Introduction to Coffee

Experts trace the heritage of back coffee centuries to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau. Here, legend asserts a goat herder by the name of Kaldi is to receive credit for discovering the coffee plant’s true potential after noticing his goats becoming extremely energetic after eating the coffee cherries. Curious by his findings he took the cherries to a local monastery where the abbot made an elixir from the beans inside; the abbot subsequently noticed it was easier for him to endure long hours of evening prayer.

As centuries passed coffee houses roared in popularity across Europe. They became a symbol of an acceptable social venue to engage in thought-provoking discussion. Not surprisingly, coffee gained fame as a breakfast beverage for its stimulating principles, and the consumers of this beverage started making noticeable improvements in their work versus peers who consumed the traditional breakfast beverage of beer or wine.

Today, worldwide coffee consumption is steadily growing with emerging markets responsible for a large chunk of the high growth. Globally, coffee-producing countries consume 30 percent of the world’s coffee, with Brazil and Ethiopia being leading producing/consuming nations. The remaining 70 percent is traded internationally with the USA as the biggest importer, followed by some European countries.

Four countries produce more than half of the world’s coffee (Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, and Indonesia) but in total over 70 countries can provide the crop. For many small coffee producing counties, the profiles from the coffee trade are used to provide essential infrastructures like roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals.

Today, there are many challenges facing coffee farmers and the sustainability of the coffee industry. Three companies – ECOM, Neumann and Volcafe – control around 50% of the global coffee trade, and ten roasters, including Nestle and Jacobs Douwe Egberts, process almost 40% of the coffee consumed worldwide.

Coffee is quite profitable for food companies and multinationals, but unfortunately, coffee farmers aren’t partaking in the profits as much as they should be. At the moment coffee growers are receiving just 1-3% of the profits while 40 years ago they were participating in about 20% of the profits. Also, price volatility profoundly affects farmers and producers, leaving them in constant states of uncertainty. When prices are low, producers are stretched for every penny and subsequently they don’t take proper care of their crops, cutting corners and enviably lowering the quality of their coffee harvest.

Aside from challenges with costs of coffee, growing coffee is further complicated by the impacts of climate change and disturbances in weather patterns. Seasons are experiencing changes and regions are getting too much or too little rain and sunshine that negatively affects the efficiency and quality of their coffee harvests.

Fortunately, some organizations are taking steps to ensure the coffee industry moves forward sustainably. Fair Trade International is an example of an organization that certifies producers that meet specific criteria. Essentially, a fair trade certification is an assurance that the producers are involved in profit sharing and can be paid decent wages for their work. This allows communities to grow and innovate to create sustainability and a better chance in the future. Certification is only available to democratically-organized cooperatives or associations of small producers, not individually-owned farms or estates, or those that rely heavily on hired labor. Organizations who are fair trade certified to receive a minimum price per pound, with an additional premium if the coffee is also certified organic. Besides, producers receive the Fairtrade Premium above the purchase price that farmers democratically invest according to their priorities. These costs are of coursed passed on to the consumer, which give rationale if you're paying more for a fair trade latte vs. a standard latte.

Fairtrade currently works with more than 812,000 farmers globally through 445 Fairtrade certified coffee producer organizations. Fairtrade coffee farmers cultivate coffee on more than 1.29 million hectares worldwide producing an estimated 560,900 tonnes of coffee of which 34% is also certified organic.

More certifications that strive to enhance and protect the industry include Bird Friendly, Rainforest Alliance, and UTZ.

UP NEXT: Take an in-depth look at the history of coffee and how to go from its discovery in Ethiopia to a worldwide phenomenon!