March 10, 2022 Civil war in Ethiopia: How is the situation affecting the coffee sector?

“For over a year now, the conflict in Ethiopia has been devastating, and has affected millions. Across the country, people have been displaced, reported as missing, left in dire need of emergency aid, and killed. Last November, this culminated in the Ethiopian government declaring a six-month nationwide state of emergency, which ended prematurely in early 2022.

This state of emergency saw the introduction of roadblocks, curfews, heightened security checks, and militarised takeovers in certain parts of the country. But what does this mean for the country’s coffee sector?

If civil war in Ethiopia worsens, continued disruption understandably has the potential to significantly affect the country’s coffee industry. Furthermore, considering that coffee accounts for over 30% of the country’s total exports, any disturbance to the supply chain could be detrimental to Ethiopia’s overall income.

To learn more about how the conflict might affect the country’s coffee industry, I spoke to three coffee professionals – two of which are based in Addis Ababa.

WHY IS THERE A CIVIL WAR IN ETHIOPIA?
Civil war in Ethiopia has been ongoing for over a year, but what are its root causes?

The situation is complex, but the war stems from tension between current running Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). On 6 May 2021, the Ethiopian government designated the TPLF as a terrorist organisation.

The TPLF, meanwhile, identifies as a left-wing armed liberation movement, representing the Tigrayan people and the centuries of marginalisation they have experienced at the hands of previous governments. It is not globally recognised as a terrorist organisation (by countries such as the US for instance).

After defeating the country’s Marxist government in 1991, the TPLF formed a coalition and ruled the country for over 20 years. However, when Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018, his party attempted to defund the TPLF. This caused the group to retreat to the northern region of Tigray.

Tensions reached boiling point between the TPLF and Abiy Ahmed’s government in September 2020. After national elections were cancelled due to Covid-19, the TPLF requested that the National Election Board of Ethiopia organise a regional election for Tigray, but this was denied.

The Tigray region defied these orders and held the election anyway, further straining the relationship between the TPLF and the government.

In November 2020, it was reported that the TPLF attacked a federal military base. This was the first of many ongoing attacks between the two parties.

The majority of the conflict has been taking place in the Tigray region, which has been catastrophic for the region’s population.

Cydney Ross is the Ethiopia Country Manager for green coffee trader Tropiq.

“The conflict has displaced an estimated 2.2 million people in Ethiopia,” she says. “Many have fled to refugee camps within Ethiopia and in neighbouring countries.”

In mid-November 2021, the BBC reported that at least 400,000 people were threatened by famine in Tigray. This number has likely increased as the civil unrest has continued.

Will Corby is the Head of Coffee for Pact Coffee, a roaster based in London, UK.

“There are reports of people who are of Tigrayan descent being rounded up across the country and disappearing overnight, which is a very worrying situation,” he says.

In addition to this, there has been evidence of unlawful killings, sexual violence, and torture from both the TPLF and the Ethiopian government’s militia – leaving parts of the Tigray region in turmoil.

Lawyers representing Tigrayan citizens have also filed complaints of human rights violations against the Ethiopian government. In response, for the first time ever, the African Union’s human rights commission has said it will investigate the Ethiopian military.

And while Abiy Ahmed made statements in early February about peacefully resolving the conflict, progress seems to have been somewhat stifled.

In recent months, reports of the conflict spilling over into the neighbouring northeastern Afar and northwestern Amhara regions are becoming more common. Furthermore, a number of violent attacks on Eritrean refugees took place in late February.

IS THE CIVIL WAR AFFECTING PRODUCTION AND EXPORTS?
There’s no doubt that the current situation affects the safety of the Ethiopian people. However, it is also potentially disastrous for Ethiopia’s economy.

On 2 November 2021, US President Joe Biden ordered that Ethiopia be removed from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) after rising reports of conflict.

“This is usually the first sign that a nation is putting pressure on a country to prevent or slow down conflict, and move towards negotiations or resolutions,” Will explains.

While removal from the AGOA has no adverse impact on exports from Ethiopia to the USA, any potential limitations on Ethiopia’s trade systems could have an impact on its coffee industry.

“Coffee is the biggest driver of foreign currency in Ethiopia,” Cydney tells me. “The war has been expensive and the country needs foreign currency to sustain its economic growth.”

However, Cydney notes that at present, the civil war has had little effect on both production and exports – mainly for geographical reasons.

“The majority of the conflict is in the north of the country, and fortunately most of the coffee-growing areas are in the southwest,” she says.

Kenean Dukamo is the export manager for Ethiopian green coffee producer and exporter Daye Bensa. He confirms that the conflict has not yet affected the process of harvesting coffee.

