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Filter Stories - Coffee Documentaries

53 EpisodesProduced by James HarperWebsite

Filter Stories is a NPR / BBC-style documentary podcast revealing the hidden side of coffee. We visit a stateless barista stuck on a faraway island, meet an award winning coffee grower earning just $2 profit from 250 espressos, hear from a coffee producer who is almost murdered three times during a … read more

Desperately Seeking Sustainability - Episode Transcript

In this fifth episode of A History of Coffee, Jonathan and James explore where coffee certifications came from, how they tried to stop coffee’s devastating race to the bottom and assess whether they succeeded.

James: Alright so, Jonathan Imagine this: it's 1990, you are a coffee roaster doing this pretty niche thing at the time, you know, roasting specialty coffee, you're at the annual conference of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. What would you expect to do?

Jonathan:I'd expect to do the things I'd expect to see on the program. I'd go to the sessions on, you know, how to buy your beans, where to buy from ways of grading.

James: Yeah. Rather dry stuff. So imagine your shock. A guy called Paul Katzeff burst in to the Claremont hotel and they are banging drums. They are shouting and screaming and they get these buckets of red blood, well actually paints and they just dump them over the stairs.And you can watch the waves of paint dripping down the stairs, you know, cascading down and everyone's shouting you, coffee roaster. You have blood in your hands.


Jonathan: Do you know what? I'm shocked

James: And so Jonathan, why was Paul Katzeff  so angry?

Jonathan:So Katzeff  is angry because his government, the U S government is supporting many of the regimes in central America that are using their military against their own people. The blood is the thought of people being killed in this violence that is all built around coffee.

James: And what's really interesting is that out of this political anger comes a number of brands that we all know fairly well. Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance. These are certifications.

Jonathan: If you think about walking down the supermarket aisle, you're looking at lots of brands of coffee, but some of them have these little flags on. So, if you think about the Fair Trade label or the Rain Forest Alliance frog, these are easy things that you can recognize on your coffee bag.

James: Yeah. And as a consumer, you can see this label and you can think, aha, this coffee aligns with my ethics. And when you set that against the story we've explored across the first four episodes of coffee, going from Africa being colonized across the world, exploiting people, and then the environment and that the uncontrolled markets race to the bottom.This is the moment where consumers can actually change the course of the supply chain.

Jonathan: Well, I think the first thing is it's the moment where consumers become aware of that supply chain. What we've seen, particularly in that race to the bottom is coffee becoming kind of an everyday good that you don't ever really think about.You know, you just spoon out your instant into your cup. Now people say, you know, he's got to have some thinking about this. This is not all just, “Oh great. Cause it's cheap.”

James: And in this episode, we're going to unpack what are the origins of the certification movement, and you know, how much success did certifications have in controlling this race to the bottom


James: I'm James Harper, the creator of Filter Stories, a coffee documentaries podcast

Jonathan:And I’m professor Jonathan Morris, author of Coffee: A Global History.

James: And this is the fifth episode of a History of Coffee. The story of how a tiny psychoactive seed has changed the world and shapes our lives today.


James: So Jonathan, we know that certifications came along to fix problems that came about through this uncontrolled race to the bottom. This is what we've been exploring across the last four episodes. And I think you could make an argument that, you know, by the early nineties, the time when certifications were coming onto the world stage, the situation in coffee was pretty dark.

Jonathan:So, James, yeah, it is a very messy situation.

James: So for the first part of this episode, let's unpack what was going wrong in coffee in the early nineties.

Jonathan: Number one, the price of coffee following the collapse of the cartel has halved, second environmentally we're seeing this big intensification of coffee farming really destroying the ecology and environment around it. But the thing that's really striking the reason why we're pouring blood or fake blood, is that in many of the key coffee lands, there are huge conflicts going on where quite often the state. And it's armies and militias are attacking coffee workers and indigenous people who work the coffee industry.

James: So let's start with price. What happened?

