What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

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What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby sweetmarias on Mon Oct 25, 2010 12:55 pm

Gentlemen's Club for Quiet Restful Inspiration. Of course.

No, this week in attractive College Station Texas is the "congress" for the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative. Basically it is a brainstorming session to get the ball rolling, define the needs for solid peer-reviewed academic research in coffee. No, not about yields, about franken-cultivars, or flea populations in coffee farms. But research where the primary focus is coffee cup quality ... how to increase quality, how to refine processing to achieve better quality, cultivars with best quality, how to grow more quality coffee.

I am starting a thread here to report from College Station, and try to include anyone interested in what key discussions take place there, and what might come out of it. If anyone has comments or ideas they want expressed at the meetings, I would be happy to pass it on too. I am also going to keep things up to date on my twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/sweetmarias

GCQRI has a facebook page too, which Jon from Cultiva will keep updated: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Global-Co ... 7266150796

Tom
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby afnylander on Mon Oct 25, 2010 5:19 pm

Yeah! Keep us posted on the geekery, please!
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby sweetmarias on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:17 pm

Actually I am hoping to get some input from coffeed people on research ideas. What are the questions about quality that you feel are most pertinent, and are poorly answered. Mine are A. best practices for transporting coffee (grainpro, vacpack etc) backed up by real science. B. what truly is coffee fermentation? to what degree is it acidification, bacterial, enzymatic, yeasts, etc etc. And uh, C. I can't remember right now. You get the picture. If people use this space to post those questions I can bring them to the sessions where we will be pitching ideas. The hope is to target a couple initial research projects that are "low hanging fruit" - highly relevant, have some basis in existing research, and might be able to come up with good results in a modest time and budget framework.

Also be aware that one of the first projects is to survey and compile existing research on coffee quality, so we can all understand "where we are at" . I think it is key that survey is well done, AND includes looking at (and possible funding translation of) research not yet published in English.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby Christopher Schooley on Mon Oct 25, 2010 11:25 pm

I am curious about Drying (after wet processing but also in pulped natural and full natural dry processing) and what impact the length of time that it takes to dry a coffee to a certain level, or what other environmental factors (water activity in relation to maybe altitude and climactic conditions) have in relation to not only the resulting cup, but also the impact to the longevity of the quality of the resulting cup. I have heard some theorization about drying that was very much in line with roast development; which leads me to another line of questioning, I would like to see some hard research done on roast development in direct regard to "baking" and overdevelopment. I know that this initiative is focused more on production, transportation, and storage issues, but I think that we are at a point where we need to look at the available information that we have on the subject of roasting and ask ourselves if it is still relevant to what we now understand or are beginning to scratch the surface of understanding about coffee quality. Whatever we can learn about coffee quality has to be translatable to roasting and preparation or it risks being meaningless.

I am also very interested in:
-green coffee storage
-the nature of cup character development in the Natural Dry Process and what could be done to create more control (sorting and grading) in this process.
-the impact of coffee fruit ripeness levels, to both quality and the longevity of that quality.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby afnylander on Tue Oct 26, 2010 11:09 am

Well, since you've asked...

I really feel that there are some great questions that have been in a queue for an event like this for longer than I've been in coffee, or maybe even longer than I've been alive. So I am really curious to see what results come from this weekend's efforts.

That said, I would love to see studies that will directly impact bottom lines for roasters, importers, and producers. I am not exactly sure what studies these would be, but I'm sure people in those specific sectors do. Maybe studies on Micro-irrigation, or on temperature stability during warehousing (what is the absolute perfect temperature). I'm not sure.

The coffee nerd/lover in me would love to learn more about the botany and history of coffee varieties, and exploring the family trees.

It would also be cool to set up a studying examining how ripes/underripes affect cup quality by percentage of unripe coffees. Meaning test 100% ripe, 95%, 90%, all the way down. See how much ripe cherry alone affects quality. I feel like many of us agree anecdotally that that is the case, but some nice scientific data to back it up would be great. If there already is said data, and I haven't seen it, please refer to my first paragraph!

Mostly, I hope everyone has fun this weekend exploring the possibilities. I wish I was going!
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby nick on Tue Oct 26, 2010 2:56 pm

The GCQRI has incredible potential. I'm already honored that I'm around right now to see this thing happen... and you should be too!

As far as input:
What would help tie it all together is a group of large and comprehensive consumer taste studies, like the old ones that provided data for the original Coffee Brewing Center research and later the SCAA Gold Cup program--for brewed "filter" coffee, but also for espresso, for which (to my knowledge) there have never been comprehensive taste studies for.