“Daye Bensa focuses mainly on the Sidamo region,” Kenean says. “The coffee harvest took place as normal there.”

However, Cydney highlights that restrictions from the government’s declared state of emergency have slowed down the supply chain. She says that this has led to shortages for some exporters, the effects of which won’t be realised further down the supply chain for some time.

Cydney says: “As coffee is often harvested in the morning, aggregated in the afternoon, and delivered at night, the 8pm curfew in the Oromia region made it nearly impossible for trucks delivering cherries to make it to stations.

“Even though these restrictions were eventually lifted, we are still forecasting a shortage of washed coffees because of the curfew.”

Furthermore, financial restrictions imposed by the government have been making life significantly harder for not just coffee producers, but the entire population.

In December 2021, the country’s inflation rate rose to the highest level seen in a decade – a staggering 35%. This naturally led to food costs increasing by some 41.6%, including meat, fish, vegetables, and coffee.

“The increased cost of living is one of the reasons why the cherry price significantly jumped this year,” Cydney says. “There has been a 70% to 100% increase in the price of cherry per kilogram.”

Higher prices, as well as national banks imposing daily withdrawal limits and freezing collateral-based loans, made it extremely difficult for some producers to trade coffee.

Furthermore, from late November until early January, many exporters had no access to their loans. Typically, during this period, most washed coffee is harvested and then processed.

Because loan access was restricted, a huge amount of coffee was not harvested, and stayed on the trees or was subsequently converted from washed to natural out of necessity. The estimates are that this could decrease the overall quality of Ethiopian washed coffee for this harvest.

“As a result, you need a lot of cash in order to purchase cherries, and producers often rely on financing from banks to produce coffee,” Kenean adds. “The Ethiopian government lifted restrictions on freezing loans for bigger exporters and producer organisations, but there are still some limitations. It’s not as flexible as it used to be.”

Exporters have also faced a number of other, more recent issues. In January, a new directive from the Ethiopian government drastically reduced the amount of foreign currency exporters could use from export sales. Instead of 50%, exporters can now only use 20% to 25% of their foreign currency, making it impossible to ship for contracts that they had signed back In November and December.

In addition, regulation from the National Bank of Ethiopia has forced many exporters to mix lower-grade coffee into higher-grade contracts to limit losses.

COULD COFFEE EXPORTS BE AFFECTED IN THE FUTURE?
Despite the escalating conflict in Ethiopia, coffee exports are continuing as normal thus far. Bloomberg reported in November 2021 that exports amounted to 86,000 tonnes during the three months to October. This was a 77% increase on estimates from the Ethiopia Tea and Coffee Authority.

“We received the latest six-month report from the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Authority stating exports amounted to 150,000 tonnes over the past six months,” Kenean tells me. “This has generated over US $600 million.”

However, it’s unknown whether there could be long-term repercussions for Ethiopia’s coffee industry. Previous examples of civil unrest in other coffee-producing countries have seen a ripple effect that was felt more in the medium and long-term.

For example, in April 2021, a planned tax reform in Colombia led to a series of protests that caused several road and port blockages throughout May and June. The protests occurred during the middle of the country’s coffee harvest, leaving some producers holding coffee on farms for up to two months.

Furthermore, research on the ongoing conflict in Burundi found that exposure to “individual-level violence” resulted in lower coffee production volumes.

Since gaining independence in 1962, Burundi has been prone to civil unrest – resulting in at least over a million people being displaced and hundreds of thousands of deaths.

A study published in the African Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics concluded that Burundian households which experienced conflict violence were up to 18% less likely to grow coffee. This was the case even as long as four years after the conflict had taken place.

“If there is a shortage of Ethiopian coffees, or a disruption to the supply chain, there would certainly be increased coffee prices all across the supply chain,” Cydney tells me.

However, it’s important to note that the civil unrest in Ethiopia is a uniquely complex situation. This makes it difficult to predict its effects on the country’s coffee industry and the wider market.

For now, the immediate economic impact of the civil war continues to be the most noticeable.

“It was nearly impossible for co-operatives and smaller exporters to access bank loans this season,” Cydney explains. “There is simply not enough cash available to support all the players in the coffee export market.

“It will be difficult for commercial coffee exporters to remain competitive in the global market this year.”

SUPPORTING ETHIOPIA DURING THE CONFLICT
For roasters and green coffee buyers, navigating how to support Ethiopian coffee farmers can be challenging.

“When reports of war crimes in the Tigray region were emerging, I approached Pact’s board and expressed my concerns over our existing commitments to purchase Ethiopian coffee,” Will says.

