTO cited a position directly from the NCA letter of protest: The names Ethiopia wanted to trademark, it argued, were "generic."

Ethiopia has until December to appeal the USPTO's decision -- a move the country will likely make -- and the government, with the help of Oxfam, is trying to get the NCA and Starbucks to stop blocking the trademark process.

A clear stake in the retail price

But the Starbucks regional label model likewise has its adherents. Ron Layton -- CEO of Light Years IP, which is representing Ethiopia in its trademark bid -- even points to Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee as an example of how "it is possible to increase the income of producers of coffee in a way that is both possible and sustainable within the industry." But that's not happening in Ethiopia. According to Layton, while Ethiopian producers get only 6 to 10 percent of their product's retail price, their Jamaican counterparts capture as much as 45 percent.

So what's wrong with the regional model? Layton argues that certification -- while it works well for a smaller country like Jamaica -- would be too difficult to implement in Ethiopia. There are literally millions of Ethiopians moving coffee beans to only a handful of distributors like Starbucks. Rather than trying to coordinate the price internally between these bean suppliers, a trademark -- unlike certification -- gives the local coffee producers a clear stake in the retail price.

Plus, isn't Starbucks cashing in on the regional labels itself? Petchers says that by pursuing trademarks, "Ethiopia is attempting to employ the same strategy used by corporations to build brands and capture a fair return on their equity."

Starbucks, for its part, argues that -- were trademarks to be implemented -- roasters might shy away from buying the coffees for fear of becoming embroiled in complicated legal disputes. Or worse, they may buy the coffees and just market them without the trademarked names. Letting the high quality beans go to market without a geographic identification would completely undermine the value of the brand. And here, Starbucks' interests converge with those of the Ethiopian coffee farmer: Both want to protect the value of the product.

For Ethiopia, protecting the value of its coffee is vital to the country's economy. Oxfam estimates some 15 million Ethiopians earn their living through coffee farming, and the commodity accounts for 40 to 60 percent of the country's exports. When coffee prices plummeted between 2000 and 2003, Ethiopia's coffee revenue dropped by almost 60 percent, Oxfam says.

Such a dependence on coffee also explains why Ethiopia is eager to avoid a major dispute with Starbucks. Indeed, should the trademarks come through, the country is offering a licensing agreement to the Seattle-based company free of charge. Already, 11 other US coffee companies have signed such royalty-free agreements acknowledging Ethiopia's ownership of the names.

What is "market price?"

Starbucks prides itself on its socially friendly business practices which see the company regularly paying above market prices for premium coffees -- fully 23 percent higher last year. The CAFE program -- Coffee and Farmer Equity -- likewise seeks to ensure that profits trickle all the way down to the farmers who grow the beans.

The problem, though, is that the "market price" Starbucks is referring to is the commodity price for high-grade coffee that gets set in New York trading. Ethiopian coffees, though, are specialty products and fetch up to $26 per pound in US stores.

Layton argues that the financial rewards for Ethiopia's "unique, non-commodity product" are only being reaped by the distributors like Starbucks. A trademark scheme would up the benefits for Ethiopians, he argues.

Assuming, of course, that any profits from the plan don't merely end up in the pockets of the country's politicians and middle men. The country just last week was ranked 130 out of the 163 countries on Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index. That combined with the minimal amount of leverage Ethiopian coffee farmers have on the global marketplace is a bitter brew indeed.

Originally published by Spiegel on-line on November 16, 2006,1518,448191,00.html

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Trouble brewing over coffee quality

Southeast Asia

Nov 2, 2006

HANOI - Coffee quality is becoming a hot issue after a Vietnam Coffee and Cocoa Association (VICOFA) representative revealed a staggering increase in rejected product.

From October 2005 to March 2006, about 88% of the coffee rejected on the world market was from Vietnam, said Doan Trieu Nhan, deputy chairman of VICOFA, during a meeting organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

This was a 19% increase from the previous six-month period, he said.