Boom.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby SL28ave on Tue Oct 26, 2010 6:12 pm

I'm still not sure how different regions deal with seedlings. How about looking closer at the seeds supplied to farmers? How to breed within a cultivar (example: this SL28 tree w/ that SL28 tree's greatgrandtrees) to maximize quality. Culling out non-performers. Maintaining and improving the performers over many generations. Just an idea, not sure if it'll work.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby sweetmarias on Tue Oct 26, 2010 10:00 pm

Research Proposal #1: How many times must you run water through a cheap hotel coffee maker to rid it of the rancid scent of Decaf Yuban brewed 4 months ago by the last sucker who used it?

I think I can actually tackle this one: 12 times.

Seriously, just arrived in Texas, drove 2 hours from Houston to College Station, checked in, went to a bar and had a Lone Star pint o beer. Bill = $2.00. Where the #@%@ am I? Maybe you wish you were here in College Station... then again maybe you are wise NOT to be. Ridiculous flight and ridiculous rental car (only way I could get here) means I am already $700 in the hole. $2 Lone Star does not offset that. I am taking one for the team here. (Sob)

Congress starts tomorrow. Will post some summary and comments here, stay tuned.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby jdavidwaldman on Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:51 am

thanks, tom - this sounds promising - to the extent that their mission statement can be reasonably construed to include research on brewing techniques ("...to design and execute prioritized and coordinated superlative research on key factors limiting cup quality and constraining increased volumes of quality coffee."), how about some research that qualifies and quantifies what differences we are actually tasting when we brew the same beans using different techniques and filtration media: paper, metal filter, syphon, etc., pass-through pourover (e.g., hario), holdover pourover (e.g., clever); it would be great to identify the specific organoleptics that contribute in a positive way, as opposed to those that contribute in a negative way (i.e., taking away from a positive cup experience). i have this notion that very specific and relatively inexpensive membranes can be mass manufactured to let the good stuff pass through, and hold back the bad stuff (to oversimplify the concept), perhaps to mitigate the obsessive precision and voodoo, that we all employ in our various techniques in search of the ultimate cup. of course, the bigger challenge is to identify and limit the subjectivity component (same challenge as in cupping scores, e.g., how does someone who loves indonesians and dislikes east africans score acidity in unbiased nature?).
... but how does it taste?
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby sweetmarias on Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:58 am

I think the focus here won't be on brewing coffee. I think it's about much bigger, broader issues that involve either a particular troublesome part of the supply chain long before coffee is roasted and served, or one thread that might travel through the supply chain from crop to cup. Perhaps "coffee drying to result in good cup quality" would be a possible research topic of great value across a range of origins, and to producers of all sizes, and directly influences the amount of really good coffee out there. That's a project I would vote for, but it would also need a lot of extension work that is currently done by a lot of NGO groups in a lot of specific locations throughout the world. Thats a project where you can do the research, make recommendations, but actually getting that out there to farmers, and getting a "best drying practice" for a particular set of climate circumstances and other local factors, is really the bulk of the work there.

For me one of the biggest baby steps to take here is a planned survey of all the existing quality-oriented coffee research out there now. How do we start unless we know where we are at. I think this step needs to be really well done, include documents not translated into English yet, and work to make it all publicly available on the GCQRI web site.

In fact, perhaps one of the needed things here is a further extension of the "survey" i am thinking about above... itis to validate existing research and actually compile what is known into a set of clear recommendations for my example above, coffee drying, based on real peer-reviewed science, but written without jargon so it can be acted upon. A lot of well-documented research has not been coordinated with similar projects and then written in the right way so it can be used by those who need it. Even for the traveling roaster who visits farms, they can see bad drying practices and give good direction for changes to be made based on that research percolating down into something useful to the roaster, communicable to the farmer... Just a thought...
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby nick on Wed Oct 27, 2010 10:27 am

sweetmarias wrote:I think the focus here won't be on brewing coffee.

I'm hoping to take part in the GCQRI later (Trish is there now), and I totally get, Tom, that this is your assessment of what the Initiative/Institute will be focusing on. However, there needs to be some cautious and thoughtful consideration for what the research and/or studies GCQRI can accomplish in the realm of beverage preparation and consumption. The fact is, it is the "lowly barista" who is tasked with perfecting the end-product and seeing it that final crucial steps to the end-consumer, but yet s/he is mostly marginalized when it comes to serious study and resources. Green coffee trading (buying, importing, etc.) and the work involved (grading, cupping, QA, etc.) has become the focal point over the past few years, and for good reason. Meanwhile, the pure act of filter coffee brewing (apart from the quality of the green or roasted product, and apart from the holding/storage of brewed product) at the top-end of specialty, in my personal opinion, has gotten worse over the past 3-4 years, at least here in the US. There needs to be research done, and while I'll agree that there are many potential studies involving preparation that the GCQRI itself is not going to be well-equipped to tackle (how hard to tamp, etc.), there are some studies (the consumer taste studies that I mentioned) and research (similar to the one J. David mentioned) that could be made possible with the kind of collaboration with university labs that the GCQRI could facilitate.

