Specialty Coffee: Managing Quality

The more we searched for information on coffee quality,the more we realized that a superb cup of coffee depends on a complex of processes along the supply chain that allows little margin for error at any stage. Furthermore, as so often occurs when personal preferences and tastes are involved in defining quality, the process of producing magnificent coffees is as much an art as a science. Consequently, as we developed this book, we tried to combine hard science with art and put it into a business context: the result is a book with a wide range of styles. This book is neither a blueprint nor a recipe for specialty coffee production. Our intention is to provide information and ideas that stimulate and support creative thinking that can provide the basis for developing and adjusting the myriad processes and details of the specialty coffee supply chains that produce a multitude of coffees with distinctive traits from a diverse range of origins.

Chapter 1.1 describes how the demand for coffee has evolved over the past few centuries. Coffee, after its introduction to Europe and North America, was first consumed as a luxury good from the late 17th through the 18th century. Later, as countries industrialized and people became aware that with coffee they could work longer and harder, it became not only the beverage of the privileged but also of the working class. Quality considerations took second place to quantity, price and ease of preparation to meet the demand of the mass market, principally in Europe and North America. Recently the market for specialty coffees has surged.

Chapter 1.2 demonstrates how modern information technology can be used to determine how the climatic conditions of the site of origin may influence coffee quality and to provide methodologies to identify sites which are capable of producing a superior quality product.

Chapter 1.3 provides insights on how these sites are likely to be transformed as climate change inexorably modifies the environment. The best management practices presently available are described in Chapter 2.1, with special emphasis on managing the environmental conditions to meet changing climatic conditions and to minimize environmental degradation.

Chapter 2.2 reviews the current status of knowledge on the physiology and development of coffee with particular reference to quality. Coffee quality depends not only on the site where it is produced and on its management, but also on the variety that is planted. Breeders are now paying close attention to new varieties with specific quality traits that are also adapted to changing climatic conditions (Chapter 2.3).

Particular emphasis is given to an integrated approach to both plant nutrition (Chapter 2.4) and disease and pest management (Chapter 2.5). At the same time, we recognize that growers and other supply chain actors will develop differentiated products with their own special characters and profiles by trial and error. This process can be accelerated and improved by setting up a framework for evaluating innovations using on-site observations and modern information systems that connect the grower to the rest of the supply chain (Chapters 1.4 and 3.5).

Even when the coffee grower raises superb quality cherries ready for harvest, the quality is likely to be lost and the farmer’s efforts wasted if the cherries are not harvested and processed appropriately. In chapter 2.6, a whimsical anecdote that turns an apparent disaster into a major achievement highlights the importance of serendipity in improving post harvest management.

While general principles are described in detail, the way is left open for continual improvement through linking meticulous observation and recording of process modifications with the quality of the coffee as it moves along the supply chain (Chapters 2.6, 3.2, 3.2 and 3.5).

Prerequisites of business models that ensure equitable benefits all along the supply chain and that take advantage of knowledge accumulated at each and every stage of coffee production, processing and marketing are outlined in Chapters 3.1 and illustrated with case studies in Chapter 3.2.

The impact of different approaches is evaluated in Chapter 3.3. An additional theme running through the book is that it is impossible to manage what you do not measure. Chapter 3.4 provides guidelines on how coffee quality can be reliably evaluated and measured at different stages along the supply chain, with emphasis on providing growers with a means of evaluating the quality of the green beans based on the premise that if the quality is poor at this stage, nothing can be done to improve it later.

Finally, Chapter 3.5 illustrates how modern information technology can ensure that reliable information from measurements and evaluations along the supply chain are used to improve management of the overall supply chain.

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