Jonathan:So end of the cold war, America's pulled out of the international coffee agreement

James: And the international coffee agreement was our cartel amongst coffee producing countries backed by America. And they pulled out as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed.

Jonathan:Yeah, absolutely. Price falls down to probably about 50, 60% of what it was.If you're a coffee farmer, that means your income falls by the same amount, usually

James: So, you're saying that coffee farmers incomes by the early nineties have collapsed to just 40% of what they were a few years before.

Jonathan:Yes. In essence, if you're a coffee farmer and you're producing the same amount of coffee, your price collapses by that amount, then your income goes down by that amount.

James: What does that mean for the lives of coffee farmers in, you know, central and South America, and elsewhere?

Jonathan: It means that you are really pushed to survive. You are probably going to go hungry. The people that you perhaps employ to come and pick you up to coffee, to give you a hand on the farm, those people you can't afford to pay them so you don't hire them.So if you don't hire them, how are those people going to live?

James: Yeah

Jonathan:That is a real, real problem.


James: And then on the environmental front, you mentioned that environmentally speaking coffee farms are not great. So imagine, you know, where in Southern Mexico, what does that mean on the ground?

Jonathan:Imagine my standing at the top of a hill.

James: Okay

Jonathan:And we're going to look one way and there we're seeing, you know what coffee farming traditionally look like. We're seeing lots of trees. You're seeing little terraces and shady trees around them. You're listening to the birds because they're beautiful bird noise, you, or probably getting bitten because there are quite a lot of insects flying around

James: Right

Jonathan:Now, I want you to turn round

James: OkayAnd look over the hill the other way, and there's no shade trees there. There's just reams and lines of coffee trees. And those lines of coffee trees are much closer together. So what you're seeing is a much more intensive form of coffee over culture, which will produce more coffee in terms of beans, but is denuding the environment. I can't hear the birds and that's cause the birds haven't got those insects to feed on.

Jonathan:So you're looking at something that will give us more coffee. But it's actually doing us harm as a planet.


James: Why aren’t the insects there?

Jonathan:The insects aren't there, James, because we've developed the effective pesticides to go with the fertilizers to make this happen. So we're spraying them from above and we’re fertilizing from below.

James: So it's a pretty toxic environment to be, if you're an insect

Jonathan: it's a very sterile environment. Yeah.

James: And I would imagine if you were to pick up the soil from this fertilizer insecticide side of the mountain, almost be like sandy soil, not much going on there. And then if you were to pick up the soil from the shade, grown with the insects and the birds and the other side, it would smell, it would be alive with critters and nutrients.


James: And Jonathan, can you like, give me a sense of the scale of the environmental problem?

Jonathan: It's quite interesting, because you could say that a lot of this story goes down to North American birdwatchers.

James: Oh yeah?

Jonathan:Yeah. Because North American birdwatchers, realized that the birds that migrated from South America to North America, they were seeing fewer and fewer of

James: Oh, interesting.

Jonathan: They were trying to work out why that was, and it didn't seem to be anything in North America. And they realized that it was because they simply didn't have enough food in their Southern American habitats. The rainforest is where those habitats are.

James: Right.

Jonathan: So, this sort of pointed to the ecological consequence of what was going on in the rainforest areas.


James: Now let's turn to the political violence side of things. The bit that, you know, Paul Katzeff was particularly enraged about


James: You know, when he poured the buckets of blood downs, the stairs at the Claremont hotel.


James: Imagine you are a farmer in El Salvador. You're on your farm on a mountain slope. What would be going on around you?

Jonathan: Well, going on around me, I mean, my farm is a battle zone. I wouldn't necessarily see a battle there every day, but I'll be hearing the planes flying over. I'll be seeing troops on a road, probably I'm finding bodies. You know, you might find a body on my farm, you know, and then out of the trees come these guys who tell me that they're fighting for my people for a better world. And they want me to give them money because they are looking after the people who pick my coffee and they're going to tax me so that they can keep their side of their fight going. So I'm stuck in the middle.