Again, it's completely understandable and in fact preferable that the GCQRI would be spending so much time and attention on the green-coffee end of the chain. I'm looking forward to seeing what can be accomplished on the preparation and consumption end of things. Either that, or we need to figure out a way to get people to happily enjoy chewing green coffee instead of drinking brewed roasted coffee, right? :wink:
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby sweetmarias on Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:55 am

I hear you Nick, and point well taken. I think it falls under the hope to get a really really strong mission into each and every research undertaken that it ultimately ends up in a cup of coffee, and if the project follows a thread through multiple stages of the production process, it is ultimately judged in the cup. It also makes me feel that serious science in cup preparation has been forsaken by other entities that are really charged with this. I hope that this Initiative takes the entire chain from the tree to the cup seriously and includes coffee, as served, and the people who prepare it!

Today is a series of lectures looking at the current problems with lack of research in quality, looking at the revolution in the wine industry in the past 20 years, and how we are going to fund a serious coffee quality research initiative. That's a big question because an organization that has to constantly chase funding can't be very effective...
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby jdavidwaldman on Wed Oct 27, 2010 12:33 pm

i wonder if a motivated PhD candidate in library science would take on some of this heavy lifting as a threshhold matter; start by ingesting then harvesting ICO, SCAA, and other multi-lingual libraries (their databases) into some mongo-bibliography, but unlike most academic biblios, simplify and sort for, in an easy-to-access and easy-to-comprehend database:
1) languages available for the article/publication;
2) readability (on a scale from 1-10, easy to digest - to - impenetrable);
3) date of publication (how current);
3) applicability to prescribed list of your goals (pruning, nursery-practices, vermiculture, pests, washing, drying, storage, handling, etc.), a bit like the huge but quite useful Wiley Dutch book (now in ed. 2).

i think the two initial key players would be library science person and database expert.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby sweetmarias on Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:19 pm

jdavidwaldman wrote:i wonder if a motivated PhD candidate in library science would take on some of this heavy lifting ...

Yes - along the lines of what I am thinking. This information needs to be compiled, it's basic to knowing where we stand now, and therefore knowing where we can go.

Day One has raised many questions, and I have to admit I am more attuned to the skeptical voices in this group than the "true believers". I think ultimately I already know that this collaborative research is long overdue, but for every person who has made the effort and absorbed the costs to come here (Hoffman paid his way from UK just for this, believing it was so worthwhile) I think there are so many skeptics not in the room, including some that could fund this Initiative easily based on their huge volumes. Would we want them as part of it? Actually, I say yes. On some fundamental issues of coffee quality (to turn 75 point coffees that are badly processed and dried into 84 point coffees, or 80 point coffees into 86's) we share much in common. The side benefits, that a coffee producer receives better payment for their higher quality of coffee, that they use their land better, that coffee does not compete with their needed food crops ... those are all ways to make "quality pay" as well. For people who preach "quality first" in the coffee world, this is a way to back up your words with deeds.

The greatest gaps appear in how to fund this thing. Relying on the charity of companies is not very sustainable. You are always going to be distracted by chasing down donors. The alternative is a politically unpopular "check-off fund" where we as coffee buyers essentially tax ourselves something like 1/2 cent per Lb of coffee when we contract it. Check off funds exist in many industries, many agricultural industries in particular. They are often used for public relations (Milk, It does a body good; Pork, the other white meat). But this would be solely for research into coffee quality. It makes sense, and we would do it at Sweet Maria's; but it is much less painful for a small guy to volunteer to self-taxation for a communal good, rather than a Green Mountain or Caribou, who would be writing some very large checks. I think they would receive more benefit too, since they face a more immediate problem of escalating prices and a scarcity of coffee in the quality level they want.

For me the most attractive reasons to fund quality research are this; most coffee research now is done in an uncoordinated way in producing countries to address their immediate problems --- disease and pests, and low volumes. Quality of coffee is not a primary goal. If we don't do anything, arabica varietals that have robusta inputs are going to take over. A fear I have is that if you technify standards for good coffee production (and everyone listens and changes methods) we might result in a great homogenization of coffee flavors, even if the average cup is better. Do we want that? Do we want methods in Honduras to be the same as Costa Rica so they taste so similar there is no reason to offer a CR and a Honduras. No, of course. (and it is an extreme example). But on the flip side, forming a better understanding of why the methods in Honduras, why the cultivar expression in that climate, why other unique factors result in a particular flavor, might actually hep PRESERVE a unique Honduran appellation, prevent it from becoming generic, is another possible and (I think) more likely outcome.

The problem in coffee research is the lack of correlation between sensory analysis and all these techniques to quantify and measure coffee in the lab (Near infra red, Mass spectrometry, genetics ... things I know little about). You need sensory analysis to know what you are looking for though, and a really good empirical method to define quality (perhaps a perennial problem) needs to be established. Or at least some solid standards. Past research has either had poor definitions of coffee quality, or just skirted the issue all together. If the coffee buying community doesn't join together to define quality though, it will continue to be ignored and poor cupping cultivars will take over by default as Broca pest and Roya fungus decimate crops. Some paint a dire picture of the global supply and the market prices, I think the more dramatic threat is to maintain quality in the face of these other threats. Again, a big buyer of 78 point container lots and a small buyer of 15 bag Micro lots can share this concern quite easily.

Those are a couple thoughts on this first day. Tomorrow we try to hammer out some of these primary research objectives, so I think things will get more interesting then. Ultimately, this Initiative will be measured by the effectiveness of the first few projects that get out the door. Other communal efforts in coffee have not worked out well. Roasters are very suspicious. Everyone has their own little small-scale quality initiatives. But can coffee companies, each on their own, really address the scale of the quality issues we face? Can we answer all these really basic unknowns about the product we sell every day? Aren't we just all using anecdotal observations, without any real basis in science? Is that good enough, just to keep doing our own thing? Maybe it is --- but I am hoping this Initiative can do more than keep with the status quo of this every-company-for-themselves operational mode we are now in, because some of the issues I see on my trips just aren't going to be solved this way. My business can survive fine if an Initiative fails, there will be small lots of high quality coffee. But looking at rust damage in Colombia a couple weeks ago, I can say for sure that others will not do so well.

Comments?
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby Rich Westerfield on Thu Oct 28, 2010 9:03 am

sweetmarias wrote:On some fundamental issues of coffee quality (to turn 75 point coffees that are badly processed and dried into 84 point coffees, or 80 point coffees into 86's) we share much in common. The side benefits, that a coffee producer receives better payment for their higher quality of coffee, that they use their land better, that coffee does not compete with their needed food crops ... those are all ways to make "quality pay" as well.


Figuring out a way to succeed on this point alone would be worth supporting this initiative. Just trying to wrap our heads around a plan on achieving this one point - a daunting task that deserves undivided attention from an industry group.

From our perspective, we think brewing issues should be left to organizations like SCAA/SCAE who need to figure out how to communicate their own quality/value message to their broader constituencies.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby Michael Sheridan on Thu Oct 28, 2010 5:37 pm

Tom:

Thank you for your good perspectives from the CGQRI symposium and for your invitation for members of the coffeed community to provide input. I would offer two thoughts.

First, I would ask you and the others participating in the Symposium to consider putting just 10-20 percent of the total proposed investment in coffee quality research into rigorous, field-based research on the impacts of all that investment in quality on the lives and livelihoods of smallholder farmers. I think CGQRI is a worthy initiative long overdue. I agree with its authors that it holds the potential to deliver significant return on investment. But nearly all the focus is on the return to roasters, retailers and other actors at the market end of the chain. Why is it important to also consider the return on quality investments to smallholder farm families? Most importantly, the whole GCQRI enterprise depends on farmers actually planting the “right” varietals, adopting new practices, assimilating new technologies, etc. Without an analysis of the economics of these activities – particularly in tight markets in which, as you have noted on your blog, quality suffers across the board – there is no assurance they will be implemented. Beyond the practical consideration of whether CGQRI’s recommendations will actually work in the field, of course, is the industry’s desire to continue to meet its own high standards for sustainability. If industry, bilateral donor agencies and development agencies like mine are going to implement the recommendations that come out of all this research, we want to have solid, results-based evidence that they represent the best hope for improving smallholder livelihoods and the surest return on their investment of time, energy and scarce cash resources.

Second, I have continued to struggle with the suggestion that there simply is no good research out there that combines the rigor of the natural sciences with qualified sensory analysis. I presume Geoff Watts is with you in Texas and do hope he can share his experiences with the good folks at CIAT – the International Center of Tropical Agriculture – in Cali, Colombia, who have pioneered an extremely sophisticated, site-specific approach to quality-focused research that does precisely what you suggest hasn’t happened. It weds exhaustive scientific analysis of a dizzying range of environmental and behavioral variables on the farm with the sensory analysis of Geoff’s celebrity palate. The approach has created enormous potential for mapping quality frontiers and generating site-specific recommendations for cultivars, farm management practices, etc. based on the interaction of the many variables that contribute to quality. It is not “the” answer, of course, but I think has a lot to contribute to the search for scientifically valid, quality-driven research methods.