“From my position, I didn’t feel like it was the best thing to do at the time,” he continues. “I was concerned that the income generated from coffee sales could be used by the government to fund the ongoing conflict.”

The BBC reported in August 2021 that Ethiopia’s military expenditure would hit over US $500 million by the end of the year. It’s safe to assume that this figure will steadily increase as the conflict continues.

However, Will also notes that there would be negative consequences for producers if green coffee buyers were to cancel their purchases.

“There are millions of people who rely on coffee for their income, so to retract all purchases of Ethiopian coffee would be exceptionally damaging to these people and the country’s economy as a whole.

“Unlike most coffee-producing countries we work with, Pact doesn’t have fixed long-term relationships with specific Ethiopian farmers,” he tells me. “However, for roasters who do, it can be challenging.”

Cydney emphasises that continuing to purchase Ethiopian coffee is vital to keep the industry moving forward.

“Coffee supports the livelihoods of approximately 25 million people in Ethiopia and any decline in market demand could potentially lead to an economic recession or even higher inflation,” she says.

The conflict in Ethiopia is a continuing source of major uncertainty for the entire country, not just its coffee sector. However, considering coffee exports are a key component of the Ethiopian economy, it’s important that the wider coffee industry continues to raise awareness and show its support.

If you work directly with a partner in Ethiopia, the best thing to do is ask whether or not the conflict is affecting them. If it is, ask how you can help. It may be as simple as a little more patience at a difficult time, but it can go a long way.”

Perfect Daily Grind

Coffee bean prices have doubled in the past year and may do so again. What’s going on?

International Coffee Day feels very different this year. Introduced by the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) on October 1 2015 to raise awareness of the product and the challenges faced by producers, the day has usually focused on how low prices paid for unroasted beans barely cover farmers’ costs – let alone support their families.

Not this year, though. In the past 12 months, the C price – the benchmark price for commodity-grade Arabica coffee on the New York International Commodity Exchange – has risen from $1.07 (£0.80) per pound (454g) to around $1.95. Back in July, it touched $2.08.

Trading Economics
Nearly all contracts for coffee delivery are benchmarked against the C price, with the result that prices for green Arabica (unroasted beans) have risen by over 80% during the past year. Those for Robusta coffee – a cheaper, less palatable alternative – have risen over 30%. And there is every chance that these prices will rise higher in the coming months. We may be on the verge of a major price correction that shifts the market upwards for years to come.

Why coffee got expensive
The principal reason for surging prices is a series of environmental events in Brazil. By far the world’s leading coffee producer, Brazil accounts for around 35% of global harvest. The volume of production regularly fluctuates between “on” and “off” years, and usually this is not sufficient to greatly affect prices because producers mitigate their risks through stock management and hedging prices using the coffee futures market.

However, yields in 2021 are likely to be dramatically lower. This is due to a combination of a severe drought earlier in the season, which reduced the numbers of coffee cherries, and recent intense frosts that might further damage the fruit and even the trees. The Brazilian authorities are projecting the lowest Arabica harvest for 12 years.

The big question is how this affects future production. Coffee trees can take up to five years to mature, so it will take a few seasons before the scale of the damage is clear. If, as some respected reporters are suggesting, the frost causes maximum damage – potentially hitting two-thirds of trees – there may be a long-lasting drop in world supplies. This could see prices breaking through the $3.00 and even $4.00 barrier.

The long coffee cycle
The history of coffee has been characterised by extreme price volatility. Periods of excessive supplies have progressively driven down prices until a catastrophic event – either environmental or political – results in a correction.

During the 1930s, a combination of bumper harvests and weak consumer demand in the depression era led to a massive supply glut. To reduce excess stock, Brazil resorted to dumping coffee at sea and also converting it into locomotive fuel. At the other extreme, many coffee trees were killed in 1975 when Brazil was struck by a series of “black” frosts. This led to a 60% fall in output in the following harvest, and prices trebling between 1975 and 1977.

In 1962, the ICO introduced producer quotas to try and keep prices buoyant in the face of such highs and lows. This was supported by the United States to avoid communism spreading from Cuba to mainland Latin America, but it was abandoned on American insistence after 1989. This led to an over-supply and ultimately a coffee crisis at the end of the century in which the C price remained under $1.00 for four straight years. It had tended to trade between about $1.00 and $2.00 per pound, and the price crash saw many producers going hungry.

The price only recovered when a coffee leaf rust infected a significant portion of Central American and Colombian production. The bitter irony of the coffee market is that prices for producers only improve when many of them suffer unsustainable losses.


Coffee prices fell in the latter part of the 2010s primarily as a result of the expansion of global production. Most notable was Vietnam, which is now the world’s second largest coffee producer and accounts for around 18% of total global production. As much as 95% of Vietnamese output is Robusta.

