To paraphrase Bill Maher on the subject of rising oil costs: It’s not that oil is too expensive, it’s that it is too cheap when we have to steal it, refine it and ship it.
The same could be said of the rising cost of coffee beans – every year the cost of quality Arabica beans rises.
Many people might find themselves blanching at the cost of coffee these days.
I very rarely hear complaints about coffee prices in my shop; this is due in part, to my clientele – customers who understand that the coffee they like comes at a substantial cost.
We sell more fairly traded organic coffee than any other type. This tells me that the people who are buying coffee at $16 a pound understand what it takes to get a bag of freshly roasted organic fairly traded shade-grown coffee.
But when even cheap coffee is expensive, it’s time to take a good look at what you’re paying for and whether or not the breakdown makes sense to the consumer.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
First, coffee is a commodity. This means that coffee is not a necessity but a personal choice, and also a luxury. So you can tack a few extra bucks on the price tag, right from the get-go.
It also means that many cannot afford the product, so those who can are going to pay for it.
Second, what does fairly traded mean? From its title we know it means a percentage of the money you spend goes directly to the workers who pick coffee, at a fair price.
In turn, the companies who choose to carry such products must also pay dues in order to sell it. You need a licence to sell fairly traded products, and they require specific storage, packaging, careful inventory, quarterly reports and special treatment while in shop.
Take a look at the price of Hawaiian coffee in Canada. At almost $40 a pound retail, that’s a hefty price tag.
Setting aside Hawaii’s massive marketing campaign to position its coffee as the finest in the world, don’t forget Hawaii is an American State, the only one to grow and sell coffee. So Americans are picking this coffee, and that contributes to the price tag.
What if I told you that if all coffee worldwide was picked by Americans, it would all cost $40 per pound, all of a sudden the idea of fairly traded coffee seems … well, only fair.
After all if you don’t question why that 2-kilo bag of supermarket coffee only costs you $8.50, you should. Children somewhere are picking your coffee and mostly likely not getting paid very well, if at all.
Fairly traded products are now in demand because the public consciousness has demanded it.
What about organic? Since coffee is the second most heavily-sprayed crop in the world (sugar is the first) it seems that if you don’t want to drink chemical swill in the a.m. then organic coffee would be your choice. Right? Wrong.
When asked if people would prefer organic to regular, the question I get almost right away is, what is the cost difference? This tells me people are still concerned about the price point over their health.
That’s okay; that’s a personal choice, and something I firmly believe in, hence the reason you will always be able to buy organic and non-organic coffees in my shop.
But this presents its own set of concerns. In order to sell organic coffee, the shop owners must go through more hoops. As the public changes its consciousness the shop owner must comply with regulations and bureaucracy.
As a coffee shop owner, I have no problem with any of the dues I pay. I believe in the ideology behind fairly trade products and my conscience would not allow me to buy black market blood coffee.
I can find something else to do to make a living, if it comes to that. If I wanted to sell my soul to the devil I can think of a million other more exciting ways to do so.
Looking at the cost on green beans this year, I can honestly say that we are going to be seeing a price spike over the next two years.
The green bean coffee market is rising. It is becoming more difficult to buy coffees from certain places around the globe, and some fluctuations are tied to weather.
A couple years ago there was massive flooding in Colombia, which spiralled them back a couple years. It takes five years for one coffee plant to mature, so you can see how the world will be waiting.
How about Indonesia? Tsunamis, hurricanes, flooding – they all affect crop production. So can wars, coups and political unrest (Ethiopia anyone?).
Possibly my biggest pet peeve is hearing the public complain about being forced to substitute their favourite coffee for another – even after I have explained that the country that their coffee comes from is in the middle of a bloody coup. Or that it’s under 20 feet of water.
So after all that, some might say, “That’s it. I am switching to tea!”
Unfortunately, tea – and tea growers – have the same sort of corrupt history as coffee.
The only way to battle this problem is to buy organic and buy fairly traded. And use common sense. If something seems too cheap, it probably is.