Thanks for considering these comments and for everything you do,

Michael
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby sweetmarias on Fri Oct 29, 2010 6:35 am

Good comments Michael - I think you would be surprised by the results of some rather ad hoc brainstorm sessions we had yesterday at the end of the sessions to map out some possible directions for research. Just as a place to start, everyone in the room contributed research ideas, questions that we feel need to be answered about coffee quality, areas of research that demand attention, things that affect us directly in our work sourcing quality coffee. Among the meta-categories (Agronomy, Processing, Genetic research -not manipulation!-, Transportation and Storage,) there was a category for Roasting and Preparation. We then voted for the most pertinent ideas that emerged, all as a simple exercise to see how much common ground we have in terms of research priorities. The category with roasting issues received the least votes of any! Not to say there aren't critical problems in roasting, and huge gaps in knowledge. That is obvious. But just that other areas have problems that this group saw as more pressing. But to be clear, this Initiative is funded to research coffee quality as defined by the buyers (the self-tax would be imposed at the time green coffee is contracted after at importation, so the "primary stakeholders" are the ones who should be the first to define the agenda. The reason is, we are the ones who determine "quality" and we are the ones who pay for it. At the risk of sounding imperialistic, the agenda has to be set by us. The goal here is to add a quality component to important research, which is currently set mostly by a. disease resistance and b. productivity. Those are important things. But what has been missing is the focus on quality, on a better cup, and achieving that in a way that helps the farmer improve procedures and become more successful. I believe that quality research will actually protect local coffee types and regional coffee traditions. The idea isnt to change the way everyone does things, homogenize, have gesha grown everywhere. The risk is that doing nothing, poor-cupping Catimor types WILL be grown everywhere. Theres a place for catimor, honestly, at 1000 meters where plants are devastated by coffee rust fungus or other diseases, bourbon or typica or caturra would not survive, and wouldn't cup well anyway. They should go for quantity there, and maybe they can max out at 84 points with the help of coffee quality research. But in places where good cultivars can be grown, the farmer needs to be presented with a improved methods to maximize quality, distinguish this level of coffee from the lower grown arabica down the road, and get paid accordingly! The success of a business like mine is totally dependent on the success of that farmer. Many of the quality issues, especially in processing and drying, this more "boutique" (ugh, hate that word!) farmer faces are quite related to the 1000 meter catimor farmer. Cultivar is the difference. Right now farmers make whatever decision makes sense to them, or is pushed at them from the local agronomist. And those decisions don't have the buyer's input in terms of cup quality. Thats what I see a main goal of this Initiative hopes to change. Kinda rambling here, but wanted to respond to the earlier comments.
ag.jpg
An example of some of the questions, problems, research areas. This is one of the Agronomy sheets

An example of some of the questions, problems, research areas. This is one of the Agronomy sheets
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby sweetmarias on Fri Oct 29, 2010 6:06 pm

I am going to paste some comments from our mail list here, because I think it raises more good questions- my part is a bit "off the dome" but hey...

