Monday, September 27, 2010

Got Java? My Afternoon Coffee Industry Education

On Sunday, September 26, 2010 I took my complimentary pass (courtesy of local indie cafe and roaster Te Aro Roasted) to the Canadian Coffee & Tea Show as the latter made its return to Toronto. I arrived looking for my daily cuppa and left with a buzz that could have powered more of the city than its landmark urban windmill.

I'm a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to the coffee world having only embarked on my java journey three years ago, but I feel that my four years in Japan at least provided me with a crash course in tea appreciation. Realistically, my goal was more along the lines of identifying legal issues unique to the coffee and tea industry than it was to find the next post-Kopi Luwak trend.

Some of the fun highlights from the trade show included:
  • Ice-Drip Coffee:  Te Aro's booth hosted the first ice-drip coffee maker I have ever seen (or tasted). The process looks like something out of a science class where every couple of seconds, a drop of ice water falls into a coffee filter, soaks the grounds and then winds its way into a glass pot. Viola! Six to eight hours later you have a deliciously smooth cup of coffee.
  • Cups of Excellence:  I learned there is a global competition that selects the best coffee produced in a country for a particular year and sells these coffees to the highest bidder during an Internet auction. Apparently 80-85% of all coffees so designated end up in Asia while only a very few, if any, arrive in the Canadian market and are made available to the general public.
  • Innovation:  Besides the ice-drip process, I discovered both the coffee and tea industry continue to innovate with new processes, new flavours, localized growing methods and gorgeous presentation. One personal favourite was the delicate rosewater tea on offer by a Chinese tea supplier. 
  • Marketing:  Hands down, the Social Coffee & Tea Company wins the award for cheekiest marketing based on the names of their coffee blends. For instance, depending on how aggressive you feel, you may have a hard time choosing between Imperialiste Noir and Western Liberation.
Now all of these lessons were well and good but did I have any take-aways from a legal perspective?  While I'm hesitant to suggest there were broad trends, a few anecdotes stuck out:
  • Carbon Credits:  A number of roasters have established close relationships with coffee growers in developing countries and are looking for ways to increase the growers' ability to benefit from sustainable practices. One roaster even directed me to a Smithsonian report demonstrating that shade-grown coffee farms outshine sun-grown coffee farms on sustainability measurements. However, no one has yet heard of a way for these growers to benefit from any additional carbon sequestration that may occur on a shade-grown farm.
  • "Fair Trade":  More than one roaster and supplier indicated that not all "fair trade" labeled products are easily traced and in those cases they may choose not to offer a fair trade blend (e.g. chamomile) or, more likely, they attempt to source a coffee or tea that is "beyond fair trade." One roaster in particular mentioned that he prefers to purchase a Cup of Excellence crop and then work in a long-term relationship with that grower to develop their sustainability methods.
  • Labeling Consistency:  A Japanese importer of matcha tea bemoaned the patchwork of national labeling standards for "organic" products. This made it a challenge to encourage consistent standards among growers who may have to select a particular market for their "organic" tea rather than be able to offer their matcha as "organic" on a global basis. This lack of consistency was echoed by some of the fair traders.
  • Leases:  One of the more interesting anecdotes was provided by a coffee/tea distributor who suggested that cafes owners may not always find themselves in advantageous lease situations.  Apparently, a lack of standards is endemic in the industry and provisions that might be useful in a cafe context are not always found in cafe leases. 
I am intrigued by some of the feedback I received at the Show and would love to hear from more experienced industry hands to see if anything I heard is something you've experienced or heard about.  Perhaps it's something we can discuss over a cup of Social's Western Decadence!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting angle on marrying sustainability and the tea/coffee industry. Seems to be a fun occasion to speak to industry players first-hand. Keep on writing!