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Coffee City

Melissa Allison follows the world's biggest coffee-shop chain and other Seattle caffeine purveyors.

March 8, 2010 at 11:30 AM

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Coffee demand threatens to outstrip supply

Posted by Melissa Allison

CostaRica.jpgEzra Fieser, who wrote an insightful article for Time magazine last fall about the limitations of Fair Trade coffee, wrote a story for our paper this weekend on the limitations of organic coffee.

Growers are giving up on organic because it costs more to grow than it's worth, Fieser found. Some roasters won't buy the beans at all, and even when they do, the price doesn't cover farmers' costs.

"Although organic still pays a premium of as much as 25 percent over conventional coffee," he wrote, "it's not enough to cover the added cost of production and make up for the smaller yields."

The market appears to be validating what a 2005 study predicted about organic coffee -- that it would not be sustainable. The rewards are not worth growers' efforts, including the need to buy large amounts of composted organic matter to keep yields high, that study said.

The organic article is getting lots of attention on the paper's web site, but I think Fieser's other story from the World Coffee Conference in Guatemala City is even more shocking. Demand for coffee next year is expected to be just 10 million sacks short of production, the International Coffee Organization estimates.

"We're nearing the razor's edge of danger where supply can't meet demand," Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, says in that article.

There's more demand from places like Russia and India, and supply has been threatened by things like higher fuel prices and global warming, according to Fieser's report. "Weather was a major factor in the 28 percent drop in Latin American coffee production in the initial three months of the current harvest," coffee representatives told him.

PHOTO CREDIT: ERIKA SCHULTZ/THE SEATTLE TIMES; Seasonal coffee workers unload baskets of coffee cherries into a transport truck at Santa Eduviges in Costa Rica.

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