(Image via dlajholt/Flickr)
The World of Coffee
Coffee has experienced something of a revival of interest in the last decade or so, with a growing trend in actually enjoying coffee. For many, the caffeine injection is delivered via their Keurig or Nespresso, and caffeine-to-go is a big enough industry that even something as simple as the design of disposable coffee lids is endlessly patented and improved upon, and Starbucks generates enough discarded paper cups for it to be an environmental liability. But increasingly coffee drinkers are looking for something better.
That starts with good beans. Coffee is a fussy plant and very few regions on Earth have the right conditions to grow the best coffee berries: it requires tropical climates at high altitudes, with the right amount of rain and dry spells to flourish. Microlots across East Africa, South America and Southeast Asia grow batches of coffee to precise specifications, and they make up the bulk of the “high end” in coffee.
Peet’s probably set the trend for gourmet coffee, but they’ve long since jumped the shark, leaving a gap for coffee shops like Stumptown in Portland and Blue Bottle in San Francisco to crop up, embodying a philosophy of good coffee in their bean sourcing and preparation methods. Running a coffee shop in a world with Starbucks is still a risky proposition, but many are carving out a niche among the growing segment of customers that want good coffee.
The demand is such that it’s driving the price of coffee up. In 2002, coffee was cheaper than it had been for over a century, with supply outstripping demand, but as retail sales went up, the amount the farmers saw went down, pushing many into poverty and the coffee supply to an all time low. On New York’s futures exchange, the price per pound of coffee hit a three-decade high and roasters and coffee shops across the country hiked their prices. Coffee is more stable now, but many gourmet roasters that pride themselves on sustainability take measures to ensure the farmers’ good treatment and pay, and that drives the cost up too. Combined with recent weather trends reducing coffee yields to their lowest for years, good coffee has become an expensive preference.