The first section comprised of lots of talks from around the world on the coffee industry in different countries. Things still sound pretty desperate in Africa, and there were two nearly identitcal talks from Vietnam which I summarised in the following way:
“Vietnam produces huge amount of coffee and sells it very cheaply because it’s mainly crap.”
They had vague notions of improving the quality and developing the infrastructure to help farmers… but never actually suggested the methods for doing this. It wasn’t entirely doom and gloom, India seems to be improving things a little, and the Brazillian rep basically ended up concluding that they would carry on as normal!
Outside of producing countries, there were a few talks from consuming countries – mainly facts and figures and pretty graphs of how much coffee Americans drink, and a terrifying statistic that the UK is one of the largest consumers of soluable/instant coffee in the world. Uuuurgh, that’s embarrassing! There was a bizarre but fascinating presentation about the Russian coffee industry – such as it is. Up until 1998, there were two coffee shops in St. Peterburg, and that was it in the entire country. It’s growing, slowly, but it is fascinating, and very difficult to imagine!
The really interesting one for me was on Colombian coffee, specifically the Juan Valdez brand. They made a big fuss about how successful promoting the “100% Colombian” brand, making people aware of Colombia as a coffee producer. Making who aware? The sales and demand figures were very impressive, but Juan Valdez doesn’t exist in the UK, and I think the vast majority of this ‘brand awareness’ comes from the US, where Juan and his donkey are everywhere. This was the first mention of geographical indicators, however, and appellation for coffee. Juan Valdez has started putting ‘Beantrack’ computers in their stores and on their website, allowing customers to see where the beans for that particular batch of coffee have actually come from. It’s a gimic, and the “Virtual Origin Tours” are very pretty but not the most informative. However, unlike every other large chain of coffee shops, they at least have some form of traceability. Furthermore, the idea behind the Beantrack is to promote the terroir of their different coffees. They are not just selling “Colombian” they are selling specific coffees from specific regions within Colombia – for instance, coffee from this particular area tastes like this, therefore its great for breakfast as a pick-me-up etc. etc. Simplistic, but still the beginnings of customer education and terroir.
I like this. I see absolutely no reason why the region variations and differences in batches of coffee can’t be emphasised rather than blended in to oblivion. Daniele Giovannucci did a good talk on differentiation and certification, of which geographical indicators is a big part. He even said he needed more research into quality and differentiation. Woohoo! (Gimme a job?) This sort of thing has been done in the wine industry for centuries and it seems to work, both from the customer’s perspective as it gives more choice (I’m sorry Anna, but I am still gonna drink my South African pinotage, I am really not a fan of your beloved Italian!) and the producers: differentiation leads to scarcity, which bunps the price up – look at Jamaican Blue Mountain. There are already some relatively well known regional varieties – Kona coffee from Hawaii, Java coffee, Ethiopian Sidamo, and so on. Ethiopia produces a lot of different coffees as well as Sidamo, so it is that particular varietal which is popular. Colombia are trying to show there is more to their produce than just generic ‘Colombian’, and I’m sure Brazil and other big producers should be able to do the same.
Over lunch, I met the Kaladi Brothers, who don’t appear to be brothers, but who run a roasting company and coffee shop in Denver. Really fun, down to earth blokes anyway: Andy and Mark. Mark is most definitely a coffee geek, and they roast and sell very high quality coffees which they source themselves. We got talking ‘geographical indicators’ and they said they used the region name in their packaging, because it makes a lot of marketing sense, even if they do make it a little more flamboyant. For example, they sell my beloved coffee from Cecocafen in Nicaragua, but instead of calling it “Matagalpan” (hardly catchy, admittedly) they borrow the name of the beneficio – Nicaraguan Solcafe coffee. Sounds good to me! Of course, a lot of what they do – and what I do with Doctor Coffee, is espresso based, and single origin coffees often aren’t suitable for espresso. Sometimes you need blends to make the espresso work. There wasn’t much talk of blending today, but plenty of varietals – and plenty of samples of varietals in the exhibition hall which I happily swigged. Mark was a bit sniffy about them.
Sniffyness soon vanished however, as after the conference sessions came the 50th Anniversary of ANACAFE Gala party. I followed Mark and Andy to their hotel since it was too much of a pain to get cabs all the way to Dos Lunas and then come back with me. We stupidly decided to get some food, thinking that the Gala would just involve nibbly things. I got this strange frijole soup thing served in a jug. It was good, but it took me a while to work out how to eat it! When we got to the Gala though, we found we’d not only underestimated the food, but also the whole nature of the thing. It was stunning – outdoor marquees all lit with chandeliers, beautifully laid tables with candles, a live Marimba band… And everyone with suits or evening dresses. I’d obviously come straight from the conference so I still had the maaaaaaahoooosiiiive ringbinder full of conference notes and all the freebies I’d blagged which had to accompany me. I was at least wearing my beloved coffee dress which got a few comments, particularly with the matching tattoo… There was sooooo much food too! Classic situational comedy moment – Guatemalan waiter trying to explain what sushi is, in broken English, to the African delegates. But suuushi!! and nibbly things, and chocolate covered coffee beans, and that was only appetizers. The menu implied steak was on the cards later… Wine appeared – I had one little glass, and had to physically prevent the waiter topping it up every few minutes. Andy did not bother though, and had *quite a few* refils. Unsurprisingly, the conversation got sillier and sillier…..Andy demanded kareoke marimba, for instance…Definitely lowering the tone, although obviously they couldn’t throw me out, not in my condition…
I bowed out about 10pm. I am soooo old! But I had an excellent night, I honestly couldn’t have eaten steak, and cheese was kicking rather violently. I knew if I stayed any longer, I wouldn’t have the energy for the next day!