>>On Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 10:59 AM, Edward Bourgeois
><edbourgeois@xxx> wrote:
>> Yes, I'm skeptical of the intentions of some of the players. Once
>> bitten twice shy. Unless something has changed in the past couple
>> years the Dr. N. Borlaug institute has not been a haven for organic
>> researchers. Norman was not a believer of organic production. Nor did
>> he believe many of the concerns having to do with industrial
>> ag.production or GM plants. I think it is as important for the group
>> to determine what directions they won't go as it is what research
>> they will start to explore.
(Snip)
>Nestle's GM coffee plantlets, “We will distribute 220 million high-yielding, disease-resistant
>coffee plantlets to farmers by 2020, through partnerships with public
>and private institutions in countries such as Mexico, Thailand,
>Indonesia and the Philippines, where we have already distributed over
>16 million coffee plantlets in the past ten years.”
>>>>> The Borlaug Institute
>>>>> Monsanto has donated $2.5 million to Texas A&M University to fund the
>>>>> Borlaug-Monsanto Chair for Plant Breeding and International Crop
>>>>> Improvement. The chair is named in honor of Norman Borlaug who won the
>>>>> 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in plant breeding.
>>>>> > So they're genome mapping coffee. They're wondering why some varietals
>>>>> > have good results in many areas. No mention of soil health. Sounds
>>>>> > like the start of a outside inputs based and controlled system. Farmer
>>>>> > must be under contract and are forced to plant certain (gm?) seeds,
>>>>> > use certain fertilizers/supplements/pest controllers etc. Quality and
>>>>> > consistency will improve, sort of. You may be able to grow Kenyan and
>>>>> > Colombian on the same farm in Florida if they take it far enough. Oh
>>>>> > happy day. So what if there's nothing from a blueberry in a Krispy kreme
>>>>> > blueberry doughnut.
(comments pasted together from several messages -obviously- by me)
Good points. I think we need to address technified agriculture head on. When we think of this, we of course use the framework of our own corn and soybean crops. After all, we are the one who dump massive amounts of NPK on everything, and prosper from the use of high tech sterile seeds and such. Coffee is rather different, but can certainly go the way of soybeans, especially in places where you can scale it up to massive levels, like Brazil. But I think if we do nothing, that is where it is headed. Technifying wine didn't mean the traditional vineyards changed their techniques. The wine speaker at the conference talked of visiting on of the most prized terroirs in France, simply to marvel at how vines with no root system could produce the perfect number of fruit clusters in balance with the plants capacity. There were no recommendations to change anything. That is an iconic vineyard, and small-scale coffee farms with great soil, altitude, cultivar and climate mainly fall into that category. But can they benefit from new knowledge and quality research? Absolutely.
On Nestle: Yes Ed, they have distributed all these catimors ...and if we do nothing, coffee farmers who currently cultivate with Typica and Bourbon and Caturra will eventually all have Catimor. Look at Colombia right now. Most of the push toward catimor types comes from the in-country research facilities and agronomists because they are trying to save coffee farmers from going belly up. It's completely understandable. Nestle sees themselves as heroes with this plant distribution effort. And for a farmer at 800 meters or 1000 meters, they should absolutely plant catimors if their crop is pest and disease ravaged. They will use much less inputs with the right plant for that altitude and level of coffee quality. Right now we have a situation where starbucks has jumped the ship on quality and has moved to vietnam and low grade brazil arabicas, and you have their competitors, Green Mountain, Caribou, those types, trying to stay with decent quality washed arabicas given the market pressures. In Colombia, large areas are just destroyed by coffee rust fungus, which requires at least 2-6 fungicide applications to fight effectively. Most of the 1100-1200 meter farms in Huila are wiped out. Farmers push further and further up into the mountains to avoid rust, and they can for a while, but eventually it follows. Its a dire situation, and one of the factors of short supplies.
What might this GCQRI do? One of the things on the table is to tap the incredible diversity of native Ethiopia coffee types, which represents something like 90% of the genetic diversity in coffee (cultivated types are extremely heterogeneous) to perhaps find disease resistance in a pure arabica with great cup quality. This would use genetics for identification and rapid propagation, but not gene splicing manipulations. How's that for a new answer to this coffee rust crisis? If you went there and saw how dramatic the problem is ... its shocking really. I expect a "No GMO" standard to be written into the process for the GCQRI. (I can't see anyone except the geneticists advocating for it, and they don't advance research topics in GCQRI, coffee buyers do). The other thing I really want to see is a metric to measure potential research that states a project will "Increase the value of coffee at the Farm Gate." If a project scores well in that, it means a world of good for the farm: higher incomes, potentially less competition with food crops, better use of land etc).

One thing that 10 years ago I would not go for, but I do now, is increased production, higher yields. Coffee farms can't survive on any scale if each tree produces 100-200 grams of green coffee per cycle. They need a "quantity of quality" coffee. We are already busting the farmer's bank by asking them to separate tiny amounts of their best coffee, meticulously prepared, even with a price premium, when there is always a large bulk of coffee that falls into a lower quality level that we (meaning SM, but applicable to all roasters who work direct and pay best prices) can't buy. The formula barely works now, and won't in the future. Unless of course you are okay with $10 min. green coffee price for all microlots right now. (Hell, one of our Colombia single farm lots that just arrived is 60 Kgs total. I don't think $10 would even do it for that farm!) Farmers have to get better yields at all quality levels, their top coffees, and their average coffee too: Sustainable increase in production from each plant, paired with an increase in quality. The wine industry proved years ago you can have good production and improve quality at the same time. "Low production = Quality" is a myth. Low production from plants is the bane of the farmers existence, literally relegating them to a poverty cycle, to overtax their land for other uses, to overuse fertilizers, or to quit coffee altogether. In Harar I saw coffee with literally 50-75 cherries per tree, and half of those falling off green due to CBD. In that village I saw incredible poverty, coffee interplanted with corn and cabbage (which will rob both food crops and coffee from nutrients), lack of water (too much given to crops, their well was nearly dry). So the need is not hypothetical at all. Besides basic extension work by agronomists and financing for their crops (neither of which this Initiative covers directly, but can be an outgrowth by partners) there ARE research solutions that result in better coffee for us and better lives for farmers in situations like this.

Well, that's just a few disorganized thoughts I have on this topic... on the flight home. Thanks for your comments on this. I am glad we all care about these issues so much. -Tom

PS: I was completely wrong earlier to say Roasting and Brewing were not under the scope of the GCQRI, or, well, not the highest priorities. As with all this, I am just one guy reporting my reactions to this stuff as I see it, and my understanding is evolving as it happens too.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQRI ?

