Did you also know that it is the second most traded commodity (in terms of value) in the world, second only to oil? Worldwide, over 25 million people — mostly operating small farms in developing countries — rely on coffee as their primary source of income. The coffee they harvest is sold on the International Coffee Exchange(ICE) by massive importing/exporting companies for a flat rate of $1.48/lb, (as of today, but prices can be found here). This price, along with every other commodity price, changes based on current market conditions, so if Brazil (the #1 coffee producing nation) has a huge drought and only produces 80% of their usual harvest, then the coffee price will rise due to a decrease in supply and a steady demand.
“But Dustin, that’s why I only buy Fair Trade coffee!”
Fair Trade coffee allows many farmers to charge a higher price for their coffee, provided they show documentation of certain labor, environmental, and safety practices. This is great, and I love the rationale behind it, but the execution falls short of expectations. That’s due to the exponential increase of Specialty Coffee and its success worldwide.
“I’ve heard of ‘Specialty Coffee’ but what is it?”
Like many beverages — think of wine and beer — there are different tiers of “objective” quality in coffee. With wine, there are the Three Buck Chucks and box wines, but also Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino ( 2010 being a personal favorite). A wine drinker has a choice of low- and high-end vintages, and depending on the occasion and mood may splurge for a premium bottle or grab a bottle of your daily drinker. People are learning to approach coffee in the same way: You can buy a tub of coffee at $5/lb from a grocery store or a Panamanian Geisha 2 days off roast at $80/lb.
“Dustin, I can’t afford to spend $80 on a pound of coffee, that’s insane!”
I agree, and frankly I don’t buy that for myself. But what excites me are the coffees in between: the infinitely large space between the cheapest and the most expensive, a place we at Barnie's fit in. All of our coffees here at Barnie's Coffee & Tea use beans that meet high requirements in both bean quality and taste. This means that I will spend much of my day “cupping” dozens of different coffees while examining the beans for defects in order to find the perfect coffee for Santa’s White Christmas or Barnie’s Blend. To a coffee lover, this sounds delightful, but it’s one of the most difficult parts of my work here at Barnie’s. Because coffee is a commodity, the same coffee isn’t always available (a growing area may have had torrential rains, or a shipping container fell off the boat) so I have to source other coffees that taste similar to bring you that familiar taste you know and love. For many of our products, that means specialty coffee.
Specialty coffee is a term used for coffee that is analyzed by Q Graders and given a score of 83+ on a scale of 1-100. Typically, coffee of this grade is sold at a differential on the ICE to specialty coffee roasters, currently at about $2.50-$350.52/lb. Our CropEx lineup comes from beans in the $14-$20 range, with some outliers such as Kona or micro lots costing much more. Farmers who grow coffee of this quality are rewarded with higher premiums for their product, and they typically reinvest these profits into their employees and farm. A great example of this is Diego from Hacienda Sonora in Costa Rica, whose coffee you can buy here. Every time you purchase a bag of coffee from BC&T, you allow us the ability to help the 25 million people who expend 2000-plus hours of labor to grow the coffee in your cup.
Specialty coffee is now 30% of the global coffee market and growing steadily year-to-year. Specialty coffee isn’t about pretentious millennials (that’s me), industrial cafes, or high prices; it’s about the people behind the scenes and giving them what they deserve for their hard work.