James: So the guys in the trees, they would be the geurillas. They are the kind of left-wing revolutionaries


James: Which we're fighting the government of. Many central American countries, Guatemala, El Salvador Nicaragua, and these governments are propped up by the USA. So they are fighting us backed troops.

Jonathan: Yeah.


James: So Jonathan, let's take a step back and here are the three big problems, you know, in the early nineties you have the coffee price, which is so low, and it is very difficult to eke out a living as a coffee farmer, you have this industrial coffee growing, with lots of pesticides, fertilizers, and no shade trees.It's bad for the insects. It's bad for the birds. And then, of course you have a lot of coffee farmers in the middle of civil wars. So this is the state of coffee, in the early nineties. So what comes out of all of this?

Jonathan:What comes out James is a shift in public consciousness towards the idea of doing something. And that leads to the whole notion of we need a fair price for coffee, And how do we do that?


James: Jonathan, I think the most well-known certification is Fair Trade. And I'm curious to know, like, what is the story? Where did that come from?

Jonathan:Okay. So most people would trace the roots of fair trading coffee to a moment in 1988. And this is at the time when it's ready to do with Mexico, Mexico was going through a terrible set of upheavals

James: Right

Jonathan: And the late eighties, early nineties that had an economic crisis in the early eighties. It had a problem with its coffee growing areas in particular, which is that while other sections of the Mexican economy were growing, the fortunes of the Mexican coffee industry were declining. The Mexican Institute is based in the very South of the country and the Chiapas region, and there basically was a lot of political unrest there too. A lot of issues around that. The definitive issue is that group of Dutch, basically religious group Solidaridad reached out to the Mexican Chiapas peasantry. And said, well, what, what, what are the issues here what's necessary? And they explained, you know, what's necessary is we get a better price for our coffee, and again, the Mexican peasant laborers had these common lands.

James: Right.

Jonathan:So there was a sort of cooperative system. They wanted that supported as the indigenous organization system. And that was been falling over.

James: Right, okay. So let me just recap this. So there were some Southern Mexican coffee farmers who are having a really tough time.I mean, there was low coffee prices, but like the country as a whole, I know in the early eighties had collapsed economically, but you know, the government wasn't paying its debt. So these coffee farmers were desperate. They needed better prices, and these Dutch religious organizations reached out.

Jonathan:Correct. So, okay. So you had that reach out and they Dutch guy said, okay, right. We'll try and think of ways to deal with this. And they were going to buy some coffee and market it. And they then went to some Dutch companies and the company said, well, look, if you certify this coffee as being fairly traded, we’ll do the distributing. And that created the idea of, okay, we'll have a label. That conveys it's been certified. And that label originally was called Max Havelaar.

James: Hmm. Oh, that's a name from the second episode. Jonathan, bring us up to speed again.

Jonathan: Max Havelaar is the key character in a novel written by a Dutch administrator in the East Indies. The hero of this novel Max Havelaar goes out and is appalled at the way that in Java. There can be famine under Dutch rule when you supposedly have this wonderfully fertile land. And the reason there's famine is that the Dutch system indulged and was corrupt and allowed the great land owners, that local Regent to pretty much exploit his peasants to death.

James: Wow.

Jonathan:Now the interesting thing about Havelaar is that it's got several different characters in it. One is Havelaar out in Java. The other is a character in a coffee auction house who is in a sort of an accountant, his name. In Dutch means something like dry as dust it's remarkably onomatopoeiac name. And this guy is sort of full of every Dutch prejudice that exists at the time. So it's, you know, “how can these people be so lazy? Why can't they grow better coffee, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. “

James: Wow.

Jonathan:So the novel is a scandal because what it does is put the Dutch empire on trial.

James: Wow

Jonathan:These scandals are happening, this is the consequence of the way that we govern and we let this happen. So Max Havelaar becomes a very, very emotive novel. It's written in about 1860. In 1988, the Max Havelaar name is adopted as the certification name, if you'd like the brand for Fair Trade coffee. Now the Havelaar name obviously has resonance in the Netherlands, but it really doesn't have resonance once it comes to moving beyond that and that's where the name Fair Trade as a way of sort of conveying what's involved becomes used.