Robusta was actually first used for coffee cultivation because of an environmental catastrophe, when east Asia’s coffee production was virtually wiped out by coffee leaf rust during the late 19th century. In more recent times, procedures for “cleaning” Robusta to reduce off-flavours have improved to the point that roasters increasingly resort to raising its proportion within a blend. This is particularly done when targeting markets which are primarily driven by price, such as instant coffee.

If prices keep spiking now, using more Robusta in blends could prevent coffee from becoming too expensive for consumers. But this will be difficult to do, at least short-term, because of severe COVID restrictions in Vietnam. This has caused considerable disruptions both to transporting coffee from the central highlands to the export hub of Ho Chi Minh city, and then managing the onward shipping logistics. The same issues have arisen in many coffee-producing nations.

Consequently we have brokers battling to secure sufficient stocks, roasters contemplating how to pass on price rises to their business customers, and consumers facing the prospect of paying higher prices for household coffee products.

But will producers be the winners in this latest price surge? Those Brazilian agribusinesses that survive the immediate impact of the frosts surely will, as too the well-capitalised, medium-sized farms of Latin America.

What, though, of the smallholders and subsistence farmers who make up 95% of coffee farmers? For years, the ICO and its member states have presented these farmers as the victims of global market forces; now we will find out if these players are capable of delivering back to farmers the increased value their coffee is generating. If so, then International Coffee Day will indeed be something to celebrate.The Conversation

Jonathan Morris, Professor of History, University of Hertfordshire

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The evolution of the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel

The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA)’s Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel is arguably one of the most iconic resources in the coffee industry. The poster adorns the walls of cupping labs worldwide and has become a backdrop for most professional coffee training courses.

Originally published in 1995, the wheel has been the industry standard for over two decades. It was reworked in 2016, when it became arguably the largest and most collaborative piece of research on coffee flavour ever completed.

The wheel has undoubtedly come a long way in the past 25 years. But does it still cater to the complex needs of the multicultural, ever-evolving world of coffee? I spoke to three experts to learn more. Read on to find out what they said.

You might also like our article on colonial inequalities in the coffee sector.

AN OVERVIEW OF THE COFFEE TASTER’S FLAVOR WHEEL: “DESCRIPTIVE, NOT PRESCRIPTIVE”

The eponymous Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel was designed as a tool for the coffee taster. According to the SCA, the Flavor Wheel can be used either in casual tasting or professional coffee cupping. In either situation, the SCA notes that the key is to be mindful.

The SCA defines “flavour” as a combination of taste and smell. It is important to distinguish between aroma (linked to smell), taste (linked to the mouth), and flavour (a combination of both). Ultimately, the wheel acts as a guide to the sensory experience of coffee.

Peter Giuliano is the Chief Research Officer of the Specialty Coffee Association and Executive Director of the affiliated Coffee Science Foundation. He was directly involved in the development of the wheel as we know it today.

He tells me that a common misconception about the Flavor Wheel is that it is about quality.

“It’s not. It’s descriptive, not prescriptive,” Peter says. “The SCA cupping methodology is subjective because it’s about assigning value to the coffee. The lexicon and sensory descriptiveness of the Flavor Wheel are not.”

The first version (1995) was a lot more prescriptive. It was actually made up of two “sub-wheels”: “Taints & Faults” (defects) and “Tastes & Aromas” (attributes).

Some 25 years on, the situation is very much different: we have one wheel and a lexicon. Both are the result of years of collaborative work, drawing on a combination of science, research, industry knowledge, and design.

A SENSORY ANALYSIS TOOL BUILT ON SCIENCE, RESEARCH AND COLLABORATION

The original Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel was first developed by the SCAA more than 25 years ago. Until 2010, the version in use was largely the same.

However, about 10 years ago, stakeholders started to realise that the wheel needed to be reinvented. The first step was building a lexicon. To do so, the SCAA turned to World Coffee Research for help.

The World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon: What is it?

To put it simply, Peter says: “You need a vocabulary, or lexicon, to train tasters.

“You then establish a reference. For example, for blackberry, you use a specific type of blackberry jam. That way even someone who has never tasted blackberries themselves can make the connection. The lexicon is about building a common language.”

The World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon is the product of a collaboration between dozens of professional sensory panellists, scientists, coffee buyers, and roasters. It was developed by World Coffee Research (WCR), the Sensory Analysis Center at Kansas State University, and the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).

Peter tells me that there was a fair amount of scientific rigour associated with the process and methodology.

