Coffee News Roundup: 2020 Year In Review

A person sits on a chair reading a newspaper which is on fire

A person sits on a chair reading a newspaper which is on fire

Hello and welcome to 2021, and with it the Coffee News Roundup review of 2020.

2020 was a bad year, obviously. A lot of people died in a worldwide pandemic that was grossly mishandled by many governments, and a lot more people were economically decimated by the bad choices those terrible governments made.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the worldwide coffee industry too, albeit in different ways depending on the country. The Black Lives Matter movement, which erupted in the summer with protests that were met with extreme violence by the state, caused a reckoning with the coffee industry’s racism, both individual and systemic.

There was plenty of coffeewashing this year (isn’t there always), a fair few unionization attempts, and many discoveries about coffee’s effect on our health.

And, as always, there were some goofy nonsense stories—although far fewer this year than in the past.

Let’s take a look at what happened (and of course, there are doubtless myriad stories I’ve missed or skimmed over. It was a long year).

Coffee & COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant and unsurprising disruption to the coffee industry.

In producing countries, travel restrictions and a lack of workers hindered coffee harvests from Brazil to Colombia, while supply chain disruptions caused a drop in demand from importers.

Plenty of coffee events were cancelled in 2020, from competitions like the World Coffee Championships to the Specialty Coffee Association’s Expo, while festivals from Helsinki to Hawaii were also nixed—or, in the case of Glasgow’s, reimagined as a city-wide coffee tour.

Big chains received a lot of kudos for giving free coffee to healthcare workers, and in some cases offering their employees hazard pay (and then, in Starbucks’ case, quietly rescinding it a few months later). There were also protests from workers claiming a lack of PPE and other safety precautions.

Many, many, many small coffee companies closed down permanently this year, while others shifted their business models to make hand sanitizer or offer pantry staples. There were also, predictably, grim news stories about how this drop in the number of independent cafes was good news for giants like Starbucks and Dunkin (capitalism loves a crisis).

Obviously, baristas and other frontline coffee workers were hit hard by the closures, with many losing their income while not qualifying for unemployment. However, mutual aid groups like Go Fund Bean filled that gap, supporting hourly workers in the coffee industry—it’s also worth mentioning companies like Seattle Coffee Gear that gave thousands to baristas, cafes, roasters and coffee techs across the United States.

The Year In Corporate Coffeewashing

There was just so much coffeewashing in 2020 that we’ll never cover it all here. Where to even begin.

There was that time Oatly sold a chunk of its business to the private equity firm Blackstone and claimed that it would “steer global capital in a more sustainable direction.” Some activists were not so sure.

There was all the press Nespresso received for its Reviving Origins campaign, where it got George Clooney and Lin Manuel Miranda to act like the company was saving coffee producers by investing $10 million over five years to “rebuild sustainable livelihoods for farmers and their communities” among other things. George Clooney, meanwhile, is being paid $40 million for his spokesperson role.

Nespresso had quite the year, pledging to become carbon neutral by 2022 without really saying how, while Clooney was “saddened” by an investigative report that found child labor in the multi-billion-dollar company’s supply chain.

Multiple coffee producing countries in Central America were hit by a series of devastating hurricanes in the autumn, destroying crops and displacing thousands. This was just one in many disasters caused by the ongoing climate crisis this year, from coffee rust reaching Hawaii to drought in Brazil. But don’t worry, because Starbucks has said it will “accelerate the transition to a net zero global economy no later than 2050”.

The Year In Coffee Unionizing

2020 was a busy year for efforts to unionize the coffee industry, in many cases in response to poor treatment and lax pandemic protections.

Workers at Augie’s Coffee in California pushed for a union and claimed illegal terminations and union-busting efforts (but then the company closed down permanently, citing the pandemic).

Meanwhile, a Milwaukee branch of Wonderstate Coffee successfully unionized its small team, and the push for a Colectivo Coffee union is still ongoing although a similar drive at Spyhouse Coffee narrowly failed amid claims of anti-union activities by the company’s owners.

Was Coffee Good For You In 2020?


In 2020 there was research that showed coffee helping protect against Parkinson’s, even for those with genetic risk factors for the disease. The New England Journal of Medicine published a review of 95 studies, meanwhile, that showed that coffee not only has “no long-term risks” but, in fact, could even reduce risk of chronic illnesses.

There was good news on the coffee versus cancer front too. According to the 2020 World Cancer Report, coffee can “reduce the risk of certain cancers”, which is good. One of them might be colorectal cancer, with one study positing that drinking a few cups a day is “associated with longer survival and lower risk of cancer progression in patients suffering from colorectal cancer.”

Also, according to an Australian study, if everyone in the world drank at least two cups of coffee per day, “the world would see hundreds of thousands fewer deaths from liver cancer.” So there you have it.

The Year In Silly News

But what about the goofy coffee stories, the light relief, the ridiculous reports of a new coffee bubblegum or how Krispy Kreme is going to build a base on Mars.

Well, there weren’t many such stories this year (there was a lot going on), but here are a few snippets.

Mushroom Coffee Company Shut Down Amid Pyramid Scheme Allegations (from the week of January 31st)

Because if there’s one thing that screams legit, it’s a direct-to-consumer mushroom coffee product.

Are Dissolving Pouches The Next Big Trend In Instant Coffee? (from the week of March 6th)

What if Tide Pods, but with coffee.

Dunkin' And Post Released Coffee-Flavored Cereals With Caffeine (from the week of July 31st)

Don’t drink your coffee in the morning. Eat it.

Woman Who Refused To Wear A Mask In Starbucks Now Wants Half Of $100,000 Donated To Barista (from the week of July 17th)

A barista went viral for refusing service to a maskless customer, and received a hundred thousand dollars in donations. The maskless customer then demanded half the money, claiming she had been discriminated against.

2020 in a nutshell, there.

You Might Also Like                                  

          Nov 24, 2023                                Connecting the Dots: Inside the 2023 Coffee Barometer        Nov 24, 2023                       Nov 24, 2023                                

          Oct 21, 2023                                'Specialty Coffee Should be Enjoyed by Those Who Grow It': The Farmer's Daughter Joining Kenya's Coffee-drinking Revolution        Oct 21, 2023                       Oct 21, 2023                                

          Oct 6, 2023                                Stealth Starbucks: A Premonition of Modern Specialty Coffee        Oct 6, 2023                       Oct 6, 2023                                

          Sep 22, 2023                                Can the Coffee Change Fund Save Coffee?        Sep 22, 2023                       Sep 22, 2023                                

          Sep 8, 2023                                Upcycled Coffeewashing        Sep 8, 2023                       Sep 8, 2023                                

          Aug 25, 2023                                From A Concerned Farmer        Aug 25, 2023                       Aug 25, 2023                                

          Aug 11, 2023                                Philly is a (Coffee) Union Town        Aug 11, 2023                       Aug 11, 2023                                

          Jul 28, 2023                                South Korea's Coffee Wars        Jul 28, 2023                       Jul 28, 2023                                

          Jul 14, 2023                                Camp Coffee, Colonialism, and the Evolution of a Brand        Jul 14, 2023                       Jul 14, 2023                                

          Jun 30, 2023                                Defiance and Gay Frog Donuts: How Strange Matter Coffee is Navigating the Anti-LGBTQ+ Backlash        Jun 30, 2023                       Jun 30, 2023