I had posted before about my great interest in this thing called the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative: GCQRI. (It's a rare case where the full name is actually easier than the acronym!) Basically this Initiative is trying to pull together coffee roasters, importers, and anyone else in the coffee trade who cares about the future of quality. If we can pool resources and fund the kind of research we want, about improving the quality of coffee, and growing more quality coffee, then I think a lot of other goals that have to do with economic fairness, environment, and poverty are also addressed. Buyers pay for quality, that is what a "differential" is all about in the coffee trade. If that quality is generated at the farm level, then the farm stands to have the most economic gain. Whereas if coffee is sold as a bulk commodity but is "improved" by the magic of good dry-milling, the large company, often a multi-national, will get any premium for the coffee being better-than-average. Typically research aims toward two goals: to increase yields or improve disease resistance of the coffee. Those are important and they are part of the overall quality formula. After all, you can't get by as a farmer if you grow amazing coffee but your yields are so low that no customer could actually pay for your price of production. Farmers need to grow a good quantity of high quality coffee. With the introductions of new Catimor high-yield and disease-resistant types of coffee, quality is becoming rare. Nobody can blame local agencies for these hybrids with Robusta in their genes: They are trying to help farmers make it. But when rigorous cupping becomes part of the evaluation, cupping done by the buyers who ultimately decide the value of the coffee, these hybrids fail. And yet there are other options, ones that take considerable cooperation by producing countries and their researchers, as well as impetus from buyers. For example, Ethiopia researchers could attract funding to work with original forest coffee varietals (which represent something like 90% of the genetic diversity of coffea arabica) to look for disease resistance to rust fungus, which destroys coffee in many countries. At the same time these Ethiopia types can have fantastic cup character, unlike the catimor hybrids now propagated for this purpose. Simple-minded notion, sure ... but I doubt Colombian researchers at Cenicafe who face a huge rust fungus (roya) problem ever had an option to share research with Ethiopia's vast facilities, and yet both would gain in funding and results.
Right now the Initiative is setting it's structure and soon will be identifying 3 to 5 research projects for 2011 that best meet the communal Quality objectives of its members. Oh ... members signed on so far are roasters large and small, and Sweet Maria's has been an early enthusiast of this whole effort, and will be funding it as much as we possibly can. More information from the "congress" I attended (really, just a big brainstorming session) can be found on the Initiative web site: http://www.gcqri.org/ . Also, I posted the FAQ for the Initiative here so it is easily accessible -Tom
PS: Also check out the blog of another "fan of GCQRI", James Hoffman. He has quite a few posts on the topic.