“They tasted around 100 coffees and identified their attributes over the course of a year,” he tells me. “It became The World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon, and the basis of the new Flavor Wheel.”

The lexicon identifies 110 flavour, aroma, and texture characteristics present in coffee, and provides references for measuring their intensity. This groundbreaking tool has shifted the way our industry thinks about and describes coffee flavour.

The SCA Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel

Now that a lexicon had been built, the SCAA needed to turn it into a user-friendly tool: a flavour wheel.

This time, they turned to the prestigious Food Science and Technology Department a thet University of California, Davis (UC Davis) for help.

The UC Davis team used a novel adaptation of traditional sensory and statistical methods to reorganise the new coffee Sensory Lexicon into scientifically valid clusters. This was the foundation for preparing a new, updated flavour wheel.

According to an article in the 2016 Journal of Food Science, it took 72 experts to sort the flavour attributes of the lexicon. The data was then compiled and arranged into a wheel.

Dr. Jean-Xavier Guinard is a sensory scientist and a consumer researcher at UC Davis. His research was instrumental in the design of the new Flavor Wheel. He explains that UC Davis was involved in the development of wine, beer, and honey flavour wheels, too.

“This one really hit the mark,” he says. “It’s comprehensive and well-embraced by an industry thirsty for scientific and technical tools to refine their craft.”

The final design, a kaleidoscopic picture of coffee flavours, was the work of One Darnley Road, a creative agency based in East London. Each colour and shade was carefully selected with the intention of best matching the corresponding flavour.

AN ICONIC DESIGN: “A SYMBOL OF THE GLORY OF SPECIALTY COFFEE”

With the completion of the Flavor Wheel and its new, vibrant design, the SCAA had turned an historically complex and technical tool into a fresh, marketable accessory.

“The SCA did a fantastic job with that,” Jean-Xavier says. “They succeeded in reaching all corners of the industry.”

Peter adds: “Suddenly, what was meant to be a tool became a symbol of the glory of specialty coffee, and of us as an organisation.” The poster went viral; people started taking selfies with it and even bought t-shirts bearing the design.

However, Peter notes that there is a flipside to this success: in some instances, the wheel has become more popular for its design, rather than its utility. He admits that in many instances, the poster has become decorative, rather than practical.

ARGUING SEMANTICS: “LANGUAGE AND CULTURE BIAS PERCEPTION”

The revised Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel and the associated lexicon have been an undeniable success. But success comes with its fair share of scrutiny. Some argue that the Flavor Wheel’s language is not inclusive enough.

Peter tells me that one of the problems with the first versions was the use of antiquated or obscure language that just wasn’t familiar. This made it much less accessible as a tool.

In comparison, Peter says that today’s version is meant to be far more inclusive in terms of language and vocabulary. However, he acknowledges that it may be a little too US-centric.

“Blueberry and maple syrup, for example, are very American references,” he tells me. “I think there will probably be some changes in the future, sensitive to more internationally accessible attributes.”

Jonathan Vaz Matías is a traveling AST trainer, a coffee consultant, and the CEO of Acuerdo Project. He has also developed the Fruits Flavour Wheel; Jonathan describes it as “a halfway mark between a wheel of aromas that is culture-specific and the generalised version developed by the SCA”.

For Jonathan, while the concept of the SCA Flavor Wheel and the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon are fantastic resources for the industry, they are not inclusive enough.

“The lexicon is super important. We need a scientific method and language to communicate,” he says. “But the problem is that we are using a language that many people don’t understand, with a massive cultural bias.

“Your language and culture biases your perception. You need to adapt descriptors,” Jonathan concludes, noting that the experience of flavour is “deeply personal”.

To give me an example, Jonathan tells me about the first time he tried Kenyan coffee. “It was very sour, acidic, and I could taste berries. I was told that I should say it tastes like blackcurrant, but that was not a taste reference for me; I had never had one!”

Ultimately, Jonathan argues that we can use a wider range of descriptors than those offered by the SCA and WCR.

WHO IS THE FLAVOR WHEEL FOR?

The wheel is intended mostly for specialty coffee professionals and researchers; people who have been trained to use a common vocabulary of scientific descriptors. In that context, it works.

However, Jonathan tells me that he thinks the wheel is more for coffee sector researchers than other industry professionals.

“It’s useful in a closed community where all speak the same language. But does it apply in the real world?” He asks. “We need to calibrate and reference according to [the] users.”

He argues that the way the tool is now is too limiting and exclusive. Baristas, coffee shop owners and roasters could end up being alienated, meaning that all the amazing research won’t have a real impact in the end.

On one hand, training a tight group of professionals to use a common language is what makes the Flavor Wheel work. On the other, we have to ask: is there a risk of creating an echo chamber, by training an elite group of people on one line of thinking?

Jean-Xavier says: “The Flavor Wheel doesn’t cover everything and doesn’t pretend to. But one of the pieces the SCA has perhaps not taken sufficient advantage of is consumer outreach. It could be promoted a little more extensively to consumer groups.”

At the end of the day, Jonathan says, what matters most is how many people can find the wheel useful, and how well it can serve the industry.

THERE’S NO NEED TO REINVENT THE WHEEL; BUT CAN WE IMPROVE IT?

While the Flavor Wheel is based on science and research, it is also a sensory tool and very much a human product, which makes it imperfect by its very nature. As the industry evolves and the geography of consumption shifts, the language of coffee will naturally change, too.

“We’ve always thought of this tool as a work in progress,” Peter says. “It’s open to revision. If there’s a better way to do it, we’re open to it. Flavour diversity is very important to us.”

Jonathan, however, suggests that the Flavor Wheel is too targeted and not inclusive enough. He says that his Fruits Flavor Wheel was designed in a response to this, and notes that other industry stakeholders and entrepreneurs have designed their own for the same reason.

“In the end, it’s about communication that is efficient and accessible to all,” Jonathan says. “[For example], the SCA wheel offers 18 descriptors for fruit; the Fruits Flavor Wheel offers 95.”

He goes on to explain that his descriptors are fruits that can be found on any continent around the world, and not centred around one particular continent or country.

Jonathan also points out that the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel balances flavour, taste, and aroma, noting that this can be confusing.

However, it remains important to recognise that despite these alternatives and improvements, there’s no space to evolve without the landmark that is the SCA wheel. The concept of a flavour wheel alone is, in the grand scheme of things, revolutionary and still comparatively young. It remains incredibly valuable for the industry, as does the research behind the WCR lexicon.

The SCA Coffee Taster’s Wheel might not be perfect, but it has come a long way since 1995. The most recent version marks a huge turning point for specialty coffee, and shows the sheer amount of interest in determining a common language for flavour.

No matter the criticisms, it’s important to recognise that developing a global descriptive language for the sensory experience of coffee is incredibly difficult. The SCA and its partners have done a great job in rising to the challenge.

But while their efforts have largely been successful, there is still work to be done. The coffee industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace, and the tools and language we use must adapt to remain representative, useful and inclusive. Just how things will change in response to that remains to be seen – but there’s no doubt that it’s an interesting challenge to observe.

 

Photo credits: Peter Giuliano, Specialty Coffee Association, Acuerdo Project

Perfect Daily Grind

Traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

We were fortunate enough to be invited by one of our customers to experience a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. And what an amazing and enlightening experience it was.

Today we are looking at the traditional buna ‘coffee’ ceremony that is prevalent all through out Ethiopia.

It is more than just a cup of coffee. It is a cultural celebration of an Ethiopian staple.

Ethiopia’s coffee ceremony is an integral part of the social and cultural life in the country.

An invitation to attend a coffee ceremony is considered a mark of friendship or respect and is an excellent example of Ethiopian hospitality.

Coffee isn’t just Ethiopia’s national drink. It is had throughout the day but never consumed alone.

Unlike in cities like New York, London and LA where ‘coffee-to-go’ is almost a norm these days, in Ethiopia every meeting includes coffee and coffee always requires company.

Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa and the fifth largest producer in the world and accounts for 4.2% of the global coffee production. The coffee industry in Ethiopia contributes up to 10 percent of Ethiopia’s GDP and provides livelihood for approximately fifteen million Ethiopian farmers all over the country.

But coffee isn’t just a part of the economics of Ethiopia. It is one of the largest producers of coffee in Africa and only exports about 50 percent of the coffee that is grown. In comparison other coffee growing countries around the world like Kenya consumes only 3 percent of its coffee crop where as Colombia consumers 14 percent.

It is very clear that coffee is extremely important to Ethiopians in Ethiopia.

Buna tetu’ which translates to ‘come drink coffee’ is a famous communal tradition in Ethiopia. Families will send children to knock on their neighbors homes to invite them to come share some coffee. This bonding nature of Ethiopians is a key thread in the fabric of its society.

Traditional way of drinking buna

The coffee brewing tradition in Ethiopia has many special elements. The ceremony involves processing the raw, unwashed coffee beans into finished cups of brewed coffee. Before this event, the dining room undergoes some preparatory rites for the ritual. Firstly, the coffee cups are all arranged on a table along with snacks. Freshly cut grass is displayed on both the floor and the table. And sweet incense is burnt as a way to clarify the space.

