Coffee News Roundup: Week Ending October 4th

A hand holds a cup with latte art, resting atop a newspaper

Hello and welcome to October, shocktober, spooktober, you get it.

Ghostly and skeletal decorations are going up, a Netflix list of scary movies is being assembled, and vast bags of candy are being bought in preparation for the 31st (to both hand out to trick-or-treaters and stress eat while worrying about Brexit).

In the meantime, it’s probably best if we look at this week’s coffee news, lest it get cold.

Caffé Vita Employees Say They're Getting Fired for Giving Old Pastries to Homeless People - via The Stranger

Back in the day, when I worked at a certain Italian-themed coffee chain in Cambridge, England, we were told not to give away day-old pastries or sandwiches to the homeless people who frequented the area because the company was afraid of being sued “if they made someone sick”. Even though that’s literally never happened, it was still store policy. (I have no idea if our store was unique or if this policy was company-wide.)

Our store always had a lot of leftovers, mostly due to the slightly ridiculous expiry dates stamped on pastries, cakes, and sandwiches. Even as a just-graduated, woefully underpaid 20-something, my flatmates and I just couldn’t eat that much food, so on my way home I would hand out sandwiches to any homeless person I came across. It seemed logical to me, and I was sure to do it on my own time and away from the store.

Several baristas at Caffé Vita in Seattle claim that they have been fired for doing similar, although the details are of course very different.

A barista pouring latte art, seen from above.

These baristas, according to reports, gave expired food and destined-for-the-drain drip coffee to the homeless people who frequent the cafe. This put them at odds with the company, who consider it stealing (there were also claims of gift cards being handed out, which the employees all deny ever witnessing).

It’s important here to consider all sides of this situation. On the one hand, baristas are on the front lines of the business and need to be able to make decisions on the fly—some employees report homeless people assisting them with cafe duties, and in one case even coming to the rescue of a barista who was being attacked outside their store.

On the other hand, Caffé Vita is a business and the owners need to make money to keep paying their staff and secure the future of the company, and clearly felt like they were being taken advantage of.

Although it should be noted that the co-owners claim that “it is our belief that feeding homeless people without comprehensive services actually enables, increases and promotes homelessness” is quickly debunked in The Stranger’s story.

As the article notes:

The National Coalition on Homelessness (NCH) has written a series of reports about successful food-sharing programs that have debunked the “enabling hypothesis” on display in Caffé Vita’s email.

The NCH argues that denying people food is counterproductive: "Food is not an addiction; food is necessary for survival,” writes the coalition. “Depriving a person of food means that she must put all of her energy into obtaining food and less energy on improving other aspects of her life.”

At the end of it, it seems like Caffé Vita’s management overreacted to a situation that could have been handled with more patience and nuance, especially as it doesn’t appear as though even the owners were aware of what company policy towards expired food was.

It appears as though Caffé Vita management has come to the conclusion that they may have overreacted. Yesterday they posted a message on Facebook saying that “we are assessing our policies and communications to ensure they reflect our company’s values and our community’s needs.”

Taking time to assess the situation and then actually discussing things like adults seems to be a good solution to these regrettably frequent incidents.

Read the full story here.

Starbucks Pays Farmers $20 Million More as Coffee Crisis Deepens - via Bloomberg

A Starbucks sign hangs from a shop front with a street scene behind

The coffee price crisis is still ongoing, with prices currently hovering around $1 per pound. However, it looks as is if the big multinational companies—you know, the ones that can actually make a difference—have started to wake up to the issue.

Starbucks is adding $20 million to the $20 million they gave to farmers… almost exactly one year ago.

That’s right, this crisis has been going on for so long we’re actually repeating ourselves.

Starbucks gave the money to 8,000 farmers in Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, and is also continuing with its plan to give out 100 million trees by 2025 in order to help producers replace ageing or diseased plants.

