green coffee

The Rising C: Some Potential Hidden Consequences of Higher Prices

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Coffee in Peru

Coffee in parchment. Daily Coffee News file photo.

The recent green coffee market volatility can create a daunting situation for actors throughout the coffee supply chain. On the surface, rising prices are a good sign for farmer incomes, but the reality is that a rapid increase and volatility may make the situation more difficult for many cooperatives and smallholder producers in the longer term.

When C-market prices are historically low — as they had been throughout much of 2018, 2019 and 2020 — they can be expected to move back upward. Yet such volatility tends to cause actors throughout the supply chain — including roasters, importers, exporters, and producers — to counter with drastic measures, exacerbating price volatility.

What are some of the consequences of the most recent rise in the NY C-market price, and how might this impact producers in places like Peru, Brazil, Indonesia, Burundi or Rwanda, where peak harvesting season is approaching?

Deforestation can increase. Producers may become incentivized by higher prices to expand production into primary forested areas with the hope of increasing yields as soon as possible. Yet within the time it takes for a forest to re-grow, prices will ebb and flow many times over.

Coffee quality can suffer. When the market goes up, farmers are more likely to pick their crops and deliver cherry to mills as quickly as possible to take advantage of higher prices. Fast delivery can hamper quality due to lack of selective harvesting practices and meticulous post-harvest practices.

The rising C-market price may encourage strip-picking, meaning the amount of quality coffees available in later months can be diminished. The price differential between red, ripe selective harvests and mixed underripe selections is often not enough to justify selective harvesting when prices are presently high.

Private collectors become competitive. Cooperatives often struggle to afford coffee parchment from their members because they must compete with heavily financed, privately owned buyers who are able to pay higher prices without delay. This can strain cooperative structures and membership benefits.

Ed Canty, the general manager of the United States-based trading cooperative Cooperative Coffees, addressed this issue in a story on price risk management (PRM) tools way back in 2015.

“Independent smallholder organizations always need to pay producers a local expression of the current commodity price to collect coffee. If they do not, producers will sell to someone else,” Canty stated at the time. “Estates pay workers a rate that is not immediately tied to the commodity price of coffee. So their risk of not being able to collect coffee in a rising coffee market is greatly reduced. This allows many Estates to sign fixed price contracts without protecting against the risk of a rising market.”


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When market stability is higher, the tendency is for cooperative members to lean more on their organization for support and benefits. Stability in prices allows for selective harvesting throughout the harvest months, leading to potential increases in quality, which can in turn lead to higher consistent prices, and subsequently more cash for cooperative member benefits. The opposite can take shape when price volatility is higher.

Supporting cooperatives during a time where the C-market prices increase beyond the Fair Trade floor price ($1.40) is arguably as important as supporting cooperatives in times of low prices. Both swings potentially can disrupt the operations of a cooperative and its potential longer-term benefits to members.

Keeping cooperatives strong despite volatile price conditions requires buyers who are committed to maintaining or exceeding a higher floor price. Well-funded large buyers will always win the ‘race to the bottom’ price; yet not all buyers maintain the kinds of commitments cooperatives do to re-invest in those communities. The benefits often end once the C-market spike runs its course.

In addition to finding dedicated buyers, there are a number of price risk management tools that can help strengthen relationships between roasters, importers and cooperatives.

Kraig Kraft, previously of Catholic Relief Services and now with World Coffee Research, penned a series of articles addressing PRM tools and how they might help cooperatives achieve more financial stability.

In short, stability takes time, commitment, communication and trust — virtues that are difficult to come by in a volatile market in which producers have been historically positioned as “price takers.”


Editor’s note: This story was written for Daily Coffee News by Jon Ferguson, the North American Green Coffee Representative for the ElevaFinca Alliance of Cooperatives in Peru and Colombia. Daily Coffee News does not publish “paid content” or “sponsored content” of any kind. Any views expressed in this piece are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by Daily Coffee News or its affiliates.

Source: Roast Magazine

An Introduction to Water Activity in Green Coffee

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water activity in green coffee

While water activity may not affect cup score at any given moment, it may affect how long coffee maintains its quality. Daily Coffee News photo.

