Ask the Experts

The Coffee Business

What is the commodity chain of the coffee industry?

Coffee is an extremely powerful commodity, reigning as the world's most heavily traded product, behind petroleum, and the largest food import of the United States. The global commodity chain for coffee involves a string of producers, middlemen, exporters, importers, roasters, and retailers before reaching the consumer. Coffee is a vital source of export for many of the developing countries that grow it. Some 20 million families in 50 countries now work directly in the cultivation of coffee; an estimated 11 million hectares of the world's farmland are dedicated to coffee cultivation. Arabica and Robusta are the two principle species of coffee harvested today. Approximately 70% of the world's production is the Arabica bean, used for higher-grade and specialty coffees, and 80% of this bean comes from Latin America. Robusta is grown primarily in Africa and Asia. Most small farmers sell directly to middlemen exporters who are commonly referred to as coyotes. These coyotes are known to take advantage of small farmers, paying them below market price for their harvests and keeping a high percentage for themselves. In contrast, large coffee estate owners usually process and export their own harvests that are sold at the prices set by the New York Coffee Exchange. However, extremely low wages ($2-3/day) and poor working conditions for farmworkers characterize coffee plantation jobs. Importers purchase green coffee from established exporters and large plantation owners in producing countries. Only those importers in the specialty coffee segment buy directly from the small farmer cooperatives. Importers provide a crucial service to roasters who do not have the capital resources to obtain quality green coffee from around the world. Importers bring in large container loads and hold inventory, selling gradually through numerous small orders. Since many roasters rely on this service, importers wield a great deal of influence over the types of green coffee that are sold in the US.

How are coffee prices currently set?

Coffee prices are set according to the New York "C" Contract market. The price of coffee fluctuates wildly in this speculative economy, generally hovering around fifty cents per pound. Most coffee is traded by speculators in New York, who trade approximately 8-10 times the amount of actual coffee produced each year. The single most influential factor in world coffee prices is the weather in Brazil. Droughts and frosts portend shortages of coffee and the price increases. Specialty coffee is often imported at a negotiated price over the C market, which is considered a 'quality premium'. Most of those premiums never reach the coffee farmer, but rather stay in the hands of the exporter. This creates a disincentive for farmers to increase their quality, as they do not receive the direct benefits of increased investment in producing better coffee.

What role does coffee play in the US economy?

Coffee is the US's largest food import and second most valuable commodity only after oil. According to the International Coffee Organization, the US imported 2.72 billion pounds of coffee from September 2001 to September 2002. The US primarily purchases coffee from Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Vietnam. The U.S. also buys coffee from Indonesia, Costa Rica, Peru, El Salvador, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, Uganda, Thailand, Nicaragua, India, and Papua New Guinea. In the U.S. alone, over 130 million consumers are coffee drinkers. In recent years, new cafés have been opening at an explosive rate, making specialty coffee mainstream and increasing profit margins for specialty coffee roasters and retailers. The Specialty Coffee Association of America estimated that there are 10,000 coffee cafes and 2,500 specialty stores selling coffee. Chains represent 30% of all coffee retail stores, but the majority remain in the hands of independent owners or small family businesses.

What role does coffee play in the global economy?

Coffee is the world's second most valuable traded commodity, behind only petroleum. There are approximately 25 million farmers and coffee workers in over 50 countries involved in producing coffee around the world. Coffee was traditionally developed as a colonial cash crop, planted by serfs or wage laborers in tropical climates on large plantations of landowners for sale in colonial countries. Coffee producers, like most agricultural workers around the world, are kept in a cycle of poverty and debt by the current global economy designed to exploit cheap labor and keep consumer prices low. An estimated 11 million hectares of the world's farmland are dedicated to coffee cultivation. The largest producer and exporter is Brazil, followed by Colombia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Mexico. Around the globe, the annual consumption of coffee has expanded to 12 billion pounds.

Coffee & General Topics

What if I have too much roasted coffee?

Freezing coffee is an option if one is mindful to quickly remove enough coffee from the freezer to last a week, and return before the stored coffee can condensate.

Is there more caffeine in espresso than regular drip brewed coffee?