Ministry experts blame the decline in quality on farmers mixing unripe and ripe beans during harvest. In addition, farmers are not properly drying the beans after harvesting, which reduces the overall quality.

The price for unripe and ripe coffee beans is virtually the same, which discourages farmers from separating the two. In addition, farmers fear a slowdown in harvesting and higher operating costs associated with separating the beans.

Nhan admits that harvesting unripe beans reduces coffee exports by 10-20% because of the frequent quality rejections. The biggest loss, however, is the prestige of Vietnamese coffee in international market, Nhan said. Buyers in North America and Europe value Vietnamese coffee's natural quality, which has led to direct competition with long-established markets such as Brazil and Indonesia.

Harvesting yields are high in Vietnam even though the total area planted for coffee is a quarter of that used in Brazil. As a result, Vietnam has become one of the world's largest coffee exporters, a title experts fear may be lost if quality does not improve.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Diep Kinh Tan is concerned that the Vietnamese coffee industry ranks second in quality but fifth in export turnover.

When Vietnam becomes a World Trade Organization member, the coffee industry will face more stringent regulations on hygiene and quality control, Tan said. He urged industry leaders to make the necessary adjustments to stay competitive in the global market.

The ministry has guided the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) provinces, where more than 90% of the country's coffee plantations are located, through quality-control improvements. Provincial authorities will teach people new harvesting technology. Each province will set up their own model to harvest and process coffee beans.

The ministry has suggested that coffee earmarked for export be thoroughly examined before being shipped.

(Asia Pulse/VNA)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Bitter Brew

photography by flickr
(and an anoynomous photographer)

The coffee clash between Ethiopia and Starbucks explained


Nov. 6, 2006 Vol. 168, No. 20 October 30, 2006

Ethiopian coffee farmers


Ethiopian coffee farmers hope to earn more with a U.S. trademark

U.K.-based charity Oxfam last week accused Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks of blocking Ethiopian efforts to trademark three types of coffee beans in the U.S. Starbucks denies this, but the controversy continues to percolate.

What does Ethiopia want? The Ethiopian government applied to trademark its most famous coffee-bean names — Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe — in the U.S. last year. The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office estimates that controlling the names of the beans could earn Ethiopia an extra $88 million a year.

How so? Owning the names, Ethiopia reasons, will enable it to build premium brands.

How has Starbucks responded? The coffee chain has said it is against Ethiopia's trademark initiative, arguing it will actually harm poor farmers more than help them, but it denies Oxfam's claim that it asked the National Coffee Association to oppose the applications. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office turned down Ethiopia's application for the Sidamo and Harar beans, saying the names are generic, but it did grant Yirgacheffe a trademark in August.

Do governments frequently trademark native products? It's not uncommon, but they more frequently use geographic certification to brand everything from orange juice to cheeses.

Jamaica has achieved great success with its Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee, which is registered with a certification mark in the U.S. Starbucks says it supports a certification program for Ethiopian coffees, but not trademarks.

Originally Published in October 30, 2006

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Coffee is good for you, claim scientists

photograph by godi

Coffee has many beneficial effects as a beverage and it protects from illnesses like diabetes and Parkinson's disease, scientists have claimed.

The recent International Science Association of Coffee (ASIC) assembly, held in Montpelier, held that even those who consume substantial quantities of coffee (six cups daily, for example) should not suffer from digestive or heart diseases if they are healthy.

It has been widely recognized that the research about coffee had been focused on caffeine for a long time, but scientists consider that the bean has a group of very rich constituents, according to a French researcher Astrid Nehlig.

Nehlig, who specializes in coffee-health interaction at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), said the grain also contains Clorogenic and Melanic acids, known as potent antioxidants.

Some experts, like Italian Carlos la Vecchia, suggested that coffee reduces the risks of cirrhosis of the liver by 60-80 per cent.

Quoting epidemiologic research, Bertil Fredholm of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said coffee consumption can protect people from Parkinson's disease.

