Coffee Commodity Chain

Posted: August 12th, 2013





Coffee Commodity Chain

A commodity chain is a sequential procedure utilized by a business organization to congregate resources, transform the resources into products and finally distribute them as finished commodities to the consumers. It involves linking the numerous places of production and distribution of the commodity. The process, in turn, leads to the commodity being exchanged on the global market. In a much simpler sense, the commodity chain illustrates the connection of different stages from which a good passes from the producers to the consumers. A fine example of such a structured process is the coffee commodity chain. However, interaction of the global economy with the chain only obscures the connections.

Origin of Coffee

A coffee commodity chain illustrates the series of paths that coffee travels to reach the consumer. However, to understand the connections, it is essential to understand the origins of coffee as a commodity. Coffee, as a commodity, can be linked back to Ethiopia in 1000 AD. The commodity was mainly grown by the Arabs since it was a reserve of the Muslim culture. As an Islamic beverage, coffee was located outside the European global economy. Additionally, coffee drinking was popular in Yemen by the fifteenth century. From there, the practice spread to the north reaching the Arabian Peninsula and Cairo in Egypt. Moreover, at around the same time, coffee was popular in North Africa because of the growth of the Arabica variant in Ethiopia. As demand for the commodity increased, farmers in Yemen commenced with cultivation of the crop in the mid sixteenth century (Topik and Smith, 52).

At this time, coffee was a commodity that circulated mostly in the Arab system separate from global economies. The early coffee trade was mainly established on the Port of Mocha in the Red Sea. This was because the main area for the cultivation of the crop was near the port. From the port, the Indian merchants were able to carry the commodity to the east, Egyptian merchants were able to carry it north through the Red Sea while the Arab and Turkish merchants carried it overland through Turkey. Long distance traders from Europe were motivated by considerable profits that could be created by carrying coffee from the port to distant cities that possessed high demand for the commodity. However, the merchants in Mocha also created substantial profits since they benefited from a monopoly on the coffee supply (Topik and Smith, 54). Additionally, the inland merchants achieved monopoly over the supply of the crop by heavy and jealous protection.

The spread of coffee, especially in the Islamic cities, led to the change in the material aspects of the citizens, which was evidenced by the creation and rise of the coffeehouse. According to Hattox (90), the coffeehouse was a social venue that characterized the Islamic culture at that time. However, the social aspect of coffee led to the creation of rules and regulations by rulers that deemed the beverage as unacceptable under Islamic law. Once the commodity was established in cities such as Istanbul and Cairo, it was encountered by European travelers who marketed the beverage by word of mouth to their respective countries. The merchants of Venice, who supervised the Mediterranean trade, were the first to transport coffee to Western Europe, around 1600, from Istanbul. The Dutch first imported coffee from Mocha into Amsterdam in 1616.

Towards the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Dutch initiated importation of coffee on a grand scale. This was inspired by the growing demand for the commodity as well as opportunities to gain from the trade. The first valid commercial coffee plantings outside Yemen were made by the Dutch in Java and Ceylon (Ukers, 43). Java quickly took over Mocha and became a major source of supply for coffee in the Amsterdam market, the most important in Europe. However, France commenced globalizing coffee cultivation in Paris and Java by the Dutch leading to the spread of the crop in other regions such as North America. The British also introduced coffee in Jamaica in 1730, later becoming a significant producer in the 19th century. The French, on the other hand, introduced the crop to Brazil in the 1720s spreading to other Caribbean, Central and South American countries. After achieving independence in the 1820s, the Latin American countries, led by Brazil, would later become the largest producers of coffee in the world (Ukers, 70).

Transformations of Coffee

Coffee undergoes various processes of transformation before it becomes the familiar roasted beverage. The first stage is processing. Traditionally, berries have been selectively picked using labor-intensive methods such as handpicking. Usually, handpicking involves selecting the coffee berries that are at the climax of ripeness. After picking, either of two methods are utilized to process the coffee. The first method, dry process, involves strip picking of the coffee berries. The second method, wet process, includes fermentation and produces placid coffee. After sorting the berries by ripeness and color, the flesh is removed by machinery, and fermentation is done to eliminate mucilage in the beans. After completion of fermentation, the beans are cleansed with considerable amounts of fresh water in order to eradicate the residue after fermentation. Then, the beans are dried. Consequently, sorting of coffee is performed. The coffee, after sorting, is labeled as green coffee (Kummer, 37).