Postby Michael Sheridan on Sat Oct 30, 2010 7:30 pm

Tom:

Thanks so much for your reply to my comment, and your great response to Ed’s post. A few passages stood out for me.

to be clear, this Initiative is funded to research coffee quality as defined by the buyers...the "primary stakeholders" are the ones who should be the first to define the agenda. The reason is, we are the ones who determine "quality" and we are the ones who pay for it. At the risk of sounding imperialistic, the agenda has to be set by us.


It doesn’t sound imperialistic when it is paired with your very clear understanding of the challenges farmers are facing at origin in terms of production and market risk.

Theres a place for catimor, honestly, at 1000 meters where plants are devastated by coffee rust fungus or other diseases, bourbon or typica or caturra would not survive, and wouldn't cup well anyway.


I think this is an important acknowledgement for a buyer as quality-focused as SM. In our work with smallholder farmers we promote quality cultivars – Bourbon and Caturra primarily – but understand why farmers at lower altitudes struggling against coffee leaf rust choose to fill their nurseries with Catimor, or at least plant it at the lower reaches of their farms. There are still many farmers of course who are productivity focused and don’t apply quality criteria to cultivar selection. But there are plenty of others who understand the trade-offs they make when they plant Catimor but do it anyway because the economics make more sense. Even exciting premiums for high-quality cultivars can’t make up for the production losses to diseases like coffee rust – they make out better earning lower unit prices on higher volumes of lower-quality coffee.

They need a "quantity of quality" coffee. We are already busting the farmer's bank by asking them to separate tiny amounts of their best coffee, meticulously prepared, even with a price premium, when there is always a large bulk of coffee that falls into a lower quality level that we (meaning SM, but applicable to all roasters who work direct and pay best prices) can't buy. The formula barely works now, and won't in the future.


I don’t know how many of the folks in the room with you in Texas shared your perspective here, but understanding this reality seems to me to be critical to the success of the initiative. Farmers simply can’t continue for much longer to meet the most exacting quality standards under the current conditions. But many will also be unable to easily assimilate new technologies that impose additional risks or costs without co-investment from their supply chain partners or development agencies (which should be working closely with supply chain partners to ensure the quality of their technical assistance).

Thanks again for reporting out, Tom.

Hope to hear more from you here as the process moves forward.

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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQR

Postby taylormork on Tue Feb 22, 2011 1:58 pm

Tom began to touch on the pricing issue. And some see the situation of escalating coffee prices as "dire." I would perhaps beg to differ, and would like to see research into the effect that the rising C market can have on improved cup quality.

Tom touched on the fact that coffee producers can't often afford to separate out daily lots in a way the specialty community demands. But what about now? With prices as high as they are, is it now becoming more cost effective for a washing station to sort and "keep separate" to the max? In my talks with producers alone I'm seeing a lot more flexibility on producers' parts to go to all these lengths.

In years past all I heard from producers was "yes, we can do all of that, if you're willing to pay for the increased costs." That response becomes tricky; as an importer selling to roasters and if my customers and then their customers down the product's life aren't willing to pay more than standard market prices, then business sense tells me I shouldn't be taking on that higher priced coffee. But if "costs of quality" are starting to align with global commodity prices paid then might it be easier (i.e. more rational) for producers, importers and roasters to achieve higher volumes of specialty coffee? In more recent months I'm sensing a change in that response from producers; there seems to be some more willingness (ability?) to do more for quality without the "sure, but it will cost you." i.e. perhaps those quality steps can now be built into the standard prices paid around the mountain? Only industry-wide research, however, can tell me if that is isolated to my relationships or becoming the norm.

Sure, many will say that the C-market is not relevant for all of us direct traders not setting export/import prices based on the C-market, but as Tom also points out, there's always the rest of the producer's crop that follows into lower quality bulk categories...and those coffees WILL BE affected by the C-market prices. To ignore the C-market is to ignore the farmer and his or her need to sell not only the top lots to us geeks, but ALL the lots no matter the quality. We all talk about sustainability, but a truly sustainable relationship takes the farmer's entire business into account, not just the special lots in question.

This is perhaps one of the "low hanging fruit" studies that Tom suggests we need to find. I would suggest approaching it from both consumer and producer sides. On the consumer side, perhaps a survey is put out to roasters about how rising coffee prices (whether its "direct trade" prices or more C-based prices) are affecting their business (and the quality they see), and how they plan on passing increased costs down to the end consumer. On the producer side, I suggest surveys with those working on the ground in exporting countries about how rising global prices are providing incentive to producers to take on the more simple but still time-intensive quality improvement steps, such as ripe picking, sorting, separate processing/storage, etc. Moreover, those are "low hanging fruit" quality improvement steps at the farm/processor level, which don't require years and years of lab testing and analysis. On the importer side, I suggest surveys asking if their producers are seeing more willingness to take more quality control steps as coffee prices rise today. Of course, all pretty basic info, but a good jumping off point.

