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Green Importer The Collaborative’s Investment in Independent Coffee Research

100-year-old coffee trees growing in Gela Wild Coffee Forest, Kaffa, Ethiopia. Photo by Robert W., courtesy of The Collaborative.

100-year-old coffee trees growing in Gela Wild Coffee Forest, Kaffa, Ethiopia. Photo by Robert W., courtesy of The Collaborative.

A critical component of the coffee trade — or any trade, for that matter — is time. What is available, at what cost, and when. The market moves in real time, and buyers and sellers respond accordingly. Research, meanwhile, being largely the product of academics and public sector players, tends to take a longer view time-wise.

In this respect, it was somewhat refreshing to receive a recent email from the team at Oslo-based importer The Collaborative Coffee Source sharing news of their plans for a $10,000 investment into independent coffee research being conducted in Ethiopia. “Since the beginning of our albeit short history, our team has shared a dream of one day being able to dedicate a specific amount of time and resources purely toward coffee research,” The Collaborative team wrote, adding that “the academic approach to studying something is one of the most rigorous ways one can come to a clear understanding about it.”

The research in this case is being conducted by PhD candidate Tadesse Benti of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), who is investigating genetic diversity in coffee varieties between and within three different regions of Ethiopia, as well as how these differences express themselves physically, biochemically, geographically, and in flavor and cup profiles. The Collaborative notes that this is the first time an Ethiopian researcher is leading this type of study in the country, the well-known birthplace of coffee.

The Collaborative’s Melanie Leeson told Daily Coffee News that supporting independent coffee research has always been a goal of the small trading company, which also maintains a U.S. branch, and the company plans to increase investments in new research each year through 2020, with a the goal of reaching $100,000 by then.

“The benefits we see to supporting this type of research comes from a wider perspective on where the high-end specialty coffee industry is going, along with how we can actively address some of the current and near-future challenges the industry faces such as climate change, inequality, and how to improve coffee quality at various points along the supply chain — which is what Mr. Benti’s research is more connected with,” Leeson told Daily Coffee News.

While the importer does stand to gain somewhat from the funding effort and the relationships involved, there truly is an altruistic aspect to the company’s fledgling research-support initiative.

“We will definitely benefit from Mr. Benti’s work and the future projects we’ll support, but the impetus to making the fund is not with the view to commercially benefit,” Leeson said. “In the near future we may choose to officially separate the research side from our commercial side, but these plans are not concrete. The more immediate focus for us is to start the funding and support… then gauge how to best utilize these resources in the future.”

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