The world of science in the coffee industry has, for the past few years, been experiencing a renaissance involving innovation, technology, research and experimentation.

Most specialty coffee professionals have always been dedicated to a pursuit of excellence in all aspects of coffee — brewing, roasting, growing, processing, etc. — but in recent years, interest in a more scientific, data-driven approach to coffee has truly taken off and become mainstream.

Green coffee cupping tray

courtesy photo

It wasn’t too long ago that you’d be hard pressed to find a coffee shop employing  scales or refractometers to measure and improve their brews. These days, the use of such tools is commonplace and considered part of best practices.

Likewise, more and more roasters are using software or smart roasters like the Ikawa Sample Roaster to better record and evaluate their roasts. In today’s golden age of coffee science, nothing goes unmeasured.

Water activity 101

One subject of coffee science that has gained particular attention recently, especially for importers and roasters, has been water activity in green coffee. Although the measure of water activity has long been considered a quality parameter by the Specialty Coffee Association, there has been relatively little research into the subject. Between 2016 and 2020, we at Sustainable Harvest conducted a study to further investigate the relationship between water activity and green coffee.

We explored these questions:

  • How does water activity relate to green coffee quality, and why does it matter?
  • What quality factors does water activity impact the most?
  • Should more or less importance be placed on water activity as a quality control parameter for producers and importers/roasters?

You can read the full study — and the answers to these questions — in our paper published earlier this year. But to get an understanding of the basics, here’s what you need to know:

What is water activity?

In technical terms, water activity is the ratio of the partial vapor pressure of water in a substance relative to the partial vapor pressure of pure water (under standard conditions and at the same temperature).

Here’s a simple way to illustrate vapor pressure: Imagine a sealed container half-filled with pure water. As the water evaporates, water molecules fill the air above the water and pressure builds—this is the partial vapor pressure of pure water.

Water activity is measured on a scale from 0.0 to 1.0, with 1.0 being pure water. Every other substance apart from pure water will have a water activity less than 1.0.

Another way of understanding water activity is to think of it as measuring the chemical availability of water in a substance, i.e, how much water in a substance is unbound and free to take part in chemical reactions. A higher water activity means more water is available to chemically react and vice versa.

Is water activity the same as moisture content?

No! Water activity is not the same as moisture content, although the two measurements are closely related. Moisture content is simply a measurement of the amount of water in a substance relative to its weight (e.g., a substance weighing 5 pounds at 20% moisture content means that there is 1 pound of water weight).

Moisture content measures how much total water is in a substance while water activity measures how much of that water is chemically available to react.

While moisture content and water activity are related, it’s important to note that they are not directly correlated, meaning that a certain moisture content does not indicate any one specific water activity measurement. In general, as moisture content increases or decreases, water activity will increase or decrease accordingly — but this is not always the case. As a rule of thumb, it’s safe to assume a certain range of water activity readings given a certain moisture content (and vice versa).

What is the importance of water activity in green coffee?

During the drying phase of green coffee processing and during storage of green coffee, achieving and maintaining ideal water activity is essential for ensuring that the green coffee remains stable.

What do we mean by “stable”?

As mentioned earlier, a higher water activity means that more water is available to take part in chemical reactions; in the case of green coffee, high water activity means more water is available to facilitate the growth of molds and fungi, some of them toxic. More water available also accelerates the chemical processes that lead to degradation (such as oxidation and staling).

On the other hand, if water activity is too low, then there won’t be enough water available for the green coffee seed to maintain its vital enzymatic reactions (fun fact: a green coffee seed is indeed alive, and you can actually grow a new coffee plant from green coffee under the right conditions). Without enough water available, the seed will die, resulting in “flat” or aged flavors in the coffee when roasted.

Water activity is a thermodynamic parameter, and is affected by variations in temperature and environmental conditions. It’s a measurement of the energy status in a system; in this case, the system is the coffee bean. The higher the water activity, the higher the energy in the bean, which would result in faster physical and sensory deterioration.

A stable water activity—one that is not too high that it facilitates unwanted processes nor too low that it halts seed metabolic activity and which does not fluctuate between high and low— is essential for proper maintenance of green coffee.