If I can be of any help in any prelim GCQRI research then please let me know. I will be spending a month at a Burundi washing station this Spring with adequate time for farm-based surveys.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQR

Postby Sean Starke on Wed Feb 23, 2011 3:37 am

But what about now? With prices as high as they are, is it now becoming more cost effective for a washing station to sort and "keep separate" to the max?


In a word? No.

They are getting these prices for what ever they throw in the bag. There is absolutely zero incentive to separate finer coffees. YMMV, of course.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQR

Postby taylormork on Wed Feb 23, 2011 5:47 am

I see that, and I also see that, in general, coffee quality is going down as prices are going up. But that's flat C or whatever is the local tender.

But what about the quality/relationship differential? C or local tender is minimum no matter what, but presumably now covering real costs for farmers, processors, transporters, etc. Differential provides the incentive. There have always been differentials, but what makes the environment different now is that costs are [hopefully] finally covered for farmers.

Sure, the term incentive in coffee farming can be picked to shreds, since there is much more at play than basic math, such as farmer education, middlemen with a quick buck to offer, building strong supplier relationships, etc. Those are all massive hurdles and cannot be solved as quickly as the C market turns, and the simple idea "differential provides the incentive" is wishful thinking.

Just trying to figure out ways to use the current price environment to a quality advantage if the right relationships are in place.
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQR

Postby sweetmarias on Thu Feb 24, 2011 8:56 am

It's a great question, but one almost too complicated to even start to answer. I wouldn't be qualified anyway. To understand if there is a way that the rising prices for coffee could incentivize quality (where most indications are the opposite) would require that you take this problem to each local coffee economy, and consider it in terms of local factors. Coffee is anything but a monolith, and while we might want the same thing from coffee producing origins (ie, for them to improve cup quality) how that is actually done, and what makes sense in terms of their environment, agriculture practice, coffee yields, labor scenario, access to the market and education, etc etc - it all varies so much.

By the way, while things seem quiet the GCQRI is rolling along. I have an ear on the preliminary Research Planning Committee as the initial projects are vetted. We do this via biweekly conference calls (at 7 am PST, ugh, I just finished one), but the progress is impressive. I am going to scrap together a blog post that outlines some of the most compelling projects on the table

Tom
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQR

Postby ellenstevens on Mon Feb 28, 2011 10:49 am

I think this is a great question too, and being a college econ teacher, is right up my alley, theory-wise, but I'm really not qualified to speak to the issue from the producer perspective. And I realize it's very complex. But let me jump in anyway...

I am happy to see that much of the higher price is making its way through to the farmer. As a result of the higher prices, I would expect to see an increase in the supply of any grade of coffee (whose price is a spread on the "C") in the long run, as farmers devote more of their resources to coffee (any coffee) and less to other options (sugar, bananas, etc). However, unless farmers decide that they can make more profit from improving the quality of their coffee, they will be satisfied with providing whatever grade of coffee they can sell the most of.

That being said, I would think that if more producers have a productive and fruitful (pun intended) relationship with a buyer, and the buyer can promise to buy their coffee at a quality premium, then the higher price makes the improvements more possible, and perhaps we could see the supply of better coffees increase.

So glad to be part of this discussion group, BTW!
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Re: What's happening at the GCQRI ? What the %$# is the GCQR

Postby Sean Starke on Mon Feb 28, 2011 12:13 pm

Ellen, you're spot-on in your supply prediction. We've seen boom-and-bust cycles many times before, and I'm pretty sure that right now it is darn near impossible to buy either seedlings or fertilizer at most origins as every square inch of land that can be converted to coffee is being so, which means in 3 years or so we are looking at a marked over-supply situation.

The quality aspect is a bit tougher. My gut tells me that at these levels if you want really good coffee you need to pay a much higher premium than before. When the market was at 130.00 a premium of, say, 10 cents a pound was a big deal and made it worthwhile for the weightier part of producers to run the coffee through the mill another time. Now with the market at 270.00 such a premium doesn't mean all that much, it seems to me, and may not make it worth the effort to run the coffee again and then have to deal with the separated coffee.

Now, this higher price certainly will lead to improved husbandry (if that term is applicable to plants...) so whatever qualitative benefits can be achieved by those means will, I think, have a great chance of coming about, but I'm not convinced that improved milling/grading/sorting practices will necessarily follow.
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