Espresso tastes stronger but actually contains half to two-thirds the caffeine of a six ounce cup of drip coffee, approximately 50-60 milligrams vs. 100 milligrams in a regular brew.

What is the difference between water processed and direct contact decaffeination?

The water process uses warm water under pressure to extract caffeine. The direct contact method uses water, pressure and methylene chloride to remove caffeine.

How much caffeine is in decaffeinated coffees?

A coffee must have at least 97% of its caffeine removed to qualify as decaffeinated coffee in the United States. Each five-ounce cup of decaffeinated coffee.

How much caffeine is in caffeinated coffees?

Depending on the type of bean, brewing method, and amount of coffee used, a five-ounce cup of caffeinated coffee will contain from 70 to 155 milligrams of caffeine. The Institute of Food Technologists notes that moderate amounts of caffeine - less than 600 milligrams per day - are not considered harmful to the average, healthy adult.

What is acidity in coffee?

It is not really acidy, but more like a briskness. Dark roasted coffee is less brisk because as the darkness of the roast increases, different tastes become more obvious.

Should I use boiling water when making coffee?

Coffee should be brewed at about 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit, just under the boiling point. Anything higher leads to a bitter taste. Boiling coffee also cooks off its delicate essences, robbing coffee of its nuances.

How fine should coffee beans be ground?

It will depend on what brewing method is used. Generally, the longer the grinds are in contact with the water, the coarser the grind should be. Auto-drip coffeemakers generally work best with a mid-sized grind. Percolators require a very large size grind, since the water is circulated through the grinds many times. Espresso need very finely ground coffee because the water is only briefly shot through the grinds.

What type of roast should be used for espresso?

Any types of coffee may be used. Mix, match, and explore.

How long does roasted coffee stay fresh?

To best enjoy fresh roasted coffee, consume it within a week of roasting. Whole bean: up to 3 months in an unopened gas flushed valve bag; up to 2 weeks in an open bin or tin-tie bag. Ground coffee: 24 hours. Grind just before brewing for great flavor. Drip coffee: up to 1 hour in an insulated container; 20 minutes on a burner. Press pot coffee: 20 minutes. Espresso: 20 seconds.

Can a popcorn popper be used to roast coffee beans?

Electric popcorn poppers don't have all the conveniences of home roasters but they do the job equally well, whether you like a light or a dark roast. Roasting with popcorn poppers is simple and eliminates the cost of a new roaster. This kind of roasting has other advantages, too: It lets you experience the various phases of coffee roasting – the "first crack" as moisture leaves the bean and the change in color as the bean roasts.

How expensive is it to roast your own gourmet coffee beans?

Green coffee beans typically cost less than half as much as roasted beans, and very often one quarter as much. Home roasting not only provides vastly superior coffee, it provides substantial savings.

How long does it take to roast coffee?

A typical home roast takes about 10 minutes, plus five minutes of cooling. Lighter roasts can take as little as 8 minutes, darker roasts 13 minutes or more.

What are the advantages of roasting your own coffee?

Everyone's taste is different. Roasting your own coffee allows you to roast beans to your particular preference and also to experiment with a wider range of coffee bean varieties. Plus, its freshness cannot be beaten.

How is coffee roasted?

A key determinant of a coffee's flavor is the roasting process. Green coffee beans are roasted at a relatively high temperature (410° - 450°F) for anywhere from 10-20 minutes.

How about the fat content in coffee?

Virtually none. The same goes for flavored coffees.

How many calories are there in a cup of coffee?

Virtually none. The same goes for flavored coffees.

What is the nutritional content of coffee?

Regarding nutritional information for brewed coffee, there are no significant levels of carbohydrates, fats, protein, fiber, vitamins or minerals.

How many cups do you get from a pound of coffee?

Serving sizes for coffee are based on a 6 oz. fine china cup, rather than an 8 oz. measuring cup or the common American 12 oz. or larger mug. A pound of coffee yields 40 full-strength 6 oz. servings approximately.

How should coffee be stored?

Because coffee is a magnet for odors in the air around it, make sure it is stored in an airtight container. The container should be opaque, so that light does not hit the beans, and sized to hold beans with as little extra air space as possible. A week's worth of coffee can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature. For longer storage, keep it in the freezer. Packages of frozen coffee should be opened as infrequently as possible. Whole beans will keep up to four weeks, but ground coffee should be brewed within a week or two. Buying small amounts frequently and grinding your own beans is the best way to enjoy fresh coffee.

How long do green coffee beans last?

Normally, Conventional coffees hold well for two to three years, but if stored properly, green coffee can last many years. In fact, some species are especially prized if they are aged. Specialty coffees rarely maintain their qualities beyond 9-16 months unless stored in gas flushed packaging or frozen.

What does blend and single origin mean?

A blend is a combination of coffees from different countries. Single origin coffees are from a particular country, region and specific farm or estate.

What is fair trade coffee?

Certified Fair Trade coffee has been traded and sold according to international fair trade criteria. Farmers are guaranteed a minimum "fair trade price," for their coffee. If world price rises above this floor, farmers will be paid a premium above market price. Coffee importers provide a certain amount of credit to farmers against future sales. Importers and roasters agree to develop direct, long-term trade relationships with producer groups, bringing greater commercial stability to an extremely unstable market. The fair trade movement is based on the idea that producers in developing countries can achieve economic success provided they receive fair prices in international markets for what they produce.

What is organic coffee?

Organic coffee growers strive for a balance with nature by eliminating the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic farming replenishes and maintains soil fertility and crop health by selecting environmentally friendly solutions to the pest and disease problems that affect their crops. When a grower or processor is certified organic, a public or private organization has verified that standards defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been met.

What is the difference between shade coffee and sun coffee?

Generally speaking, sun shade coffee is pruned coffee grown under a canopy of diverse species of trees, while coffee grown in the sun is cultivated in fields that often provide little or no shade cover. While sun coffee produces more coffee beans per acre, it requires chemical fertilizers and a range of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides to maintain yields. Shade coffee helps to make a shade canopy in which birds and other animals can take shelter, which in turn helps to decrease or eliminate erosion and create a natural organic environment. It also creates a much more pleasant environment in which to work.

What are ‘green’ coffee beans?

The coffee beans seen in stores are brown. That’s because they have been roasted. But the bean or ‘seed’ that lies at the center of a coffee berry on the bush is green. Some coffee lovers will buy green beans and then roast them to their liking, in a home roaster.

Where does coffee come from?

Coffee beans are the pits of the fruit that grows on coffee bushes. This fruit is harvested by hand, and then processed to remove the actual fruit pulp. The beans that remain are dried, and at this stage, they are referred to as "green" coffee beans.

What’s the difference between Arabica and Robusta beans?

There are two commercial species of coffee plant: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora var. Robusta. The more flavorful, Arabica has about two-thirds of the world market. Robusta holds the remaining third of the market. Its caffeine content is about twice that of Arabica, but it is considered inferior-tasting. Robusta is often used for instant coffee and in supermarket-grade blends. Generic supermarket coffee is typically a blend of good Arabica, medium quality Arabica, and Robusta. Instant coffee uses primarily processed Robusta beans.

What are the different types of coffee?

There are about 25 major species of coffee beans within the Coffea genus, but the typical coffee drinker will probably be familiar with Arabica (species Coffea Arabica) and Robusta (species Coffea Canephora var. Robusta).

Does the country of origin make a difference to the taste of the coffee?

Yes. The growing region has a lot to do with the taste of coffee. For a milder, balanced brew try beans from Latin America. For more exotic, fine tastes, try coffees from Africa or Indonesia. There are hundreds of different beans to try, and all will offer your taste buds some delicate and satisfying pleasures.

Where are coffee beans grown?

Coffee is grown in approximately eighty countries located on four continents between the geographical latitudes of the Tropic of Cancer (to the north) and the Tropic of Capricorn (to the south). Some major producing countries include Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Uganda, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

When was coffee first discovered?

Coffee was first discovered growing wild in Ethiopia over 1,000 years ago. At first, coffee cherries were eaten with animal fat as food. Over time, people learned to roast, grind, brew and drink the coffee bean inside the cherry. Once coffee was enjoyed as a beverage, traders spread its cultivation and use around the world.