The second stage involves the roasting. Roasting is an important determinant since it influences the beverage’s taste by physically and chemically changing the coffee bean. This is because the weight of the bean decreases as moisture is misplaced and the volume increases making it less dense. Moreover, the bean’s density manipulates the potency of coffee and the prerequisites for packaging. The process commences when the beans’ temperature reach approximately 200 degrees, though different bean varieties roast at special rates. During roasting, the extreme heat splits starches inside the bean altering them to sugars that start to brown hence changing the bean color. In the process, oils such as caffeol, which are liable for coffee’s fragrance and taste (Kummer, 65).

The third stage involves brewing of the roasted coffee. In this stage, grounding and brewing of coffee beans occurs to generate a beverage. The specification for choosing a method incorporates flavor and economy. Most methods of coffee preparation require the grounding of beans mixed with hot water to extract the flavor. The roastery is the place where coffee is roasted, grounded and put up for sale in a packaged form. Grounding occurs in different ways. A burr grinder can be used to cut off the bean, a pestle and mortar to crush the beans and a blade grinder to cut the beans. However, most brewing methods utilize the burr grinder method. Coffee may also be brewed by various methods such as boiling, steeping or pressurizing. Boiling is done by pounding the beans to powder then putting it into water and boiling it in a pot. Steeping is done by a coffee press whereby both water and coffee are left to brew in a cylindrical vessel for few minutes. Then, a filter is pushed down to push down the coffee grounds. Pressurizing utilizes the espresso method to force water through the coffee grounds (Kummer, 160).

The final stage, serving, involves serving the coffee in different ways. Mostly, coffee is provided as white coffee through the addition of milk. Coffee can also be availed as black coffee sweetened by incorporating sugar. Coffee can also be served cold, hence the term, iced coffee. Serving coffee also utilizes presentations. For instance, espresso is served solely with hot water. In other forms of espresso, milk is added, whereby steamed milk creates a caffe latte while equivalent parts of froth and steamed milk create cappuccino. Coffee can also be included with alcohol. For instance, Irish coffee is coalesced with whiskey and structures the pedestal of coffee liquors such as Tia Maria (Kummer, 176).

Environmental Impacts of Coffee

Historically, coffee was planted under the cover of trees. The shade of trees offered a natural habitat for many living organisms such as insects and animals, positively influencing the biodiversity of a natural forest. The conventional farming practices involved the use of coffee pulp compost. The use of the compost enabled for the exclusion of chemicals and fertilizers. Additionally, bananas and fruit bearing trees were cultivated to provide shade for coffee plants, which granted surplus income and food safety. However, such environmental friendly practices ceased when the United States Agency for International Development and other organizations availed eighty million dollars to shift from natural methods to technical agriculture in Latin America. Technical agriculture led to the creation of farming practices that have a negative impact on the environment. One such method is sun cultivation. Sun cultivation involves growing coffee in rows under direct sun with modest or absent forest shade. This method enables the coffee to ripen quickly, and the coffee bushes to generate higher yields. However, the method requires extensive deforestation and increased use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides (Palm, 78). Such practices only damage the environment and lead to problems associated to health. Sun cultivation causes destruction of habitats, pollution due to pesticides and soil degradation. Additionally, the quality of coffee produced under the shade system is superior compared to the crops farmed under sun cultivation. The coffee processes also have a detrimental effect on the environment. The processing and sorting stages of coffee, which involve separation and de-pulping, lead to the pollution of rivers. The separation of the beans from the pulp leads to the fermentation of the beans. After fermentation, drying ensues leading to the accumulation of pulp remnants that are dumped as waste into rivers. The pulp dumped into the rivers leads to the death of aquatic life because pulp has the negative effect of oxygen depletion, which is essential for aquatic life.

Coffee is among the most traded beverages in the global economy. By learning about the commodity, the processes affecting the production and supply are understood. Coffee, despite facilitating the culture and relations of diverse communities, is also a facilitator of health. The beverage is associated with low risks of cancer and liver disease in adults, increased performance in terms of memory and physical characteristics and increased attention. By learning about the commodity, it becomes simple to decipher the relationship between the producer and the consumer.









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