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The Unbalanced Coffee World: How a Mismanaged Resource Can Lead to Opportunity

It’s jaw-dropping and downright painful to recognize that a $100 billion worldwide coffee industry is choking the life out of itself.

Recently, at the 2014 Specialty Coffee Association of America annual event, I learned that 25 out of 30 of the poorest countries in the world are coffee-producing countries.

How could this be? In an industry with arguably the second-most traded resource in the world, how is it that such poverty exists at its root level?

The coffee industry is as imbalanced as a NFL linebacker and my two-year-old daughter on a see-saw together.

Seriously, can we at least stop for a minute from sipping our perfectly-made cappuccinos and selling our $20 bags of specialty coffee and recognize the colossal problem with the origins of the seeds we can’t live without?

A Minute Goes By While We Sip On Our $4 Coffee

Flip-flop the scenario to the coffee producer in Burundi (where Seeds Coffee just bought some green coffee from last week), which happens to be the second-poorest country in the world. What do you think this farmer thinks about the $100 billion industry?

I can’t imagine the reaction of a Burundi farmer hearing that less than a pound of coffee (which he probably received less than $2 for) just pocketed our retail shop $42 or so. Not to mention that ninety percent of the effort spent to make this coffee available was done by the farmer, not the coffee shop, not the barista.

It took our greatly-skilled baristas around four minutes to grind and extract the right amount of coffee soluble of this precious resource. But back at the coffee’s origin, it took months of prepping and processing this delicious 23g of extracted goodness that a cherry picker got a few cents worth for his or her time.

Now, this blog is not purposed to bring guilt and condemnation to the reader. Instead, let this writing help open our eyes to opportunity.

The resource of coffee has paved a way straight to those in need. Is it not amazing that we have free and direct access – right to the door step – of our most critical partners in this industry, the farmer?

Could it be that the crazy amount of money that a shot of espresso is going for these days in the average American coffee shop is all for the purpose of giving back to the needy one who grew the beans in the cup?

We have received in excess and abundance through the resource of coffee, but for what purpose?

A properly-traded resource should never leave anyone in the supply chain lacking. Let us take advantage of our overflow by pouring back our resources to its origin, and reestablish some balance in the coffee world.

We can be the hands and feet of justice, it really is not that hard. Some small practical steps and loving our foreign neighbor will go a long way in sustaining the beautiful resource of coffee. It is time to do your part.