James:Jonathan, listen, as you know, as a coffee drinker, it can feel very overwhelming at times with all the different labels that are on these coffee bags. So for a couple of minutes, let's just talk about what's what and how say for example, Fair Trade works.

Jonathan:Fair Trade, there was a floor price available of $1.40 for the farmer.

James: So Fair Trade is really focused on prices.

Jonathan: It's the only one that includes a guaranteed price for the farmer. Okay

James:You're a coffee farmer. Imagine you are now part of a Fair Trade system. How does that work for you?

Jonathan:Okay, so I know what's the minimum price I'm going to receive for my coffee is that is the fundamental benefit of fair trade for me. It tells me my coffee will always sell for the fair trade price.

James: So Jonathan, let's imagine a situation where, you know, the coffee price is, let's say it's less than a dollar a pound.


James: So in this circumstance, I don't care who you are. It's almost impossible to make a profit out of that.

Jonathan:You absolutely couldn't

James: Now Fair Trade would pay you more than that, right?

Jonathan:So right now, Fair Trade price is a $1.40 per pound.

James: So if you are a Fair Trade certified farmer and the coffee price is less than a dollar a pound, you have the option of selling, your coffee as Fair Trade and receiving a dollar 40 as opposed to less than a dollar a pound

Jonathan: But I don't necessarily end up selling all of it as Fair Trade, but depends on there being Fair Trade buyer.

James: Gotcha. Okay. So other certifications?


Jonathan: If you do environmental, we have Bird Friendly. Primarily it means that it's grown on farms which have coffee shade and take care of the ecosystem around them, sufficient to sustain that ecosystem notably the birds

James: So lots of shade trees equals lots of birds and that's good for the environment.

Jonathan: Yeah.

James: Next.

Jonathan:Similar environmental one Rainforest Alliance. You don't destroy the rainforest that you adhere to certain environmental production system.

James: And Rainforest Alliance is a very popular certification, but I think there are two things that everyday coffee drinkers may not realize about how it works.

Jonathan:Okay. Two things about Rainforest Alliance. First of all, there's no guaranteed price

James: And because there's no price floor, in theory, a coffee farmer who pays for a Rainforest Alliance certification. May not earn any more money than the commodity price. You know, the market price for their coffee. In theory

Jonathan: In theory, that's the case and it can be in practice.Second thing, they will certify a blend of coffee, which contains only a percentage of coffee that's actually certified rain forest Alliance. If 30% of the coffee in a blend marketed by a coffee company comes from Rainforest Alliance certified coffee, they may put that label on the bag

James:  Even though a larger percentage of the coffee in the bag is not Rainforest Alliance certified.

Jonathan:That's correct. They feel that the, the cause is important and therefore they have to make sure that coffee companies are able to push out Rainforest Alliance certified coffees and raise awareness of this issue.

James: Okay. Next certification!

Jonathan: 4Cs,  4Cs is a very basic set of standards for if you'd like ethical behavior at the level of commodity coffee purchase and the great advantage of that one, it's very, very cheap for farmers to get themselves certified 4C.

James: Gotcha. So this is a very simple certification for producers. It's very cheap to certify, and it offers buyers, roasters, who buy commodity coffee assurance that the coffee farmer has met a very basic set of sustainability standards. Great. Next!

Jonathan:Organic, probably the most familiar to us in terms of the standards around Organic, what you can and can't treat plants with that you shouldn't obviously use pesticides, blah, blah, blah. The. Interesting thing to note about Organic. Organic is the most profitable certification for coffee farmers. It enabled you to get quite a significantly higher price for your coffee. It doesn't have a premium built in to it like Fair Trade, but the amount that you tend to get for organic coffee will be significantly higher than the Fair Trade price.

