BBC World Service radio recently aired a program (make that programme) that tracked a kilogram of coffee from its origins at an Ethiopian coffee farm to retail coffee houses in the Western world: BBC NEWS | Business | Tracking the true cost of coffee. The article mentions the gross imbalance in the distribution of profits as the coffee passes through the hands of middlemen, but it also touches on the gross imbalance of infrastructure and labor costs in the respective countries that the coffee passes through.

Not that Ethopian coffee growers don’t deserve more of a living wage for their efforts, but a fair and balanced perspective is required before the health of the entire coffee supply chain can be holistically addressed. As an analogy, we’ve heard about how much prescription drugs must cost to support continual drug development — i.e., that the price of successful drugs on the market must somehow also subsidize the research and development (R&D) costs for the many failed drugs. However, what pharma companies won’t tell you is that they spend more money for marketing than on all of their R&D. (In short, we all pay more for prescription drugs not so much to fund new drug research, but rather for the opportunity to see more Cialis ads.)

The article points to roasters as having the highest profit margins in the chain — which is probably true. Unfortuantely, they place few numbers and statistics behind this claim.