Preparing a traditional cup of coffee or buna can take more than an hour and actually drinking it can be longer, especially during festivities and celebrations. Drinking coffee is sensory experience in Ethiopia unlike any other.

The process begins with washing and roasting the beans on a iron pan called mitad. The person preparing the beans is typically dressed in the traditional Ethiopian clothes called habesaha semis. When the coffee beans are roasted, the mitad is taken to the guests so that they can inhale and smells the roasting beans. This is a huge part of the Ethiopian Coffee sensory experience.

The coffee beans are then brewed in a traditional mortar before putting them in a jebena in which the water has already been set to boil. Jebena which is a traditional clay pot made specifically for preparing coffee comes in various shapes and sizes and hold essential value in every Ethiopian households. Jebena’s have one, two or three spouts depending on the region where they are made and used. Once coffee beans have been added to the simmering water, it is left to steep in the jebena. When the coffee foam discharges from the top hole of the jebena, it is removed from the heat and left to allow all the solid coffee particles to settle at the bottom of the pot. Once all the coffee cups are gathered on the rekebot – the coffee platter – coffee is poured into the first cup. This first cup is culturally not for consumption but to confirm the murky liquid is free of all coffee grind. The drinking ceremony can finally begin and coffee is offered with multiple seasoning options including sugar, salt, or rue.

Traditional cup of Ethiopian coffee served with aromatic incense, usually frankincense and myrrh. The incense is ignited by a hot coal to produce smoke that is said to carry away any bad spirits. Conversations starts flowing freely as sweet incense dissipates in the room. From abol – the first cup of coffee, to tona – the second cup and finally to bereka – the last cup of coffee, the jebena is refilled until the settles coffee bits squeeze out their very last taste and guests are finally satisfied. It is considered impolite to leave the ceremony without consuming at least three cups. Ethiopians believe that your spirit transforms when you complete all three rounds. Of course, you are free to take as many cups as you wish afterward.

It is clear that the coffee culture in Ethiopia is as much of a ritual as it is about drinking that cup of coffee – a great way to slow down and engage with your friends and neighbors.

Thank you once again Jerry and family for the invitation and your hospitality…

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Coffee, health & wellness: Exploring “the original superfood”

From doctors and medical experts to nutritionists and sports coaches, the health benefits of coffee have been well-documented over the years by medical and healthcare professionals.

Over the years, research has highlighted how the high antioxidant content of coffee can improve life expectancy and reduce the risk of certain diseases, including Parkinson’s, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Today, coffee is an important part of a well-balanced diet for millions of people around the world. Global health and wellness trends fuelled by younger generations have prompted many to embrace coffee as a healthier alternative to sugary soft drinks.

However, in recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about just how coffee affects human health. To learn more about coffee and its health benefits, I spoke with Bill Murray, the president and CEO of the National Coffee Association (NCA). Read on to find out what he said.

You may also like our article comparing soft drink and coffee consumption.

WHAT ARE THE NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS OF COFFEE?
Whether you drink it before a workday, after a meal, or as a pre-workout energy boost, coffee has a number of nutritional benefits.

Many of these are linked to coffee’s high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants are important for health and wellness as they prevent cells from being oxidised by toxins, chemicals, and inflammation.

The process of cell oxidation leads to the production of “free radicals”, which are unpaired, reactive atoms or molecules. These can build up in cells and cause irreparable damage. However, antioxidants stop cells from being oxidised, reducing the number of free radicals in the human body.

As such, a diet high in antioxidants can reduce the risk of the many diseases associated with free radicals, including arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.

For example, research carried out over a 13-year-period by the Journal of the American Heart Association found that moderate coffee drinkers (those who consumed between two and four cups daily) were 20% less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease.

As such, in a number of European countries, such as Finland, Norway, Poland, and Spain, coffee is the single largest dietary source of antioxidants. In these countries, it provides more than 60% of the average consumers’ antioxidant intake.

One in particular, chlorogenic acid (an important antioxidant that supports the prevention of heart disease), is found almost exclusively in coffee.

In addition to the specific benefits from the antioxidants in coffee, there is also a growing amount of research suggesting that coffee has an impact on life expectancy.

A landmark 2012 study by The New England Journal of Medicine found that women who drank four to five cups of coffee per day were at 12% less risk of an early death. For men, this decrease was 16%.

Even low to moderate consumption – as little as one cup of coffee per day – was linked with a 5% to 6% decrease.

Bill Murray has been the president and CEO of the National Coffee Association since 2014. He tells me that through a great number of studies, coffee has been proven time and time again as having a range of health benefits.

“Coffee is the original superfood,” he says. “I think discussions like this on the health benefits of coffee, alongside high levels of research, are what’s really needed to drive the industry.”