James: But the flip side is that you can grow a lot less coffee on your farm. So although you get a higher price because you're growing less coffee, it's not like you're earning dramatically more from your farm.


James: Okay. Any more certifications to mention?

Jonathan:Then you've got companies who produce their own certification schemes. So you have the Starbucks CAFE system. Effectively using its own inspectors to inspect its own suppliers. I would say James, that what it resembles to me in easy terms is to think of it as a preferred supplier solution in the way that you have in many big corporations. Yeah. So Nespresso has their own one, it's the AAA certification.

James: And Jonathan, one thing I have to mention, because it may not be obvious is that it is the farmers responsibility to get their own farm or cooperative certified. As in it's a cost on the farmer to be able to sell their coffee as certified coffee.

Jonathan: That's exactly right.


James:Okay, so Jonathan, let's zoom forward from the nineties more towards, you know, the present day and like how successful, how popular have these certifications schemes been? And I mean, how do you even gauge the success of a certification?

Jonathan:That is a difficult gauge, but if you want a very simple one, how much of the percentage of the world's coffee is certified something?

James: Okay.

Jonathan:And the answer to that is very high, actually it's, you know, between 40 to 50% now

James: Is certified something?

Jonathan:Is certified something. But I'll tell you that the interesting thing about that, James, I'm looking at a table here, which tells me how much basically of the production that is certified is actually sold in terms of sales, okay? Under its certification, as opposed to being sold as regular coffee. And that is about in 2013 for Fair Trade, that was about a third, and that that's actually true for nearly all of these certifications that it's around a third.

James: Hold the phone, hold the phone. Let's unpack this.

Jonathan:Yeah, yeah

James: So for example, Fair Trade, roughly a third of the coffee that farmers had paid money to get certified as Fair Trade coffee.


James: Only a third of their coffees was actually sold as Fair Trade and the other two thirds, which they had paid to get certified got sold without a certification, and therefore, without the price floor, that


James: Hold on. Hold on, hold on. If I'm a farmer and I pay to have my coffee certified, but I can only get the minimum Fair Trade price for a third of it, and two thirds is the much lower, you know, market global price.


James: I mean, that's, that

Jonathan:I'm hearing your mind boggle and I understand your problem, but of course, the problem is you're the farmer. There's a market for your Fair Trade, but it isn't for all of your coffee. There aren't enough buyers in the market for that Fair Trade coffee. And that's the problem right there. You've certified it so you can charge the higher price. But someone has to pay it for it to happen.

James: Right.

Jonathan:And you've still got the coffee, so you've got to get rid of it because otherwise it's, you know, it's absolutely no value, is it? You don't want it hanging around. So you're going to sell it on

James: Right.

Jonathan:For the best price that you can get. That's the problem for all of these certification schemes. So, you as a farmer, this doesn't necessarily offer you a route to prosperity at all.


James: Now, you could definitely see this as a pretty damning indictment of certifications. I mean, I'm a consumer, I have paid extra for my certified coffee, but the farmer isn't getting as much benefit as I would expect them to for going through the rigmarole, all the effort and stress of having a certified the farm.This system isn't as helpful to farmers as I wanted to be as a coffee drinker.


James: But as far as like the big, big roasteries are concerned, what are they doing with certified coffee?

Jonathan: So look, James, there are some big coffee companies in particular, yeah? A big coffee roasters who develop brands. Some of which are Fair Trade brands, which they use to supply those clients that demand a Fair Trade range. For example, I work in universities, nearly all universities demand, whoever supplies their catering outlets is using Fair Trade coffee.

James: Huh

Jonathan:So, that's, becomes a portion of their coffee, but it's not all of their coffee market by any means.

James: Mhmm

Jonathan: If I looked at so 2013, 2014, the amount of coffee that the big companies bought that was certified

James: Mhmm

Jonathan:I'm thinking of basis like JAB, like Nestlé, they're buying around 30%.

James: So for these big coffee brands, so some of them 30% of all the green coffee they buy from farmers is certified coffee.

