How’s Climate Change Stirring Up Our Coffee Quality?

Inside the Market is a miniseries that offers a first-hand perspective on the coffee market. In this second episode, “L’Albero del Caffè“, an Italian artisan roasting company, gives us updates on market trends and delves into the complex world of the coffee supply chain.

Organic and Fair Trade Coffee: Quality Improvements Across the World

How's Climate Change Stirring Up Our Coffee Quality

The market for certified organic and fair trade coffee has seen a shift in trends. After more than a decade of growth in Italy, there’s currently a downturn. Meanwhile, there’s a constant increase in demand in exporting countries, particularly in North America and Asia.

In terms of product quality, Asia is gaining attention. These countries are organizing high-quality productions, focusing on sourcing quality raw materials and demonstrating a purchasing ability that often secures them the best product to meet the demands of their clientele.

Furthermore, coffee-producing countries are experiencing significant changes in their internal markets. Networks are being implemented, allowing younger generations to connect with their identity through coffee.

From Central America to South America and Asia, coffee consumption is on the rise and the demand for quality product is more discerning than in our market. Currently, Africa is the exception to these trends. However, in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, the capital Addis Ababa is seeing a surge in micro roasteries complete with tasting rooms.

Quality and Logistics: The Risks

From a technical perspective, once coffee is prepared for export, it should be shipped as quickly as possible to avoid issues at the port, which are typically of two types:

  • The first type is potential damage from insects feeding on the defenseless grains, resulting in an increased quantity of “worm-eaten” coffee.
  • The second type is the fading of the coffee’s superficial color. After a sea voyage, the coffee loses the green hue typical of a fresh harvest and assumes a color more akin to a past crop.

Arabica and Robusta varieties react differently to these issues.

From an organoleptic perspective, coffees lose their brightness due to these issues. However, this loss can be considered secondary for these origins as the primary concern is the product’s availability.

Climate Change, Availability, and Costs

Climate change, strategic cultivation choices from the past three decades, and the cost of fertilizers and pesticides tied to oil prices all contribute to the complexity of this topic.

Climate change has significant global implications. In various production areas, both continental (Africa, South America) and those tempered by the sea (Central America, Asia), changes in currents and resulting harvest seasonality present challenges. Competition for products and increased vulnerability of plants to parasites strain a sector characterized by low profitability.

Despite high market values, coffee, often cultivated by the poor, is being abandoned by many producers. The migration of those leaving cultivation in search of better opportunities in Central America, South America, and Africa, is not a new phenomenon. It’s unclear whether the steady availability of coffee is influenced more by the imbalance between profitability and value, or by weather conditions.

Fertilizers and Pesticides

Growing coffee increasingly demands the use of fertilizers and pesticides. The shift towards high-yield hybrids, rampant deforestation, and the promotion of monoculture have disrupted agricultural balance. This disruption necessitates substantial chemical intervention to sustain minimum productivity.

Paradoxically, returning to forest-like conditions, diversifying arboricultural productions into coffee gardens, and valuing native varieties could restore balance. This could significantly aid crop maintenance and reduce production costs. However, the global trend contradicts this direction.

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