The coffee industry is a truly global trade, encompassing everything from bean plantations in parts of the developing world, to brand awareness and huge corporations in the developed world. The process from coffee bean to gourmet espresso is very long and complex, and ‘wastage’ in many forms is apparent throughout.
Waste in this sense can include anything from the fact that in some Single Estate coffee plantations, only around 40% of beans grown are actually used and roasted, to the way Baristas in chain coffee shops are taught to discard any coffee deemed less than perfect, or the way freshly ground coffee is given a shelf life of a mere twenty minutes. This is all without mentioning the inorganic and material waste of brand-embellished packaging that is thrown away every day.
Coffee in Western culture at least, is extremely fashionable; coffee culture is evident and actively encouraged in the UK, shown by the sheer number of both large chains and independent coffee shops which have opened in this country in the last three decades.. It can be argued, however, that the expertise that goes in to producing gourmet coffees – that is, selecting quality beans, roasting them to perfection and then producing the finished espresso, is wasted on the consumer, who may not be aware of the difference to the taste that the varying techniques can make.
Background and Theory:
Growing premium coffee beans is an inefficient process. In many Single Estate, Fairtrade or organic plantations, the beans are cherry-picked, that is, the beans deemed suitable quality are selected and picked by hand. This is inefficient in the sense that the process is very slow, requires significant human labour, is expensive and inevitably means that a large proportion of the beans grown are not used. However, it does ensure that the coffee is of the highest quality and best taste.
A more efficient method is to harvest the coffee plants by machine, ensuring that every single bean is collected. This mechanisation of the process does increase efficiency, decreases waste and lowers the cost of the coffee, but it also decreases employment prospects on coffee plantations, and lowers the quality of the finished product.
Therefore, if the demand for the highest quality and best tasting coffee is to be fulfilled, a certain amount of wastage – both at the growing stage and the brewing stage – is inevitable and unavoidable. In this sense, the waste cannot be seen as a negative aspect to the industry, but as an integral part of the process.
However, this argument is only convincing if it can be demonstrated that there is a strong demand for very high quality coffee. Many large coffee companies, (including those who sell ground coffee for personal use, such as CafeDirect, Nescafe, Kenco and the larger supermarkets, and also chain coffee shops such as Caffe Nero, Starbucks, AMT and Costa Coffee) create a brand image suggesting good quality, and use facts about the origins of their products in their marketing strategies. It is these companies that create the demand for good quality. This does not necessarily mean, however, that their customers and consumers actually appreciate, or are even aware of, the coffee’s quality.
This is not to say coffee consumers in this country are completely blind to the coffee producing industry; but what denotes ‘high quality’ is very subjective and a matter of personal taste and opinion. If the demand for high quality coffee is not actually present among the consumers, the issues of inefficiency and wastage within the industry become far more significant.
Aims and Objectives
– To establish the extent of wastage in the coffee industry, including both the growing and harvesting of coffee, and the brewing of espresso in coffee shops.
– To analyse contributing factors in quality coffee, to find what makes it ‘good’.
– To examine in depth the actual demand for coffee from the point of view of consumers; and to find whether coffee companies are supplying this demand or creating it.
– Overall, to find if ‘wastage’ in the industry is an inevitable part of the process, or whether steps could be taken to make the process more efficient.
In order to fulfil the aims of the project, several different areas of research need to be undertaken. Background research into the coffee production process, both on practical and theoretical level is essential to create understanding of the main concepts of manufacture and waste.
The first phase would be to study the initial coffee harvest. A plantation that supplies one of the main coffee shops and brands in the UK would be the most useful; for example, Intertech, in the Mogiana region of Brazil, which supplies Caffe Nero. (http://www.bsca.jp/intertech_us.html) Intertech also uses both manual (cherry picking) and mechanical methods of harvesting, which would give a good insight into the volume of waste each method produces. Statistics would be collected about the variety of beans, conditions of growth, average volume grown per season, and the percentage used and ‘wasted’. These figures should also be collected from other plantations, perhaps even in different countries, in order to create a model of average wastage per plantation. Observing the harvesting process first hand would provide a valuable insight into the scale of perceived wastage. The plantation managers could also be interviewed to gain their views on wastage within their own business, and to find which harvesting method is preferred and why.