What does water activity impact?

Firstly, we found no correlation between water activity and cup score. There were cases where we scored the coffees very high, and found that their water activities were well out of the acceptable range. As far as we know right now, water activity is not a useful predictor of cup score.

Water activity can, however, predict how well a coffee will maintain its quality over time; in other words, water activity has a huge influence on green coffee in storage. Coffee is hygroscopic, meaning it tends to absorb water from its surrounding environment. Coffees with high water activity will tend to absorb even more water than coffees with lower water activity, accelerating degradation and shortening shelf life. This will result in the development of off flavors and defects (such as phenol), loss of sensory qualities like flavor and aroma, and rapid physical deterioration.

A coffee cupping at 88 points at a high water activity could see its cup score drop by multiple points over the course of just a couple of months. If the same coffee had an ideal water activity — and was held under proper storage conditions — it’s very likely that it would preserve its quality for several months longer.

So what is the ideal range of water activity for coffee?

In our study, we found that the optimal water activity range for green coffee was between 0.45aw – 0.55aw. Under proper storage conditions, coffees in this range will maintain quality for at least 6-8 months and likely much longer. In fact, we found that 0.50aw was the most stable point among the coffees we tested, and these coffees held their quality for at least 18 months in storage!

This range of water activity also correlates to a moisture content range of approximately 10.5%-11.5%.

What are the main takeaways for roasters?

First and foremost: make sure you’re storing your coffee correctly! This is the best thing that you can do to ensure that you’re getting the absolute most out of your coffee.

There’s a lot to say about the topic of green coffee storage, but in short: Keep your coffee somewhere cool (between 60-70°F), out of direct sunlight, and dry, aiming for around 50% humidity. Also take care to keep your coffee from experiencing wide swings in temperature or humidity.

If you do happen to find yourself with coffees at less than ideal water activity, these should be the coffees you use first. Since these coffees will lose their quality the fastest, roast through them as quickly as you can so that you can “capture” their optimal value and profile while they’re still cupping well.

Lastly, do keep in mind that it’s normal for water activity to fluctuate over time. So long as it stays within the right range, there should be nothing to worry about.

Source: Roast Magazine

Exploring the Possibility of Florida-Grown Coffee

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ripe grapefruit

Researchers are exploring the potential of coffee growth in areas currently suitable for citrus growth.

For centuries, coffee has been grown between two somewhat arbitrary lines above and below the equator. The stretch between roughly the 23.43°S and 23.43°N parallels — also known as tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, respectively — is also often referred to as the “coffee belt.”

Countries with large swaths of land within this boundary — Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia and Vietnam, and dozens more — have historically dominated the production of coffee that then travels to points farther north or south for consumption.

Yet what happens when we consider the artificial nature of these boundaries? Is it possible to grow coffee outside of these latitudinal restraints?

The short answer is yes. With reasonable conditions, a coffee plant could grow inside a home anywhere in the world. In one extreme example of how coffee growth in controlled conditions is feasible, South Korea’s Paldang Coffee Farm has maintained some 800 coffee plants for more than a decade within greenhouses at roughly the 37°N parallel.

Yet commercial coffee production continues to take place almost exclusively within the coffee belt, where consistently better conditions for temperature, light and rainfall promote proper development of fruitful coffee plants.

coffee plants

Coffee growing in Brazil. Photo by Jonas Ferraresso.

Thus, it may not be advisable to grow coffee in the potato fields of England. But what if we step outside these lines just a little bit? An increasing number of groups have been exploring this question — particularly with an eye on commercial cultivation — and some answers are to beginning to emerge.

Coffee Fields in the United States

Growing coffee in the U.S. is not new. Hawaii has been harvesting berries for more than a century at roughly the 19°N parallel within the coffee belt, finding broad commercial success along the way.

A more recent example of coffee cultivation has been taking place in California over the past decade, where the private group Frinj Coffee has been leading a network network of farmers and finding encouraging results regarding quantity.

This has taken place in the hills near Santa Barbara at roughly the 34°N parallel, where there is about 17.7 inches (450 millimeters) of annual rain and periods of low temperatures from November to April. Such conditions and associated costs are likely to challenge cultivation on a large scale.

