January 2006

Monthly Archive

Coffee shortage brews trouble in Venezuela

Posted by on 05 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Beans, Fair Trade, Foreign Brew

According to the Associated Press, the National Guard in Venezuela seized some 330 tons of coffee beans that were being held back by growers in protest of government price controls.

Venezuela is something of an exception among Central and South American coffee growing nations: the locals actually drink the stuff. President Hugo Chavez imposed a price cap in 2003 to protect the poor from inflation, leading up to the crisis today where growers say they are forced to sell their beans below cost.

Meanwhile, coffee futures have reportedly closed at over a six-month high due to concerns in Venezuela and harvest estimates in Brazil.

UPDATE: 08-Jan-2006:
Venezuelan President, Cesar Chavez, has threatened to nationalize Venezuelan coffee production if the producers don’t stop hoarding: Chavez has warning for coffee producers.

UPDATE: 14-Jan-2006:
Venezuelans love their daily cafecito — a shot about 1/100th the size of American bathtub-sized tastes. And the street vendors are often the hardest hit by the dwindling supplies of coffee in Venezuela these days: Venezuela’s Coffee Conundrum.

UPDATE: 16-Jan-2006:
For a first-hand account of the coffee shortages in Venezuela, check out the blog from Daniel in Yaracuy as he describes the empty shelves and social dynamic in his hometown of San Felipe.

UPDATE: 17-Jan-2006:
The Associated Press reported today that the fixed price of coffee was finally raised by the Venezuelan government: Venezuela Raises Fixed Price for Coffee.

Concocting a new brew of coffee

Posted by on 01 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Beans, Quality Issues, Robusta

You have likely heard about genetically modified foods, such as the (now non-existent) FlavrSavr tomato. You’ve probably also heard of the Human Genome Project, which mapped out the human genetic blueprint for disease research and a variety of other scientific purposes. Regardless of where you stand, both have raised ethical questions and opposition.

What you may not have heard is that there is an international coffee genome project in the works. As reported in today’s Financial Express, India’s Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) is in the works developing genetic maps of coffee plants, with one goal being to breed better beans in the future: Concocting a new brew of coffee.

For as nasty as the robusta bean can be, it’s often a necessary ingredient in a well-rounded espresso blend. And India grows and refines some of the highest quality robusta in the world.

It remains to be seen whether coffee will undergo controversial genetic manipulation to achieve the right, resilient blends for consumption. For now, it appears their goals are to improve our knowledge about managing coffee plants and how we might cross-breed them to introduce specific characteristics.

Controversy aside, it was only a matter of time before biotech met the coffee cup.

Rare Indonesian coffee bean picked from civet droppings

Posted by on 01 Jan 2006 | Filed under: Beans

Once again, the news media has exhumed stories about the ridiculous and ridiculously expensive Kopi Luwak bean: Chron.com | Rare Indonesian coffee bean picked from civet droppings. According to this latest article, we can apparently blame this foolishness on many of our money-to-burn California compatriots hard up for interesting Christmas gift ideas.

This freak show novelty appeals to the nouveau riche stereotype — i.e., those who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. Mentioned on TV a couple of years ago (including CSI-Las Vegas and The Oprah Winfrey Show — too bad those shows don’t merge, eh?), it has faded from and re-entered the vernacular of gourmet and luxury good conversations every so often like a visiting comet.

The bottom line is this: they are essentially coffee beans that have been eaten and crapped out by feral Indonesian weasels. Call it a delicacy, because it comes with a $175 per pound price tag. If I could bag my bodily functions for that premium a price, you can bet that I’d cash in and spend it all on Malabar Gold beans.

We should all hope that these will be my last words on this tedious subject. But here’s the Wikipedia entry if you’d like to know more:

UPDATE: April 3, 2007
If you thought that people drinking coffee crapped out by weasels was a problem, imagine being the Philippine government where you have to contend with locals eating all the weasels: AHN | Philippine Coffee Traders Call For The Preservation Of Civet Cats | April 3, 2007.

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