Some scientists even said coffee is more efficient than fruits and vegetables to counteract DNA oxidation, which causes several serious diseases, among them Neoplasia.

This was originally posted on the net by a Paris based publication, Bureau Report on Sept 14, 2006. We would have loved to have credited the writer, but none was given in the original.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Farmers in protest over coffee money

By Mutinda Mwanzia

More than 2,000 farmers have protested over poor management of a giant coffee estate in Machakos District.

Waving twigs and placards, the farmers paralysed business in Tala town as they demonstrated in the streets, demanding the dissolution of the board of directors at Kyanzabe Coffee Estate.

The farmers demanded an urgent special annual general meeting to deliberate on the woes facing the estate.

They accused the directors led by their chairman, Mr Isaac Nzioka, of running down the estate and failing to pay members dividends in the last three years.

Through their spokesman Mr Jacob Mulei, the farmers told journalists on Sunday that operations at the estate have been paralysed due to alleged poor management, leading to poor returns.

Kangundo MP Mr Moffat Maitha assured the farmers that he would intervene and facilitate a meeting to enable them to air their grievances to the Government.

This article was originally posted on 23 October 2006 – eastandard is published from Nairobi-Kenya.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

USAID gives Uganda’s coffee industry a boost

October 19, 2006

By www.andnetwork .com

THE coffee industry in Uganda will receive a $6.5 million (about Shs12 billion) boost from the United States Agency for International Development, a top official has said.

The support, that includes direct grants and strengthening of producer organisations, technical staff, training, depot committees and input suppliers, will be spent over the five-year programme through the Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Programme (APEP).

Usaid's Mission Director Margot Ellis said on October 13 that the move is part of Usaid's mission to partner with the government to improve the coffee industry and overcome the challenges that coffee wilt disease is currently posing to the industry.

“We believe that the best way to reverse the trends in the coffee industry is to increase productivity and quality at the farm level,” Ellis said.

“Although we know that profits are down, the only way to increase those profits is if more and better quality coffee can be produced at the farmer level. This will take some investment.”

Ellis was handing over equipment and inputs worth over Shs135 million to coffee farmer groups at the APEP offices on Lumumba Avenue, Kampala.

The farmer groups include Kyagalanyi Coffee Ltd. OLAM, Kapchorwa Coffee Farmers Association and Bushenyi cooperatives among others.

APEP's Managing Director Clive Drew, said the equipment is part of their continued support to farmers to promote increase of productivity and quality of coffee.

USAID is currently operating in the districts of Kamuli, Masaka, Rakai, Bushenyi, Ibanda and Mubende and will roll out to other districts such as Nakaseke, Mukono, Mbale, Sironko, Kapchorwa, Arua and Nebbi.

originally posted on Africa's Daily Monitor October 19, 2006

Essayist Reflects on America's Coffee Fixation

The National Coffee Association found in 2000 that 54 per cent of the adult population of the United States drinks coffee daily and that among coffee drinkers the average consumption is 3.1 cups of coffee per day. Essayist Julia Keller reflects on America's coffee culture.

Julia Keller.

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, guest essayist Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune talks about the great American coffee fix.

JULIA KELLER, NewsHour Essayist: In the opening chapter of the John Steinbeck novel "In Dubious Battle," a drifter named Jim makes his way to a dingy apartment. And there, Steinbeck writes, "a little tin coffee pot bubbled and steamed."

This is a pivotal moment for Jim. We know that because there's coffee, lots of it. In fact, in just about every chapter of Steinbeck's gut-punch of a novel, first published in 1936, there's coffee. You can almost smell the bitter, black stuff as you turn the pages.

It had to be coffee. Coffee's the only choice for a book about manual laborers and their fight for a living wage, because in American culture coffee is the drink of the tough-minded dreamer. It's the beverage of the dispossessed, of the poet, the lone traveler, the bruised idealist.

We've drifted away from that pitch-black signifier in recent years. Chains such as Starbucks and Caribou -- and, here in Chicago, Intelligentsia -- have watered down coffee's bare-knuckled basics with their lattes and their decaf, half-soy cappuccinos.