One more interesting coffee cultivation destination has recently emerged from the continental United States, at a point that’s even closer to the coffee belt at about the 28°N parallel: Florida.

Understanding the Needs of the Coffee Tree

Worldwide, the two main coffee species cultivated for commercial consumption are Coffea canephora (robusta) and Coffea arabica (arabica). With robusta preferring hot and wet climates and arabica favoring milder climates, arabica tends to be the focus when cultivation is considered outside the coffee belt — i.e. farther away from the equator.

Originating in the mountains and forests of Ethiopia, the arabica species is cultivated in dozens of countries. Over the years, hundreds of varieties of this plant have emerged through the hands of breeders, farmers or by nature itself.

Each variety has some unique characteristics such as size, productivity, resistance to drought, nutritional needs, resistance to pests and diseases, resistance to low temperatures, quality, and more. Some of the best-known varieties are Caturra, Bourbon, Gesha, etc.

Here I’d like to explore some basic components of arabica cultivation and how it might look in or alongside the citrus groves. Keep in mind, variability is to be expected here, especially given the unique conditions of the Sunshine State:

ripe oranges

ripe oranges

Sunlight: Arabica coffee grows well in shade conditions, although it likes to receive at least 6 hours of light per day, and up to 11-14 for maximum production. That would be feasible in most of Florida, where there is roughly 9 hours of sunshine in December and 15 hours in June. Technologies such as intercropping could filter light and assist farming if the sun is too intense.

Temperature: An adult coffee tree grows well at temperatures between 62.6°F (17°C) and 73.4°F (23°C); however, it can tolerate minimum temperatures of 50°F (10°C) and maximum of 93.2°F (34°C) without major damage to the plant. For short periods some varieties of arabica can tolerate 35.6°F (2°C) without major problems. In the central region of Florida where oranges are grown, the temperature range is between 48.2°F (9°C) and 91.4°F (33°C), which might be suitable for coffee growing. Microjet systems already used in Florida citrus could be adapted to provide temperature control for young coffee trees.

Rain: In places like Polk City, an important producer of citrus fruits, the rainfall average is above 47 inches (1200 millimeters), and distributed throughout the year. The coffee tree develops and produces well with annual rainfall between 1,200 millimeters and 1,800 millimeters, but with volumes of only 800 millimeters, good results can still be achieved. Irrigation could be a solution in the event of drought.

Altitude: Coffee is well known for being produced in high-altitude conditions, to which Florida cannot lay much claim. However, plant growth can succeed if other critical conditions are met, and flatter terrain could potentially facilitate the use of machinery to reduce labor costs.

Soil: This would be one of the biggest challenges, as the Florida citrus region is characterized by sandy soils, mostly Spodsols and Entisols of marine origin. These soils have good water drainage and low nutrient retention. To meet the needs of coffee plants in their different stages throughout the year — growth, flowering, granulation, maturation, etc. — new models for well-structured and fertilization and soil management systems might need to be devised.

coffee

Photo by Jonas Ferraresso.

Could the Coffee Taste Good?

This is one of the most complicated topics in modern coffee cultivation, since coffee quality is the result of a huge number of interrelated variables. Some field variations are fertilizers, management, genetics, temperature, rain, sunlight, etc. After that, variables affecting quality include post-harvest technologies such as drying method, drying speed, type of processing, type of fermentation.

The final stage in quality assessment will come through roasting and brewing, where all those previous factors will come to bear on the finished cup. We don’t yet have an idea of what Florida coffee might “taste” like, but the prospect is intriguing.

Researchers at the University of Florida/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra are already carrying out the first tests to study the feasibility of coffee cultivation in Florida’s citrus-growing region. These may be the first steps towards making “Florida-grown coffee” a reality.

Source: Roast Magazine

Freezing Green Coffee: A Tale of Infestation, Treatment and Consequences

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Despite the fact that coffee comes equipped with a natural insecticide (caffeine), it is still susceptible to sporadic insect infestation. Royal Coffee experienced a pest-related incident that affected thousands of…