“The desire would be that the market has some correction. That would be the ideal state,” Michelle Burns, senior vice president of global coffee and tea at Starbucks, told Bloomberg. “If the coffee crisis on pricing continues, we will look at both what we do on the financial side as well as our continued work with what we do with trees.”

Read the full story here.

With $25 Million Credit Line, NKG Launches Global Farmer Support Initiative - via Daily Coffee News

More money going to farmers here, with Neumann Kaffee Gruppe (NKG) launching a sustainability fund and loan facility backed by several major banks.

NKG, which owns 49 coffee-related companies around the world, aims to reach 300,000 farmers by 2030 with its $25 million revolving credit facility. These facilities allow the borrower to draw incrementally and pay back incrementally over the length of the loan term, and are thus considered relatively low-risk.

The most interesting thing about this story, for me, is the quote from NKG’s CEO David M. Neumann, who said, “NKG BLOOM is not a marketing strategy; it is not a philanthropic endeavor, or a feel-good project. It’s about the way we want to do business in the long term. It will cost us a lot of money and effort, but it is simply the right thing to do.”

He went on to say that, “Lending to smallholder farmers in some of the poorest places in the world is a risky proposition, but it’s critical to unlocking the potential that these farmers hold for global agriculture and development in their own countries and communities.”

Which is… genuinely impressive. Does he mean it? Is it greenwashing? Who knows, but at least NKG is putting $25 million where their CEO’s mouth is.

Read the full story here.

Coffee will become ‘luxury item’ if Greta Thurnberg’s climate change warnings aren’t heeded - via NY Post

Yes, that is a misspelling of Thunberg in the title.

Anyway, please don’t click on the link, because it’s the NY Post for some reason hosting a story originally published in the Sun, one of the UK’s most repulsive “newspapers”.

The point of including this is that the Sun and the NY Post are writing and sharing stories about climate change.

And, like, taking it seriously as a topic. It’s honestly quite astounding. This is the Sun, remember—the tabloid newspaper whose Wikipedia “history” entry is just a list of controversies and actual crimes.

The piece quotes proper scientists, doesn’t call them “boffins”, and takes climate change as a fact.

Admittedly, the story is clearly using Greta Thunberg’s name (misspellings and all) as an SEO strategy to garner clicks, but still.

Read the full story here (if you really must).

The Week in Corporate Greenwashing

Don’t worry everyone, Walmart has met its goal for sustainable coffee sourcing a whole three months early. That’s right, the world’s largest company by revenue now buys all its private label coffee from sources certified sustainable by third-party groups such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance Certified, or UTZ.

Announcing the milestone, Walmart’s senior buying manager of coffee & cocoa, said:

“When our customers enjoy the aroma of our private brand coffee, we also want to ensure we’re meeting their expectations on quality and sourcing based on best-in-class, certified industry standards - all while delivering on everyday low prices. Our customers can now be certain that the coffee they’re buying from us was grown with care, by farmers working to build sustainable livelihoods and thriving communities.”

Which just sounds like garbled corporate gibberish to me, but hey at least they’re committed to sustainability and treating people right throughout the supply chain, right?

Well, it depends. According to their own corporate marketing, hell yes they’re environmentally friendly. According to several independent reports, it’s less clear-cut. (If you’re interested in reading more about Walmart’s sustainability efforts, this in-depth article from the Conversation is worth a look.)

The point here is that, while giant corporations might make the right noises and even implement some small changes (see: every corporate greenwashing strategy ever), it’s important to keep pressuring them—and the governments that regulate them—to do more.

They have more money than they know what to do with—make them spend it correctly.

Oh, and in other fun greenwashing news, an aide ripped a disposable coffee cup out of Boris Johnson’s hands apparently because they wanted him to look more environmentally friendly than he actually is. Or perhaps because his aides are feuding. But either way the whole thing was caught on camera, so the greenwashing didn’t work.

You hate to see it.

Is coffee good for you?

Still no news either way.

Is this a good thing? Or have scientists finally run out of things to research when it comes to coffee?

Time will tell.

A man sits on a bench reading a newspaper
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