But some recent news from the beverage industry is cause for hope, hope that coffee may finally be getting back to its rough-and-tumble roots, back to something that even Steinbeck's callused, blue-collar bums wouldn't be embarrassed to drink.

Dunkin' Donuts, with about half the number of outlets nationwide as Starbucks, has announced a huge expansion. It's going to add 10,000 stores in the next decade and a half, not to push pastries. The focus, say company executives, is coffee.

This comes just after McDonalds and Burger King beefed up their coffee, not with fancy-pants, foam-flecked offerings, featuring caramel swirls and cinnamon sprinkles, but simply with a better cup of the old familiar. McDonalds calls theirs "Premium Roast." Burger King goes with the nickname "B.K. Joe," which ought to come with complimentary chin stubble.

Coffee means truck stops at midnight and kitchens at dawn. It means that iconic 1942 painting by Edward Hopper "Nighthawks at the Diner," with its white ceramic coffee mugs, its gray coffee urns. Hopper was a New Yorker, but "Nighthawks" seems steeped in an especially Midwestern sort of lonesomeness in large, empty spaces, in a sense of desolation held at arm's length by the promise of a free refill.

Coffee is the philosophical opposite of tea, that delicate laced doily of a drink. Lipton just began selling a newfangled kind of teabag, a pyramid-shaped thing, that's so lovely and precious looking that you wonder if it belongs in a mug or an art museum.

But there's a fundamental difference between coffee people and tea people, a cultural divide that cuts across movies, and TV, and literature, and life. Even though tea can pack as much or more caffeine as coffee, and even though tea drinking predates coffee drinking by at least four centuries, their images belie those realities. Coffee is scraped knuckles and bum luck; tea is an extended pinkie and inherited wealth.

It's true that coffee has been muted and tamed in recent years. It's been tricked out with cute new names. For a time, it seemed to lose its beautifully bitter edge. But coffee is making a comeback, real coffee, that is.

So it's out with the lattes and in with the lunch counters, counters at which working stiffs sit, hunched over their battered mugs of Joe. Not a cafe mocha; just a cup of mud. Not Starbucks; Steinbeck.

I'm Julia Keller.

This originally aired on PBS TV's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on October 18, 2006 and is also posted at

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Coffee, cocoa flatter red wine

The Pairing: 2003 Crooked Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, $30, with Cocoa Coffee Braised Short Ribs.

by Jolene Thym
Contra Costa Times
18 October 2006

THIS BIG Livermore Valley red is deep enough to serve with a main course, full enough to be sipped with anything chocolate. But the real beauty of this small-batch boutique wine is most apparent when it is served alongside a rich braise that is layered with cabernet-friendly flavors. The slight bitterness of the coffee in the braise underscores the tannins, and the fruity earthiness of the cocoa draws out the berry flavors of the cabernet grapes. A saucy dish like this begs for a creamy, simple side dish such as risotto or potatoes.


Serves 8

4 pounds boneless short ribs, trimmed

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

1 onion, diced

2 carrots, diced

4 ribs celery, diced

6 cloves garlic, chopped fine

2 tablespoons fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

2 cups cabernet

2 cups strong coffee

Vegetable oil

Salt and black pepper

1. Season ribs with cocoa, salt and pepper. Heat a heavy, oven-proof saute pan or Dutch oven on high; add 1-2 tablespoons oil. Working in batches if necessary, brown ribs on all sides; remove from pan.

2. Add vegetables and garlic to the pan; saute over medium heat until vegetables begin to soften. Add thyme and bay leaves and continue to saute until garlic begins to brown. Stir in red wine and coffee.

3. Return ribs to the pan. Add enough water to almost cover the meat, but make sure the liquid does not cover the meat entirely. Cover the pan and braise in a 325-degree oven for 1 hour. Remove pan and check liquid level. Add water if needed.