Jonathan: Now, some by a lot more

James: Mhmm

Jonathan:Some, 2013, so Strauss, very big roaster primarily around the Middle East, 2%.

James: Mhm

Jonathan:And then I'm looking at Lavazza, and I see 1%. Now Lavazza is interesting because that's a do have an ethically certified blend, which is called Tierra. And I know there's a lot of social projects done around Tierra…


James: But yeah, but it suggests that only 1% of consumers are interested in actually paying more for some kind of ethically certified coffee from Lavazza, 1% of Lavazza drinkers


James: So Jonathan, yeah. So why is it the case that so much certified coffee was grown by farmers, but so little of it is purchased by consumers.

Jonathan:Well, the issue is that consumers need to demand Fair Trade coffee.

James: Mhmm

Jonathan: If there's a demand for Fair Trade coffee, then that puts the incentive on the roaster manufacturer to acquire it.

James: Mhmm

Jonathan:If the consumer doesn't make that questioning

James: Mhmm

Jonathan:Or if the consumer ignores that label for something else, then the companies aren't going to purchase it Fair trade.

James: Mhmm

Jonathan: Fair Trade tried to make the system visible to consumers

James: Mhmm

Jonathan: And giving them the choice of supporting us or not

James: Right

Jonathan: Now, unfortunately not all coffee consumers are motivated by ethics

James: And indeed many more particularly in those markets where in effect, poorer people have to spend more proportionately on their coffee, they are probably going to be more interested in the price.

James: Right.

Jonathan:Yep. So if you market coffee to an affluent community, yeah many of them will look for the Fair Trade and they'll pay a little bit more for it

James: Mhmm

Jonathan:If you want to expand mass sales, probably that market is not looking for the Fair Trade label

James: Mhmm

Jonathan:They would probably like to think that you have ethically acquired your coffee.We all would, we probably expect some of those big brand names that we know to do just that some of them try and do that through those more basic certification schemes, like the 4C

James: Mhmm

Jonathan:But the bottom line is that, you know, this is down on to the consumers to keep making those challenges. It will be consumer preference in the end.


James: It feels like a paradox. Farmers paid good money to get their coffee certified and you know, maybe they can sell a third of their coffee as certified coffee. And the rest is, you know, at low prices and the reason they can't get the floor price, like the price that they need when times are really bad in the coffee market is because not enough of us consumers, coffee drinkers, have chosen the Fair Trade label.Is like many of us have, but not enough of us have. And I really wonder will there ever be enough people who are willing to pay a bit more for their coffee? To make, say the Fair Trade certifications scheme actually work for farmers like it's supposed to?

Jonathan: I fear not. I fear not because actually Fair Trade coffee tastes no different than commodity coffee. So if I served you a Fair Trade coffee and a commodity coffee from the same region, quite possibly from that same farm. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference

James: Mhmm

Jonathan: But yet I'm asking you, as a consumer, to pay me that difference. So you're asking consumers to pay for ethics alone, not for ethics plus quality.

James: Hmm, and not just Fair Trade. Indeed, I think this applies to many certifications

Jonathan:And indeed James, between you and me, even Organic coffee, if we can't taste the difference in the cup, we're really endorsing the practices in the field. So there are consumers for whom that is important and there will be a growing number of consumers, but I don't think it will ever be all consumers.

James: We would need a pretty fundamental revolution in the perception of coffee globally for that to kind of happen


James: So Jonathan, now we know a bit more about how successful these certifications were. Were they all just a bit of a waste of time? I mean, we had those three big problems at the beginning. We had the low prices. We had the environmental destruction and we had the politically motivated violence in coffee producing countries.I mean, it's not like these problems have gone away necessarily. Did certifications fix this system?


Jonathan:They haven't cured the system, but they've raised the profile and created the questioning

James: Mhmm

Jonathan:And they've created a presence.

James: Yeah. That's actually really interesting because without certifications, you know, would there be this awareness, this focus on the sustainability of the coffee industry? But can we pinpoint a time?When, you know, these sustainability issues and the work of the certifications to raise awareness kind of really hit the headlines?

