Coffee News Roundup: 2019 Year in Review (Ridiculous Story Edition)

A macchiato cup with latte art sits atop a newspaper on a table

Hello and welcome to the final Coffee News Roundup of 2019.

Last year, due to traveling back from Scotland and being hugely jet-lagged, I phoned in the final Roundup by simply rehashing some of the stupidest, most pointless and/or funniest coffee stories from the preceding twelve months.

This year, I’m not jet-lagged but I am lazy, and I also enjoyed going back through old Roundups to find the silliest stories possible. So I’m doing it again, and you can’t stop me.

The good thing about this is that most of the stories this year have been ridiculous, but that also means paring it down will be tricky. Get ready for a long article.

Oh, and why not sign up for the Coffee News Roundup email newsletter? Get a fresh batch of stupidity delivered to your inbox every Saturday.

Now please enjoy this curated look back through the dumbest, weirdest, funniest, and lamest coffee news stories of 2019.

Former Starbucks Chief Exploring Independent 2020 Bid - Via CNN (From the week of January 25th)

Remember this? Good times.

While Howard Schultz might espouse some no-brainer socially progressive values—support for gay marriage and immigration, for example—he’s also against universal healthcare and in favor of economic growth at all costs (not surprising, considering Starbucks’ inexorable expansion under his watch). He’s also called for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, so there’s that.

Basically, he’s a dead of center politician. And if the news over the past, oh, three years has shown anything, it’s that people want left or they want right, but they definitely don’t want dead center.

Good luck, Howard.

(He dropped out a few months later because people were mean to him online.)

Read the full story here.

This Coffee Company Wants To Roast Beans In Space - Via Food & Wine (From the week ending February 1st)

A rocket blasting into space

There was an awful lot of talk about coffee in space this year, for some reason.

Why would you want to shoot coffee into space?

Because of gravity, of course. Apparently gravity is the bane of coffee roasting (and here I thought it was unloading 50kg bags from a truck in sub zero temperatures).

A couple of weirdos want to shoot coffee into space, allow the beans to float about unimpeded by things like “gravity” and “common sense”, and use the heat of re-entry to roast the beans.

OK, this is a hoax, right? There’s no way this is real. The company’s name is Space Roasters, for crying out loud

Read the full story here.

This “Molecular Coffee” Is Brewed Entirely Without Beans - Via Futurism (From the week ending February 8th)

This nonsense also got a lot of traction. Although, with the way the world is going, it might not be long before this is the only type of coffee still available.

OK, so a company called Atomo (because of course) says it has developed a coffee that requires no, well, coffee. According to Futurism, the makers “believe they’ve identified the 40 or so compounds found in the proteins and oils of coffee that represent the body, mouth feel, aroma, and color of coffee, and built a product made out of naturally derived sustainable ingredients.”


Because the solution to coffee’s admittedly myriad problems is to get rid of the coffee? Rather than, say, pay more for it so that the farmers can feed their families, and pay their workers, and protect their land?

You’ve got to hand it to the tech industry, they sure know how to reinvent things that don’t need reinventing.

Read the full story here.

Suze Orman: If You Waste Money On Coffee, It's Like 'Peeing $1 Million Down The Drain' - Via CNBC (From the week ending March 29th)

Hey paupers, put down that coffee and pull up your bootstraps! There was a lot of this rubbish in 2019, unsurprisingly.

A barista pouring latte art seen in close up

Yes of course we should all be saving, and yes coffee is an extravagance, but these sorts of proclamations are always from already rich people who no longer have to scrabble around in the messed up economy left to us by those same already rich people.

These articles pop up far too often: constant disingenuous claptrap from deluded, withdrawn multimillionaires.

Telling a 20-something working two jobs and picking up Uber shifts at the weekends that the reason they don’t have money is because they drink coffee is at best self-indulgent and unhelpful and at worst plain malevolent—drinking a good cup of coffee (or eating avocado toast) is one of the few joys left in this world.

Let us have it.

Read the full story here.

Cat & Cloud Is Being Sued By Caterpillar Inc. - Via Sprudge (From the week ending May 24th)

Yikes this was stupid, but not “haha” stupid. It was a big story for about a week, and then disappeared. Here’s the most recent article I could find, from June 15th 2019. Presumably it’s still ongoing.

Caterpillar, the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturer, is suing the Santa Cruz, CA, based coffee company Cat & Cloud for trademark infringement, apparently based around the use of the word “cat”. Caterpillar owns the trademark for “CAT”, which is what they use on all the apparel they sell; Cat & Cloud own the trademark for, well, “Cat & Cloud”.

The Sprudge story cites Cat & Cloud’s own podcast, in which they lay out the charges against them and the steps they’ve taken to fight back.

Read the full story here.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Releases Hard Coffee With 5-Percent ABV - Via Food & Wine (From the week ending July 5th)

There were a lot of these stories in 2019. So many “hard coffee” products launched, with no discernible market. I mean, there must be a market, because otherwise these giant conglomerates wouldn’t put all that money into R&D, but it still seems weird because there are just so so many.

PBR has jumped headlong onto the coffee bandwagon, and seemingly hit its head in the process.

The new Hard Coffee is basically just one of those canned latte things, but with booze. The company says it will be “a fun and deliciously unique drink made using Arabica and Robusta coffee beans and rich, creamy American milk.”

The result? A “great tasting vanilla infused premium iced coffee with a 5 percent ABV kick.”

Rich, creamy American milk.

Read the full story here.