If the plantation supplies more than one company, it would need to be established which company buys what quantity, and what variety of beans, and at what cost. This is essential to analyse the ‘quality’ of coffee that the company sells to its consumers. It would also be useful to find why the company chooses that variety of coffee – if their customers expect or demand it, or whether it is the most cost-effective from their point of view, for instance. Using this information, it would also be possible to infer whether or not the different methods of coffee production have any correlation with the prices of the finished espresso in the coffee shops.
The second phase takes place in those coffee shops. For the purposes of this research, a branch of one of the larger chain stops would be most appropriate. Larger chains would be buying in coffee beans in extremely large quantities on a very regular basis, and so the extent of wastage they create would be easier to ascertain. Data would need to be collected on the average volume of waste the branch produces over a certain period of time; if for example, the coffee is delivered on a monthly basis, it would be logical to measure the amount of waste produced within that month, allowing the researcher to calculate the proportion of coffee wasted at the brewing stage. In order to calculate averages, this information should also be collected from several stores in the same chain so that the results are not skewed by an anomalous store.
Analysis of this data would also show how and why this waste is produced. Caffe Nero is keen to promote the fact that each staff member undergoes intensive Barista training, in order to brew the perfect espresso and maintain the company’s high standard. The equivalent training is also provided in other chain shops. Experiencing and participating in this training would be very beneficial to this project in that it would allow the researcher to appreciate exactly why wastage is produced at this stage of the process.
Thorough analysis of the data collected in the first two phases is required to form an overview of the manufacturing process. This will need to be completed before phase three begins. Phase three would use more qualitative methods, as it deals with the subjective topic of consumer preference. A core sample of ‘average’ coffee consumers would need to be found; (in this sense, who the average consumer actually is would also need to be determined beforehand, although this could be achieved through asking for volunteers from people who already frequent coffee shops regularly) Surveys, focus groups and other forms of social research, even including tasting panels for instance, can then be employed to examine consumer preferences for coffee and create a model of the UK coffee market and demand. This could also involve blind sampling; to see if average coffee consumers can tell the difference – and prefer – high quality coffee in comparison with lower grade espresso.
In terms of time scale, data collection should take around eighteen months, with analysis and writing up the research taking another eighteen months. Due to the three phases of the project however, data collection and analysis would occasionally overlap.
Results and Recommendations
If it is found that coffee consumers in this country cannot tell the difference between high and average quality espresso, or if they actually prefer lower grade coffee, then this would have far reaching implications for the entire coffee industry. Plantations would not have to waste so many substandard beans and could use more efficient harvesting methods. Coffee shops would not have to waste so much badly made espresso, or waste time and resources on training their staff so rigorously. Consumers may not have to waste money on overpriced luxury drinks. Wastage in the industry would become a major concern as it could be demonstrated how inefficient the process is.
However, if the opposite is found, that consumers do actually notice the difference and prefer higher quality coffee, then the wastage of the inferior products becomes necessary. A large proportion of raw coffee beans, and a significant amount of brewed espresso can justifiably be rejected and disposed of as a by-product of high quality, gourmet coffee producing process. This by product is not ‘waste’ as such; it is an inevitable, and unavoidable part of the industry.
Caffe Nero, 2007 The Art Of Espresso http://www.caffenero.com/NeroCoffee.asp?Section=ArtEspresso
(further information from Caffe Nero Barista training programme, June 2007)
Intertech Coffee Plantations, 2006 http://www.bsca.jp/intertech_us.html#inter_cafe
Harford, T., 2006 The Undercover Economist Abacus: London
Pumphreys Coffee http://www.pumphreys-coffee.co.uk//Default.aspx
(further information from Pumphreys Coffee Barista Training Course, January 2007)