4. Return pan to the oven for another hour. After 2 hours, begin checking the ribs to see if they are tender. The ribs are done when the meat is fork-tender. When the ribs are done, remove them to a separate dish and cover.

5. Pour juices into a gravy separator and allow to sit for several minutes. Return juices to a saucepan, leaving the bulk of the fat behind. Reduce the liquid until it begins to thicken into a sauce. Season sauce with salt and pepper, and serve with the ribs.

-- Courtesy Neil Marquis, Pleasanton Hotel

Per serving:

580 calories, 25 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 46 g fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 2 g fiber. Calories from fat: 72 percent

For more information visit http://www.contracostatimes .com

Friday, October 13, 2006

Grounds for Change

photograph by ann labate

There’s a growing trend to help the world’s poor coffee growers earn a fair return for their beans

By John Lux

Gasoline is the most common international product you and I must make decisions about buying, but don’t ask the clerk at your local station if the workers who pumped the oil got a fair wage for their labor, or if the Earth was treated right when the oil was extracted.

But coffee, the second biggest commodity in international trade, has a face the consumer can really see. Most of the world’s coffee is grown by family farmers. And most of them can’t make a decent living because most of the profits from green coffee — the unroasted beans — go to wholesalers.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and the picture is slowly changing. Change is coming from movements such as Fair Trade Certification, an international program that ensures farmers are paid a fair price for their coffee, and from individual companies, such as Chicago’s Intelligentsia.

Geoff Watts, the head buyer for Intelligentsia, said that while Fair Trade has certainly helped many farmers, it doesn’t address quality issues and has limited scope in regard to environmental concerns. “It is basically a price support mechanism,” he said.

Watts makes regular trips to coffee-growing areas to find the best coffee and the best farming practices. “We buy 50 percent of our coffee from small farmers, who produce 500 or 600 pounds a year on small plots of land, also growing much of their own food. Most of them are in co-ops,” he said.

Watts said there’s nothing wrong with larger farms if they do things the right way. He cites the Finca Malacara operation in El Salvador’s Santa Ana area, one of the producers Intelligentsia buys from. The owner pays good wages and has built a health clinic and day-care center. “I pay one guy but the money supports a lot of people,” Watts said.

Watts believes Fair Trade Certification also has helped the quality of the coffee. “When buyers squeeze growers on price, they’re hurting themselves because quality suffers when growers are in debt and can’t pay people to do the job right.”

Coffee Economics

Most coffee is grown in the tropical areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America. While there are major commercial plantations, notably in Brazil, most of the world’s coffee is grown by family farmers scratching out a living on small plots of land in poor countries. The International Coffee Organization estimates that Colombia, for example, has 560,000 coffee growers and the industry accounts for 30 percent of total rural employment.

Because it takes about four years for a coffee tree to bear fruit, it isn’t easy for these small farmers to adjust their production to changing market prices. So when prices are high, farmers plant more trees, but by the time the trees bear fruit, supplies are rising and market prices fall. Because the current price might not even cover the cost of production, coffee farming families — both those who own their own land and those who labor for others — suffer. With no real social safety net, some of these farmers are in real danger of starving to death.

Fair Trade Coffee

Fair Trade Certification, begun in Europe 16 years ago and growing in importance in the United States, is a way for coffee drinkers to channel more dollars to coffee farmers, as well as to encourage sound environmental and social practices. Fair Trade coffee is bought from farmer cooperatives at $1.26 a pound ($1.41 for organic coffee), with individual farmers and cooperative social programs sharing the premium.

More than 85 percent of Fair Trade coffee sold in the U.S. is certified organic.

Fair Trade Certification proved a godsend to small farmers as coffee prices fell to an all-time low of 45 cents a pound in 2002. While prices have more than doubled since then, a bumper crop this year could send them down again.

TransFair USA is the third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States, and the non-profit organization makes sure farmers and farm workers are paid a fair, above-market price and that sound socioeconomic criteria are met, using increased Fair Trade revenues.

