Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Coffee Review Tasting Report on Decafs: The Splendid, The Strange and the Listless

Excitement in the decaf world!  Coffee Review, a renowned and well-respected organization for rating coffees on taste, just published another review of decafs. The last one was in 2010. Ken Davids is not only right on target with his comments, he is such an eloquent writer, you will enjoy reading every word. Congrats to the fine roasters who are applying their skills, knowledge and abilities -- even for the decaf!


Monday, July 27, 2015

What is the White House Serving? DECAF, of course....

July 27, 2015
I'm obviously behind the times because some investigative research, with important results for the decaf world, was being done over 6 months ago! Boston Globe reporter Matt Viser made a project out of finding out which coffee was being supplied at the White House and came up with a suprprising result -- Starbucks Verona Decaf. And even more surprsing, (or not), is the fact that the press who took up this story seem to have completely missed the fact that  --- it was DECAF!

Here's the story:

To be fair, we don't know if there may have also been regular being served. Let's enjoy the glow for a moment longer, though, knowing that we are among dignitaries from around the world when we sip our delicious decaf!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Triangulation Cupping Class - Prep talk and Action

Prep talk from Trish Rothgeb for station instructors with  -- I'm one of them.

IWCA Event: Launch of the new IWCA Research Alliance sub-committee

Kick-off meeting of the IWCA Research Alliance at SCAA 2015 - planning a strategy for reducing the gender data gap in coffee

Top: 8 volunteers from around the world meet to discuss IWCA response to Gender Data Gap (not pictured, Mark Inman and Ruth Ann Church).
Bottom (L to R): Daniele Giovannucci (COSA), Mark Inman (Olam and IWCA board member), Marcus Young (Sustainable Harvest/Bloomberg grant program in Rwanda), Adam Wilson (formerly ThriveSupply), Ruth Ann Church (Artisan Coffee Imports), Julenia Maria Lopes da Silva (Brazilian coffee producer), Blanca Castro (ITC consultant/Damos), not pictured, Dr. Norbert Wilson (Auburn University).

April 17, 2015
On April 10 at the SCAA in Seattle, eight volunteers were able to gather to discuss how IWCA might address the Gender Data Gap in coffee -- specifically to decide whether to address the topic: "how many women are there in coffee?"  As co-chair of the IWCA Research and Education Relations Committee, Ruth Ann Church convened the group with the objective to address this "number of women" question for each country where IWCA has a chapter.

Each representative first shared from their own experience what activities they were involved in related to women in coffee. Then, Daniele Giovannucci, as founder of the Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA, www.thecosa.org), provided invaluable insights that the committee welcomed. COSA has been managing international data collection that has scientific integrity from coffee producers around the world for over 5 years and Daniele brings a career of experience from the United Nations and other multi-lateral organizations.  And yet, even he admits, his data is inadequate to estimate the number of women in coffee in the countries where COSA has worked. This fact alone tells volumes about how challenging this effort is, why it has not been done yet, and why it will take some time to change this situation.

Outcomes from the meeting can be summarized as follows:
1. Estimates not "exact numbers". The experience around the table confirmed that when discussing numbers of coffee households, numbers of men and women in coffee -- every group today is using estimates, and sometimes quite poor ones. So we should not expect to achieve exact numbers for women. Rather, our objective is to determine "credible estimates."

2. An IWCA program - The 1 hour discussion outlined three plausible, but different, directions the committee might go.
A. Ask In-country Institutions - ask the in-country institutions that already collect coffee-related data, such as agricultural extension agencies, universities, research centers, producer associations (like FNC), etc. Ask them for their best estimates of the number of women in coffee in their country.
B. Write Case Studies -- address the issue through case studies on a country-by-country basis. This would be more of a story-telling approach. By outlining the difficulty in understanding the "number of women" in coffee in a particular country, the broader situation and cultural context of women and their role in coffee would also be described.
C. Partner with an NGO - groups like the gender group at the United Nations or a university center, such as the William Davidson Institute were mentioned.

The committee's leadership will review the options and begin moving forward with one. Look for future updates here and on the IWCA website: www.womenincoffee.org.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Economics of Quality and Price: Analysis of CoE Data

Dr. Norbert Wilson and Adam Wilson deliver an engaging presentation at SCAA Seattle
April 11, 2015
Two researchers with a great "how we met" story discussed their interesting project to dissect Cup of Excellence auction data from 7 countries and 8 years. Dr. Norbert Wilson, an Agribusiness professor at Auburn University and Adam Wilson, a coffee professional who recently moved to Washington state from Alabama, shared the findings from their paper published in the June 2014 issue of Agricultural Economics. This published paper caught my attention so much because of its economics approach to price, without looking to evaluate certification in any way. So I proposed and organized the panel, and then had the great pleasure to lead it!

This duo met at an Auburn cafe named Mama Mocha's while Adam was a barista there. Norbert, being naturally curious, welcomed the conversations he'd have with Adam while ordering his daily cup of  'joe. One thing lead to another until Adam was no longer going to be a math teacher. Instead, he was pursuing a masters degree in agribusiness at Auburn University and delving deep into the statistical complexities of quality and price in coffee.
You can learn a lot from your barista.

Talk to your customers, they may open new opportunities.

Coffee shops are fantastic classrooms.

Wilson and Wilson created a hedonic model to predict coffee price -- a practice well established in the wine industry, and already applied to analyze coffee using CoE auction data three prior papers. The model's structure is basically:

Price = X0 + X1Quality + X2Reputation+ X2Buyer
To me, the most interesting question this model answers is "how much more will a buyer pay for an additional point of the CoE quality score?"  Wilson and Wilson were able to re-confirm the earlier research that showed a strongly statistically significant relationship between quality and price. Their work even corrected for a technical error in previous work. Wilson and Wilson used a statistical technique that accounts for the fact that CoE scores are actually truncated at 87 - the CoE competition eliminates all coffees with scores < 87.

We also learned that 
  • North American buyers, more than Asians or Nordic buyers, on average pay higher prices for high quality coffees.  
  • Reputation variables like the region of origin and the rank in the CoE competition also significantly impact price.
  • Reputation of variety, however, is not found to be significant in this data set. A shocking "non-result" in the minds of many coffee connoisseurs. There were re-assuring explanations, however, such as the fact that these coffees are already considered an elite group of coffees when the coffees are scored.
The sensory quality of the coffee determines price. 

Increases in the quality increase price.

The effect of quality on price is buyer-region specific.

The single greatest impact on price comes from winning first place in the competition.

The price of a winning coffee varies by the buyer’s country.

Recommendations for further research – more quantitative work on price; non CoE datasets.

Ruth Ann Church (blog author and panel moderator), Adam Wilson, Norbert Wilson
There was a good sized and actively interested audience -- just not in the front seats.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Back in Detroit - with fine Spartans billboard

April 13, 2015:
Back in Detroit after red-eye flight from Seattle. Ironically, this is the billboard on the skybridge from terminal to parking structure (see photo). MSU ad featuring my advisor, Dan Clay, in Rwanda. (See YouTube video: "Rwanda rebirth" for more of the story)

At SCAA, the new Roast Magazine issue was distributed with my feature article on Rwanda and Burundi, "A New Focus on Farm-Level Economics" which uses the same great photo from Jim Peck, Michigan State University.