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)