TransFair, based in Oakland, Calif., says that in addition to providing price support, Fair Trade Certification ensures fair labor conditions for all workers on the farms; freedom of association for farmers and workers; lines of credit for cooperatives and environmental standards that restrict use of agrochemicals.

Higher Grounds Coffee

Small companies with a conscience, such as Higher Grounds Trading Co. of Leland, Mich., have found Fair Trade Certification a good way to go. Jody Treter, 30, and husband Chris, 31, founded the company in 2002, not so much to make money but to make the world a little better.

“We would shut our doors before selling anything but Fair Trade coffee,” Jody Treter said. “Our model is that of a non-profit. We pay living wages and we donate a lot of money” to the community, both their own in the Traverse Bay area and places where their coffee is grown.

The Higher Grounds operation is small — Jody Treter estimates it will gross less than $300,000 this year — and some months are profitable while some are not. While that may limit their donations, it doesn’t dampen their spirits.

“We are in an importing cooperative called Cooperative Coffees,” Jody Treter said. “The cooperative gives small roasters like us the opportunity to meet with small farmers.”

They buy coffee from Mut Vitz and Maya Vinic, two cooperatives in Chiapas, one of Mexico’s poorest states, and visit them each year. In addition, Higher Grounds is partnering with Catholic Relief Services in Nicaragua and also buys Fair Trade coffee from Sumatra, Ethiopia, Colombia and Peru.

While Higher Grounds sells 90 percent of its coffee in Michigan, much of it to churches, the company has its eye on the Chicago market, especially since the Fair Trade Futures conference will be held here in October. Higher Grounds’ main outlet in Chicago is the Wellington Cooperative in Lincoln Park.

Certification Red Tape

Intelligentsia’s Watts, while praising the goals of Fair Trade Certification, said the biggest problem with the program is the expense of certification and the time it takes to achieve it. And, he said, there are other ways to help the farmers.

Intelligentsia expects to contribute about $20,000 this year to a cooperative in Nicaragua that grows the Flor Azul coffee Intelligentsia sells. That is in addition to the money the co-op gets for the beans.

The cooperative is called Las Brumas (The Mists) and its 52 families benefit from a fund to build schools in the community.

But for the vast majority of Americans who don’t take the time to learn the policies of their favorite coffee roaster, Fair Trade Certification is useful shorthand for coffee that is good for workers and the Earth.

Mainstream Trade

Even Starbucks seems to be moving in that direction, although it will take a while to persuade its critics that the Godzilla of coffee shops isn’t just blowing PR smoke. Starbucks said it increased purchases of Fair Trade coffee in 2003 to 2.1 million pounds. Whole-bean Fair Trade coffee is sold in all American company-operated stores and the company says its purchasing guidelines give preference to farmers who score high in measurements of economic fairness, socially responsible working conditions, and progressive environmental practices.

Thinking Man’s Java

Michael James, co-owner of Rogers Park’s Heartland Café, has been a leader in healthful eating and progressive politics for 30 years, but he’s a fairly recent convert to the organic and Fair Trade movements.

Since he opened Heartland in 1976, he’s been buying coffee from family-owned Community Coffee of Baton Rouge, La. (“I became addicted,” he said.) “We’re moving in the direction of Fair Trade and organic coffee,” James said. “We sell Fair Trade coffee from Equal Exchange Coffee of Massachusetts both in the store and as a coffee of the day, but you’ve got to ask for it. It costs 25 cents a cup more, but people don’t mind paying it.”

He brews mainly Intelligentsia coffee both in Heartland and the companion No Exit Café, but choices are increasing. The store within the café carries Coalition Café, an organic Fair Trade coffee that benefits the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“I avoided going organic over price, trying to keep the cost low for consumers,” James said. “I started changing a few years ago.” Health was one of the reasons. “In my 60s I started to have pains I didn’t want to have and shifted to a conscious diet. I find myself feeling very, very good.”

Originally published inn the September issue of Conscience Choice

John Lux is a Chicago-based freelance writer who likes his morning coffee with a shot of social conscience.