Jonathan:Yeah. I mean, if I can give you an example, James. Okay. 1998, the ICO composite indicator for coffee. So that's this weighs up the various different kinds of coffee prices that was at 109 US cents per pound in 1998.Now that's not great.

James: Yeah. I mean, that's, that's low. 109 cents in 1990 per pound of green coffee.

Jonathan:That is low 2002. That is under 48 cents. Okay?

James: Wow. So it goes down by over half?

Jonathan: It goes down by over half and it wasn't high anyway.

James: Wow.

Jonathan: If we assume that, you know, mostly we say that a dollar is the minimum to sort of get back your costs

James: Yeah as a coffee farmer.

Jonathan: It's not until 2007 that we get back above $1.

James: Wow. Because we open the episode with, you know, one of the big problems, the price collapse of the early nineties.


James: And here we have, you know, early two thousands. You thought that was bad?


James: It got even worse!

Jonathan:Exactly. Right, that's exactly what happened. So we had the price crisis of the early nineties and immediately after the end of the ICO, but this is on a different scale entirely. You know, this is meltdown in the coffee world and this, really, I think projects into public consciousness because it is used by Fair Trade, it is used by charities to really highlight the issue.So there's a fantastic report done by Oxfam (and a, the whole thing is called “Poverty in your Cup” and they make a huge thing, and of course, this links to the point at which coffee shops, Starbucks format coffee shop if you like, the international coffee shop chain, they were becoming much more popular.

James:  Mhmm

Jonathan:So there's sudden thing about Whoa, hang on. You're asking me for these fancy prices for these fancy coffees, but what the hell is going on here? You know, and that, and that is what I think, projects these issues into public consciousness.

James:  Mhmm

Jonathan:And I think it really projected the notion of the need to think about the ethics of coffee.

James:  Mhmm

Jonathan:The need to demonstrate that your company was taking these issues seriously.


James: So Jonathan, you know, certifications. Yes, they didn't fix the system, but they did a lot of great work to raise awareness about the sustainability problems in the coffee industry. But we're still left with this basic problem. You know, the first four episodes of this series explored how coffee became this kind of uncontrolled animal that raced down to the bottom. And this is a massive problem because a lot of the coffee farmers, the billions and millions of coffee farmers around the world who don't have very much money, they don't have many economic opportunities outside of coffee growing to put food on the table, they're stuck in a system where they can't earn very much money and it's basically a poverty trap. And, you know, along came certifications to try and fix the problem and they did do something, but the problem still exists. So, I mean like what next?

Jonathan: Well, James, the other way of looking at it, which we'll look at next time is why don't we pay a lot more for our coffee?

James: Right?

Jonathan:Specialty coffee

James: Specialty coffee, the notion of, yeah, a high quality coffee that we pay more money for.

Jonathan:Yeah. So reverse the whole race to the bottom, let's have a race up.

James: Right! So that's what we're going to be exploring in the next episode. Where did specialty coffee come from, and what were the promises of this movement? In terms of changing the coffee world, and ultimately how much of an impact has it had and is today having?

Jonathan: But also I'm hoping that at the end we’ll think about, you know, how this whole story, where does it go next? What is it that we've seen happen? What have we seen with those places that we've stopped off on our journey? Ethiopia, Yemen, Brazil, Central America, or Africa, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, maybe? And think about how these countries, are gonna experience, coffee in the future.

James: What will the world blend tastes like in 50 years time?


James: Thank you for listening to this fifth episode. If you'd like to help others find this show, it’d mean a lot to us and a really great way of doing that is to write a review on Apple Podcasts.

Jonathan:If you’d would also like to go deeper into coffee history, please follow the link to my book in the show notes, Coffee a Global History.

James: This podcast was produced by myself and yourself, Jonathan and I wrote and played the piano music.

Jonathan:You did, James. Thanks to everyone. And looking forward to speaking to you next time.

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