HEALTH AND WELLBEING: WHY COFFEE IS BECOMING A GLOBAL HEALTH TREND
Over the last few years, a focus on health and wellbeing has been one of the defining trends among young people.

Consequently, attitudes towards food and beverages have undergone dramatic shifts. Consumers are increasingly swapping convenience and cost for quality and health benefits in the products they eat and drink.

A recent report on eating trends found that those in millennial (aged 25 to 38) and Generation Z (aged 18 to 24) age groups were 29% more likely to try new health food products than any other age group.

These groups are also more likely to spend time researching healthy products online before making a purchasing decision.

For many, coffee plays an important role in a balanced, healthy lifestyle. This has been particularly evident in the rise of cold brew and ready to drink (RTD) coffee beverages, which have been embraced by some as healthier alternatives to energy drinks.

Another advantage of coffee in this regard is that it provides the caffeine boost that energy drinks provide while also offering no sugar content (unless added), more antioxidants, and no artificial sweeteners or flavourings.

And while conversations about the physical and psychological effects of caffeine have been ongoing for some time, it is important to remember that tea, soft drinks, and chocolate all also contain it. It is not solely found in coffee.

In addition, coffee can also have benefits for those looking to cut down their calorie intake. The Harvard School of Public Health states that the average can of sugar-sweetened soda contains 150 calories. In contrast, an equivalent serving of coffee (340g) contains just 4.

Providing no sugar or sweeteners are added, swapping one can of soda for a 340g cup of coffee can save an average of 146 calories, making it a great choice for diet control and weight loss.

Furthermore, coffee contains important nutrients that are linked to improvements in energy and performance, such as magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins.

Studies reveal that higher levels of magnesium can boost athletic performance, while potassium helps maintain muscle mass and lower blood pressure.

However, these health and wellbeing trends are unfortunately not universally discussed or recognised. Bill explains that in particular, the conversation around health and wellbeing in producing countries is often limited.

“In coffee-producing countries where there are these rich coffee cultures, focusing on questions of health will contribute a new dimension to that culture and add huge value to the industry as a whole,” he tells me.

COFFEE, CANCER & PROPOSITION 65
Despite the sheer volume of research about the health benefits of coffee, there continue to be misconceptions across the industry.

Perhaps one of the most significant cases of misconceptions about coffee is the State of California’s Proposition 65.

Officially known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, Proposition 65 was enacted as a ballot initiative in 1986. It requires the State of California to publish (and update) a list of substances that are known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.

The list currently contains more than 900 different naturally occurring and synthetic substances.

It also requires businesses in California to then provide warnings on any product containing any of these substances, meaning that they would, in theory, be more difficult to sell.

In 2018, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge declared that coffee roasters and retailers had failed to demonstrate that certain levels of acrylamide – a chemical formed when coffee beans are roasted – did not pose a significant risk of cancer.

This would mean coffee being listed as a potential carcinogen under Proposition 65, and that all coffee businesses in California would have to advertise it as such.

Bill says: “Proposition 65 was giving people the fear that coffee was somehow associated with cancer, despite all the evidence on the contrary.

“When the State of California puts a label on coffee that associates it with cancer, not only are you sending out a message that’s untrue for coffee drinkers, but you’re also potentially hurting coffee farmers who will experience a drop in demand.”

After a year, in June 2019, a ruling was made that stated that exposure to the chemicals in coffee did not pose a significant risk of cancer. This exempted coffee from a Proposition 65 cancer warning.

The case was also reviewed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which supported the view that coffee is not carcinogenic and noted that it could even help protect against some types of cancer.

However, in spite of the ruling, some believe the media exposure of the case has already had an impact. If consumers maintain the belief that roasted coffee is a carcinogen, despite research and a legal decision to the contrary, this will cause coffee businesses across the supply chain to suffer.

Bill concludes by explaining that consumers need to approach the facts themselves.

“When consumers are looking at health information, what they really need to do is cut through all the noise and take advice from the overwhelming body of evidence,” he says.

Over the years, a vast amount of research into the health benefits of coffee has emerged. As such, in recent years, it has come to be promoted as a key component of a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Coffee provides a much-needed caffeine boost for millions of people every single day. Beyond this, it is also a rich source of antioxidants that can lead to lower risk for a number of serious diseases. And while misconceptions do exist, studies and research are broadly in favour of coffee’s nutritional and health benefits.

So next time you’re reaching for an energy drink or reconsidering your calorie intake, consider brewing a cup of quality coffee instead. You may find that you prefer it as a healthy and nutritionally beneficial substitute.

 

 

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