Coffee News Roundup: Week Ending March 13th

A hand holds a cup of coffee with latte art resting atop a folded newspaper

Today is Friday the 13th, which seems apt given, you know, everything.

There’s also a lot of coffee news this week, most of it coronavirus-related, so we’ll begin with a little roundup of what’s been going on with that whole thing, and then move on to other less pandemic-y stuff.

Covid-19 Updates - via Various

Last week we learned that Starbucks (and a growing number of other companies) decided to stop the use of reusable cups in a bid to slow transmission of the virus.

This trend has now been taken up by many more cafes across the world, and has been widely accepted as the right thing to do in the face of a public health emergency.

A hand holds a disposable coffee cup in front of a painted wall

Not everyone agrees, however, with this opinion piece saying that “reusable mugs don’t touch food or beverages destined for public use, so there’s no risk of spreading the virus to other customers.” Is this true? I don’t know, but I also don’t know how disposable paper cups or ceramic for-here cups are any less likely to be vectors.

The piece also claims that “we worry that coffee chains are disingenuously using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to discourage use of reusable mugs,” which sounds ridiculous but then you see this gleeful article in Plastics Today celebrating the cessation of reusable cup use so who knows.

Elsewhere, the Specialty Coffee Association has come under increasing pressure to postpone next month’s Expo event in Portland, Oregon. It is “working towards” postponement, whatever that means, but in the meantime has postponed the Melbourne International Coffee Expo which features the 2020 World Barista Championship and World Brewers Cup. That event will now take place November 2-6.

Similarly, World of Coffee in Warsaw has been postponed until October, and numerous coffee festivals in London, Amsterdam, and Paris have also been moved.

On a smaller scale, public coffee tastings are being cancelled, with Daily Coffee News even musing that the virus could spell the end of public cuppings altogether.

And in Italy, which has been very badly hit by the outbreak and which has imposed severe restrictions on daily life, the lockdown has meant that people’s coffee rituals have been completely upended. That hasn’t stopped some innovative methods for coffee delivery from being tried, however.

To keep up to date with all the latest coffee-related coronavirus news, I suggest following Sprudge’s live blog.

Also, please tip your barista.

Read Sprudge’s live update blog here.

A Single ‘Super Parent’ Plant Birthed All of Arabica, Research Finds - via Daily Coffee News

Alright, moving on to non-coronavirus news, new research has found that every arabica coffee plant comes from one “super parent”, which was a cross between Canephora (or robusta) and Eugenioides.

Coffee cherries on a branch

This event took place between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, according to the study published in Nature.

The work was a collaboration between World Coffee Research and the Istituto di Genomica Applicata in Italy, as well as universities in Yemen, Italy, and the United States among others.

“This means that a single plant, a super-individual, has given birth to the whole C. Arabica species and to the millions of trees that are cultivated today all over the world in the intertropical belt,” says study co-author Benoit Bertrand.

Which is cool and all, but it also means arabica’s genetic diversity is minimal. This is not great for the coffee industry, according to World Coffee Research CEO Jennifer ‘Vern’ Long, who said in the announcement, “This paper provides clear, definitive evidence that the diversity is even lower than we thought. This is tremendously concerning for a crop as important as coffee. It reveals a profound vulnerability for any business that depends on coffee.”

Read the full story here.

Blue Bottle Coffee to pay $1.5 million to settle wage theft claims - via San Francisco Chronicle

Did you know that Blue Bottle Coffee is majority owned by Nestlé? If you read this blog on a regular basis, and you don’t know that, then I really don’t know what either of us is doing here.

A Blue Bottle-branded coffee dripper and bag of coffee sit on a table

In unrelated news, Blue Bottle has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit from former employees that alleged unpaid overtime, forcing people to work through breaks, and other payroll offenses.

The suit, a combination of two separate lawsuits, covers roughly 500 employees who worked for Blue Bottle between 2014 and 2019.

Blue Bottle, of course, denies all the claims, but decided to settle now rather than keep fighting, and that “Settling the case was a better option than continuing to litigate, because the settlement results in more money being paid directly to employees, and less to attorneys.”

Some of the other offenses included “not providing accurate wage statements to workers, not keeping accurate payroll records, not reimbursing employees for business-related expenses and not paying employees full wages upon leaving the company,” according to the Chronicle.

Read the full story here.

Class-Action Suit Claims Some Starbucks Drinkers Getting Shorted on Caffeine - via Daily Coffee News

Oh good, another class-action lawsuit here, although this one is funnier.

According to this suit, Starbucks has been charging customers more for their Venti drinks than their smaller Grande drinks, even though both have the same amount of caffeine in them.

Think about this. The plaintiffs are mad because Starbucks does the exact same thing every coffee shop in the world does, which is to give you a double shot in your cortado and a double shot in your latte. Or a small latte and a large latte.


Apparently a similar lawsuit in California in 2016 tried the same thing, but with the ice in iced drinks.

Read the full story here.

We’re Shooting Coffee Plant Cultures Into Space, For Science Or Whatever - via Sprudge

Oh no we’re doing this again.

A rocket flies through the night sky

That’s right, another company wants to send coffee into space, although this time it’s the plant rather than the beans themselves.

Some biotech company is sending 480 hemp and coffee plant cultures into space for a month, where they will be tended by International Space Station astronauts (seriously).

They’re trying to see how zero gravity affects gene expression, apparently, with the CEO saying that “We are excited to discover whether any potential changes in the underlying biology of hemp and coffee plants in microgravity will enable us to unlock new traits with commercial applications in our breeding program.”

Seems like a good use of money.

Read the full story here.

The week in corporate greenwashing

Even though they’re not going to fill your reusable cup, Starbucks is launching a test of its fancy new paper cup that uses “technology [that] can be recycled more readily than the current cup.” The cups won’t just be more recyclable, they’ll also be “certified compostable”.

In other news, coffee cups are contaminating recycling programs.

Is coffee good for you?

Well it won’t make you more creative, according to new research, but it will help you problem solve.

Coffee doesn’t have a negative effect on creativity, however, so you don’t need to stop drinking it.

Also, coffee could be contributing to an increase in malaria risk in producing countries, because of the amount of deforestation that’s happening in order to grow crops (timber, soybean, cocoa, and palm oil are also at fault). Deforestation leads to warmer habitats and fewer predators, allowing mosquitoes to thrive.

Just one more thing to be concerned about, I suppose.

A person sits on a park bench reading a newspaper

What to read

Politics With Your Coffee? These Cafés Are Taking Sides by Bob Hooper (paywalled)

Accessibility At Trade Shows by Michael Ryan

Until next week, drink good coffee. Support your local coffee business (even if that means buying beans online) and please, WASH YOUR HANDS.

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