A new piece in the Business of Fashion asks if, in a retail economy in which brick-and-mortar stores struggle to compete with online shopping, should stores be charging admission? It seems counterintuitive, and it most likely is, but just imagine this wacky world:
But what’s happened in the shift from the service economy to the experience economy is that so many companies give away the next level of value in order to better sell what they have today. So theme restaurants create a wonderfully immersive environment, but only charge for the meals. Many retailers let you try out, play with and experience the products in their stores, but only charge for the merchandise. Even Starbucks — one of my favorite experience businesses that perfectly exemplifies the progression of economic value from commodities (coffee beans) to goods (packaged coffee) to services (vended or brewed coffee) to experiences (custom-made coffee in a welcoming environment) — still only charges for the coffee, not the time people spend in its coffee-drinking locations.
This could open up all kinds of conversations about exclusionism, but we may have already whizzed past that point.
A research institute in the Shizuoka Prefecture of Japan — where loads of coffee grounds are disposed of every day in major cities like Hamamatsu and Shizuoka — is exploring the use of coffee grounds to create activated charcoal to power storage batteries, in the event of electrical power loss. Coffee, the group says, makes for a potentially ideal substance for activated charcoal. The Japan Times has the story:
A research team led by Kikuchi found that coffee grounds contain a lot of carbon and have many fine holes, whose characteristics are similar to those of activated charcoal. The team created a power storage using two sheets of thin plates made by charcoal processed with coffee grounds.
FYI, you can also use coffee grounds to make bras.
The nonprofit film company Brave New Films, which aligns itself with other nonprofits in order to shine the light on numerous progressive causes, has released a short film highlighting the events surrounding the well-publicized deportation of Kona coffee farmer Andrés Magana Ortíz. Martin Sheen narrates.
For you coffee-minded botanists who are also serious Hobbit heads (you must be out there), authors Walter S. Judd and Graham A. Judd have written “Flora of the Middle Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium.” Finally, a serious, in-depth view of the coffee plant in Tolkien’s fictitious world. Did you know, for example, that in Tolkien’s world, coffee originated in East Africa and was brought to other lands through trade with Haradwaith and Khand? Bet you didn’t! Entertainment Weekly digs deeper:
The drawing for coffee, for instance, shows the plant next to Gandalf and some Hobbits relaxing in the Shire. Judd’s entry describes how coffee only gets a few mentions in Tolkien’s stories, mostly at the beginning of The Hobbit, but, unlike tomatoes, was not later revised out of the story due to Tolkien’s concerns about biological accuracy (since Middle-Earth is vaguely based on a medieval version of Europe, it wouldn’t make sense to have tomatoes, since those originate in South America and thus didn’t reach Europe until the age of exploration). As Judd writes, “He considered the presence of coffee in Middle-Earth as representing an independent, and earlier, introduction from the mountains of northeastern Africa — a plant brought into lands controlled by Gondor as a result of its trade with Haradwaith and Khand … Additionally, he may have thought that coffee (in contrast to the tomato) was more in keeping with the essentially English nature of the Shire.”
Applying the controversial concept of “unequal exchange” to coffee, a new report in the Journal of World-Systems Research looks specifically at the coffee-producing Bududa region of Uganda:
Coffee is an obvious product of unequal exchanges. The coffee growers in Bududa are grossly underpaid for their coffee, and trading in green coffee will never accrue the profits gained in the global North from transporting, roasting, marketing, distributing, and selling the coffee in upscale coffee houses. The fundamental idea behind unequal exchange theorization is that periphery nations will not profit as much as the core for their exports. As coffee production happens to produce an ideal habitat for mosquitoes, reduces school participation among children, exacerbates the lower status of women, and, in some cases, leads to enhanced deforestation and erosion, there seems little possibility that the long-term negative well-being consequences might ever outpace any economic gains of cultivating coffee. Rather, unequal exchanges serve to reproduce the coreperiphery hierarchy, undermining any potential for sustainable, successful development in underdeveloped regions like Bududa.
When we talk about “direct trade,” oftentimes what we’re really talking about is buyer-driven governance toward end goals such as sustainability and quality — or self-enforced trade schemes. See more on that here. A new report explores “buyer-driven sustainability governance in more detail, seeing it as a trend even among mainstream roasters and producers in today’s coffee trade landscape:
This shift to buyer-driven sustainability governance, in parallel with a buyer-driven global value chain, brings many opportunities, but also some challenges for substantially enhancing the sector’s sustainability. As company-owned standards and projects become the norm, civil society organizations and producer representatives should guard against large-scale blanket efforts that do not significantly engage with producers. Furthermore, as sustainability efforts are aligned with supply chain concerns and focused on high-quality regions, it is important to ensure that mainstream producers who suffer most from price volatility are not excluded from such projects. This task could fall to the new sectoral platforms if they become powerful enough actors to sway companies to disclose potentially strategic information and to convince them to amend their strategies according to equity considerations. It will remain vital for sustainability research to critically follow these developments.
Coffee scientists, mark your calendars for Wednesday, Sept. 20., because LabRoots is hosting a webinar sponsored by Dovetail Genomics that is all about coffee breeding with high-quality reference genomes. Susan Strickler, PhD Director of the BTI Computational Biology Center, will be leading the chat:
In this webinar, Strickler will discuss how sequencing and assembling the genomes of C. arabica, C. canephora, and C. eugenioides provided a foundation to better understand the complex evolutionary history of C. arabica and for improving breeding efforts.
Strickler’s research aims to produce genomic resources to be used in comparative genomics, gene family analysis and other studies in order to better understand the evolutionary history of Coffea arabica and to develop tools for the improvement of coffee through breeding.
Nick Brown is the editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine.