2016 Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship: America

Join Elika Rowell on the third and final stop of her coffee-filled trip in Seattle, America where she visits the Re:co coffee symposium. 

My trip to Seattle was based around a coffee symposium called Re:co, bringing coffee professionals together to learn and discuss the current and future issues threatening our industry, as well as presenting research which will help up progress and improve the industry as a whole. 

This was a very intense two day long event, covering a myriad of very interesting topics. Lucia Solis, a microbiologist and viticulturist presented the idea of using specific yeasts in the fermentation of coffee, not only to impart desired flavours, but to have more control of the fermentation process allowing the producer to predict the quality of the coffee and to remove a variable of the production so we can concentrate more on variables like terroir and varietals. We touched base on creating financial benchmarks for roasteries which can be shared and spoken about in what seems to be a very closed gate community, and a topic that is very relevant at this point in time - the very real risk vs reward that a farmer must face in moving from producing commodity coffee to speciality coffee. 

Cryogenics, social sustainability, sensory design, global coffee research and development, these were just a few others that we listened to, but the presentation that stuck with me the most was the opening - Ric Rhinehart from SCA spoke about the state of the specialty coffee industry today – doom and gloom put on a stage. 

In this specialty coffee industry we strive to provide you, the consumer, with high quality and ethical coffee. We believe that if we encourage you to understand and consume this coffee, which we as roasters pay higher prices for, then the farmer will reap the rewards. This does happen, but what does it mean on a global production scale, and what are the threats for coffee today? Well it seems there are a lot and it’s pretty frightening. 

There’s currently a lack of land availability, global warming means coffee is needing to be grown at higher altitudes and we need to reassess which coffee varietals to grow. An aging farming community leaves us questioning who will be growing coffee in years to come. And consumption - this for me is the kicker. 

Whilst consumption of coffee has grown, the total global coffee production has grown proportionately. Washed Arabica (arguably perceived as the highest quality coffee) production plateaued 20 years ago, meaning the growth of production has come from naturals and robusta coffee (perceived as lower quality). Specialty coffee now makes up a smaller percentage of the global coffee market, which is set to continue to decline.

But what does that mean? Very simply, supply and demand. There are more specialty roasters looking to buy high quality coffee, increasing the prices and creating more competition. Very soon there will be a shift in purchasing - instead of farmers struggling to sell their coffee, specialty roasters are going to struggle to find coffee to buy. But not only that, there is now a larger proportion of farmers who will be struggling financially as their coffee is of poor grade and isn’t fetching a high enough price. 

So its time to start investing in research. We need to find varieties of Arabica coffee that can grow better in our changing climate, produce higher yields and tastier coffee. We need to learn more about what is social sustainable and financially viable and begin to alter the dated systems of payment that trickles down through the many, many hands that produce coffee. And that magical thing called yeast, well I think that can be used to improve coffees that are just below specialty grade, into something that would be scored and purchased as speciality. 

The coffee industry has been around for a very long time, but it’s not ancient. It is still seen as a young industry with loads of challenges and plenty of potential. We as the consumers need to be more aware of our actions and how they affect the industry as a whole. If you care about where your wine, cheese and bread comes from, then you also need to care about your coffee. All of that information you see on your coffee bag or the card that’s placed in front of you with your pour over, people often think is pretentious, but it’s not. That’s tractability and it lets us know where our money is going. On the other side of every cup you drink is a person, and that coffee in your hands is their livelihood.

And that's it from Elika - she's now back home at Square One Coffee Roasters. If you're inspired to grow your career in hospitality, applications for the 2017 scholarship are now open until 17th May 2017. It’s open to any area of hospitality. More info here

Grace Dorman