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Preface to Coffee Quality

by Michael Sivetz


This is not your ordinary "run of the mill" coffee booklet extolling romantic places and recipes. The purpose of this booklet is to tell you why you are in a market that sells bad tasting coffees and improper brewing equipment. And why the pubic's revulsion to the supermarket's bad tasting coffee is revealing itself as less per capita consumption and a proliferation of small retail roasting shops, many of whom roast on the premises.

The bibliography provided will show you the way to technical, commercial, historical aspects of coffee growth and use, but this booklet will tell about the politics and unsavoury commercialization, if not exploitation, that goes on day after day, year after year (for decades) by the most prominent and largest coffee roasters and their trade association, and even the coffee trade journals. Yes, they are all intimidated by the large corporate buying power of the G.F.'s and P & G's in the USA and in Europe, with their counterparts.

No honest accounting of the world coffee trade can be given without the realization and a strong appreciation of how politics in the coffee growing countries influences prices, plantings and destructive export taxes.

The coffee exporting and importing countries are historically and economically tied together through colonial ties, to such an extent that, e.g., France imports most of its coffees from the Ivory Coast in Africa, and so its profile of coffee blends is overwhelmingly Robusta; bad tasting Robusta varieties. Perhaps it is some kind of moral justification that the French, so proud of their culinary skills, should serve such bad tasting coffee, in compensation to the commercial arrangements with their former colonies, e.g., also Cameroon, Madagascar.

In the USA, the majority of roasters have developed a low priced (and of course low quality) product from the lower grades of Arabica coffees; and since about 1960, have introduced (without public education) a change in their branded blends to more "bad tasting" Robusta coffees. Simultaneously these same corporations have had their National Coffee Assoc. fight with money in Washington, DC lobbving activity to prevent any action by any government agency to cause them to label their canned coffees as to grade, as to origins and especially as to the fraction of "bad tasting" Robusta (lower priced) coffees in their blends.

The addition of 8 to 10% water to roasted coffees is pure fraud unchecked. This last mentioned act is the most insidious and one of the most major betrayals of consumer trust. Due to the silent introduction of a totally different botanical variety (Robusta) into US blends in the past 30 years, there has occurred a great reduction in the quality of canned and pouched coffees. Due to fr progressively less acceptable tasting coffees, per capita consumption has fallen om 18 to 12 lb./capita. The fact is that in all these years the US Food and Drug Adm. (FDA), the presumed guardian of the public trust, has not raised a finger to protect the consumer. This is not oversight. It is negligence. It may not reach the monetary waste of the mihtary-industrial associations and contracts in the USA, but it nevertheless extracts billions of dollars per year, year after year, from John Doe and gives him bad quality coffees.

The whole scene is further ravaged by the ICO International, a treaty agreement that the USA and other European nations sign with the coffee growing countries of the world to place minimal prices on a supply and demand system of export quotas and world policing of exports. This arrangement has been going on for over twenty years, until July of 1989. It has been, as all control systems are sooner or later, a drag on free commerce. It has further cost the USA and all other consuming countries in the agreement billions of dollars per year. The logic behind this treaty is that this is a benevolent subsidy to the coffee growing countries (paid for by John Doe as a hidden tax). It has in fact been many other things. There have been repeated attempts by the larger coffee growing countries to monopolize the market supply of coffees and to independently drive up the prices, even while these same countries were benefiting from the high prices of the ICO (International Coffee Organization). These countries have not made any effort to upgrade the quality of beans they export.

The blind rush to buy lowest cost inferior quality coffee beans by the major corporations not only has produced progressively worse tasting coffees, but has oriented the consumer to having to use more ilk or cream to overcome the bad taste of what is being marketed. Indeed, I believe, it is clear that ml this deteriorating quality situation has caused the creation of the GOURMET COFFEE market in the USA to cater to those consumers who cannot stomach the aroma less stale Robusta blends sold by the major roasters.

Since about 1975, G.F. and some other roasters have been adding 8% or more water to the R&G coffee canned or bagged. This watering causes more rapid and complex loss of coffee flavor- aromatics, and causes accelerated stale taste to develop, which tastes can be very offensive. Further, the consumer is paying for 8% water in his supermarket "low price." Thus, water is being sold at the rate of over US$4.00 per lb. This may seem like good business practice to those doing it. To the buyer who is deceived and is not informed of what he is buying it is immoral.

No one should believe that the major corporations, especially those in the coffee business, are righteous, open and totally honest in their dealings.

It is human nature for those "who-know-more," as sellers, to take advantage of those who are buyers, the ignorant consumer.

It is well past time for the consumer to assess his relationship to these kinds of coffees and their manufacturers. By educating himself, the consumer will not buy these inferior products, but will strive to buy coffees that are properly identified and give value.


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