Michigan’s Biggby Coffee Wants To Be The First Coffee Franchise On The Moon - Via MLive (From the week ending July 19th)

The moon

I still don’t know whether this is a joke or not. (Also, more space coffee talk!)

This is apparently a serious article about a real thing that is actually being talked about.

Biggby is a Michigan-based purveyor of enormous caramel-drizzled coffee-based beverages, and they are apparently deadly serious about becoming the first space-cafe chain.

Their reason? Well, it is really quite amazing.

MLive quotes their Vice President of something called Brand Sphere, Jamie Stepanian-Bennett as saying:

Shooting for the moon has always been in Biggby Coffe’s (sic) DNA, and now with the private and public sectors making advances in this direction, we are making it our goal. The Co-CEOs often quote Buzz Lightyear’s ‘to infinity and beyond’.

This sentiment guides our company, from our corporate culture focused on employee advancement to our bottom-line goals focused on sustainability and growth. And, we are taking preliminary steps to substantiate this slogan by being the first coffee company on the moon.

The article says that Biggby has already made initial contact with Amazon and Michigan Senator Gary Peters to explore their completely sane plans.

Read the full story here. (I also wrote a news article for Sprudge on the subject, if you’re interested.)

The Year in Corporate Greenwashing

I introduced this segment about halfway through the year, and did it pay off. It turns out that greenwashing in the industry is an ongoing thing. Here are a few bits and bobs from a banner year of lies and gaslighting by big coffee companies.

Starbucks and Gatwick Airport teamed up to launch a reusable coffee cup scheme at the UK’s second busiest air hub.

Never mind about the climate emergency, the destructive environmental cost of air travel or the growing popularity of long-haul weekend trips—your low-quality, somehow-already-cold latte will now be less wasteful.

A class action lawsuit against Keurig Green Mountain moved forward in California, alleging that the company’s stupid little pod things were labeled as “recyclable” even though it’s almost impossible to actually recycle them.

The case is progressing even though Keurig asked for it to be thrown out, citing “their First Amendment right to state their product is recyclable and that [the plaintiff] had not suffered an actual injury because of the company’s labeling.”

A Nescafe cup sits on a kitchen counter

From a Wall Street Journal article about discussions at the Global Coffee Producers Forum on how to help producers not lose their farms, starve, or have to migrate:

“Helping farmers increase their income is ‘beyond the scope of any one company’s actions,’ Nestlé said in an email, adding that the company is looking for collective measures to help growers in the face of low arabica prices.

Starbucks said their goal is to make coffee the world’s first sustainably sourced agricultural product and that it has invested more than $100 million to ‘increase the prosperity and resilience” of coffee farmers around the world.’”

Nestlé is the largest food company in the world, with revenue of over $90 billion in 2017.

Starbucks had revenue of $25 billion in 2018, and returned $8.9 billion to shareholders.

This is a great article in Sprudge about Starbucks’ announcement that they're giving $20 million to farmers to help offset the ongoing coffee price crisis.

Key quote: “Put another way, it is less than a third of their $61.3 million daily revenue; it’s a lunch rush. If you are a barista making $30,000 and you donate $26 to a relief fund, you’ve donated by percentage more of your yearly take-home than Starbucks did with their newest initiative.”

Nespresso are once again hawking their Puerto Rico revitalization project, fronted by Lin Manuel Miranda and George Clooney. Which, fine. Good for them for putting money into a devastated economy and helping farmers.

So how much have Nespresso put in? One. Million. Dollars.

For comparison, Nestlé’s annual revenue from coffee is $17 billion.

That’s right, you can now eat your coffee cup on board Air New Zealand. The cup is made from biscotti, so it’s delicious and helps to save the world.

Don’t worry that the company ranks as one of its country’s biggest polluters, or that its carbon footprint keeps growing even though it now has biscotti coffee cups.

Was Coffee Good for You in 2019?

Sort of?

There were many new studies, some good, some bad. For example, coffee might be able to help with daytime fatigue in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferers. Then there was a study that pinpointed two compounds commonly found in coffee that seem to have an effect on prostate cancer growth. Additionally, a study has found that two compounds found in coffee chaff and husks may help reduce some of the hallmarks of obesity. Coffee is also apparently so good for you that merely thinking about it can have a positive effect on your brain. The study focused on something called “construal”, which definitely doesn’t sound like a made up word at all. In more understandable news, it could halve your risk of liver cancer.

However, research also claimed that drinking two or more cups of coffee a day may increase a person’s risk of lung cancer, and apparently can cause kidney problems for your child if you drink too much while pregnant. Another study claims that drinking six or more cups per day can increase your chances of cardiovascular disease by 22%, which is, you know, bad.

Essentially, nobody knows.

But! it can extend your life, so that has to be good, right? A meta analysis of 40 studies, covering 3.8 million people around the world, found that you are 15% less likely to die from any cause if you drink 3.5 cups of coffee per day. And this is true, according to the study, “irrespective of age, overweight status, alcohol drinking, smoking status, and caffeine content of coffee.”

I’ll take it.

A person sits on a bench reading a newspaper

What I wrote in 2019

A Coffee Drinker’s Guide To Grand Rapids, Michigan for Sprudge

Former SPoT Coffee Employees Allege Union Busting In Buffalo for Daily Coffee News

Do You Know? Sam Schaefer for Fresh Cup

9 Ways To Drink Coffee Conscientiously for Sierra Magazine

Why Coffee Is The Perfect Travel Companion for Lonely Planet

Many, many new cafe spotlights for Daily Coffee News

Until next year, drink good coffee.

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