What’s in a number blog

When it comes to coffee and the experience many of us attempt to impart on our loyal customers, our collective goal is to leave customers in a better place at the end of their voyage into our café establishment . Each customer is and has a unique perspective about their vessel and its ability to catalyze a mood, experience, a memory, or just a boost to the moment. Think of the Japanese philosophy of “ichigo ichie” and how every moment is such a special “one-time” only opportunity towards a unique treasure. Our hopes and dreams in the coffee business and especially the Specialty Coffee world, are all aimed at the “morning epiphany” that the brew exudes. How special a thought for us all to keep in mind on those days when the morning mattress departure begs the question about our purpose in life?

It is a great storyline for us all and many live for that moment when the “light goes on” for a customer and the fruits of our labor become more than apparent for them. The cliche about art or science plays out during this dynamic. The act of delivering that unique experiential moment and keeping the retail chain of a coffee cup, at a price valued as such by customers is quite the fight or flight moment. While the choice for any manager is the customer’s satisfaction or at least one would suggest it to be, economics usually lurk within ear shot and certainly impact the product.

We talk about the coffee farmers of the world and rightfully so, and their ability to earn a living for themselves and family members. Some reports put the average income of a world coffee farmer at sub $200 per month. Couple that number with the notion that approximately 5% of the world’s coffee farmers are aged 35 or less, and the foundation of a future concern is poured. Over many years we have listened to economists and statisticians speak to aging societies and their ability to have a viable labor force given the disproportionate number of older citizens dominating things. The numbers are specifically as challenged in the coffee world. Farmers are already grappling with the receipt of a fair price for their crop. They are typically underpaid for it, relative to the subsequent transactional prices after they relinquish their product to the supply chain. Locking prices in with early contracts sounds like a good idea but end users such as roasters are concerned about committing to a product that has so many climate variables effecting it before they can know its something they want. Credit sources for farmers are costly and determining a need for things like fertilizers and pesticides is an unknown much like the climate issues. The world of artificial intelligence and the algorithm’s that are utilized are becoming much more prevalent in coffee. A roasters prowess is now being shaped by the algo’s to create that consistent taste profile. That in turn dovetails into an issue at the farm level. The roasting process may seek out a certain moisture profile in a processed bean and the method to obtain that may involve the farm and its farmer needing to intervene with something which if nothing else adds cost at their level. Its all a numbers game and one riddled with many unknowns until the crop leaves a farmer’s hands.

The numbers we speak of have a very explicit relationship with coffee and the shipment from the farm at a certain traded price. A somewhat opaque result of these numbers goes back to the farm and the farming community. Given the low income and extremely difficult labor conditions present during bean harvest, the desire by younger community members to engage with coffee farming continues to dwindle. The incoming generations do not see coffee farming as a viable occupation for them. The current farmer, no different than most with children, seeks a better life for their family as well. Who would know best that the current trials of coffee cultivation are just not something they can wish upon someone let alone their children? Finding a way to induce others to work in coffee farming and retain workers sounds like a problem that is consistent with so many parts of our lives in so many industries. Given the demand for coffee and its expected growth, the current numbers need to shift and shift sooner than later. If it does not, then expect the answers to come from those with a controlling stake in capital to make all the rules of the game. We can help by focusing on the source of our deliciousness and the catalyst for each “ichigo ichie” day. Make sure the farmer is top of mind as you buy a bean or a cup. The numbers do not and will not ever lie. They become a better story when we influence them. Stay vigilant and be curious about that awesome experience tomorrow with your favorite cup and barista. Ask many questions and let the answers and comments you receive, drive you forward!