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So You Say There's a Coffee Crisis by Mark Prince
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Senior Member

Joined: 5 Jan 2004
Posts: 92
Location: Dallas, TX
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Mon Apr 19, 2004, 7:49am
Subject: Re: You're wrong

Jeremy, you seem overvalue the logic of economic laws, which are often perverted in the name of greed or illogical rationalisations.  Just .02.

I've been trying to formulate a personal stance on the overall sustainability of coffee before I begin the arduous process of saving up for my own shop sometime in the next few years.  Thus far, I've been unable to do anything but poorly rationalize the entire concept.  Fair trade pricing or not, the simple idea behind monoculture is the destruction of natural balance.

Until major leaps are made in the personal production of coffee plants without taxing local environments, the concept seems moot in relation to overall natural balance.

Will think more on it all.
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Joined: 23 Jun 2003
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Location: Kent, WA
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Posted Thu Jun 17, 2004, 7:04pm
Subject: Re: So You Say There's a Coffee Crisis by Mark Prince

After reading this article, I would like to say that on the surface it does seen like a good article, with valid points and issues.  However there are some issues that I have as for shortcomings of the article.  First, there are no references to substantiate the claims, quotes, and specifics that are made in the article.  It would be nice to have the author give reference points where his claims could be validated.  Secondly, every can of Folgers, Yuban, etc. that I have seen says Columbian coffee.  None that I have seen stated that the coffee is from Vietnam.  Thirdly, it needs to be remembered, not all coffee can be prepared the same way.  The Vietnamese have been preparing it one specific way for many years.  During my trips to Vietnam, never have I seen anyone using a drip coffee pot or espresso machine to prepare it.  Different types of coffee are meant to be prepared in their own way.  I would hope Mr. Prince was speaking from first hand knowledge rather than just opinion.  Blaming Vietnam for the fact that other coffee farmers are suffering is only looking at the surface.  What about the fact that the government of Columbia has been corrupt for many years and involved in the trafficking of opium itself?  If a government truly valued its farmers, it would help to subsidize their income.  The problem goes much deeper than simply pointing fingers at the new kid on the block and saying it's their fault.
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Posted Thu Jun 17, 2004, 7:56pm
Subject: Re: So You Say There's a Coffee Crisis by Mark Prince

I have quoted and provided a variety of resources and validations in the article.

Remember, this is after all a news /opinion piece. It is not a scholastic document requiring every single statement of fact to be backed up with footnotes and resources.

Every portion of my article that states fact is culled from information that already exists inside the world of coffee, and also in the mainstream press. Some I have referenced. Others, where I took factoids from several different sources to combine into a new combined thought are not. Basically what I wrote is not new. It's just a culmination piece from what is already quite well known and documented about Vietnam's massive damage to the world of coffee.

Your information about the cans of Folgers etc being Colombian coffee would be false. Walk the aisles again and check the most popular brands.

(also fyi, I believe a company only need put in 5% Colombian to be legally able to label it Colombian blend; furthermore, there is plenty of C grade coffee coming out of Colombia (but less so these days; farmers are converting over to more profitable crops, like cocaine production) that the Big Four can buy for pennies per pound, again thanks to the glut of Vietnamese coffee on the market that has driven prices down to a historical low).

I would also point out that I don't have any kind of real special interests or, to be frank, any kind of ties for or against Vietnam.


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Posted Thu Jun 24, 2004, 2:36am
Subject: Re: Sara Lee

koffeekev Said:

Sara Lee took over the company I worked for (Chock Full O Nut's/LaTouraine) in a hostile takeover bid. We didn't want to sell but they wanted us so guess who won? I quit and for lack of a better word, I hate what they stand for. I will not buy Hanes, Sara Lee, Jimmy Dean, Coach Bags, Douwe Egberts, Weschler, Ireland Coffee, Latouraine Coffee, among others. The stock was doing well and much to my planners confusion I rolled it over into something else. If you think these people are creeps from a consumers stand point you should try to be forced to work for them. Sara Lee can kiss my ass.

Posted January 10, 2003 link

Hanes? Blah! Guess this means I need to find a new supplier of undergarments. Great piece of work Mark. Is there a printer-friendly version?

Barrett Jones
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Posted Thu Jun 24, 2004, 5:49am
Subject: Re: Sara Lee

loved it
i see the big four killing coffee here in Australia. Especially Melbourne!!
People dont realise the power they have here and how much brainwashing they do to so many people. One company owned by sara lee here has hit the major retail outlets and are in cafes all over. They also are involve in competitions and supply free beans to schools to brainwash new baristas. This company has spread over melbourne at an alarming pace. One a company with huge financial backing can grow so fast. How do they spend so much money on marketing equipment and able to grow so fast? Well that article explained it for me. Cheap rubbish at 40cents a pound
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Posted Fri May 27, 2011, 7:19pm
Subject: Re: So You Say There's a Coffee Crisis by Mark Prince

Thanks for writing this.
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Posted Wed Jun 1, 2011, 9:31am
Subject: Re: Blaming the Messenger

jim_schulman Said:

Great Article!  But ...

While it's easy to pillory the big 4 and their slime ball PR machine, their execs' only ethical obligation is to make as much money for their shareholders as possible. This they are doing.

Ultimately, the fault lies with us, for drinking the swill they sell. As long as most coffee is instant, or preground, then misbrewed; there's little difference between steamed Robusta and La Minita.

If the way most coffee is made doesn't improve, there's no incentive for anyone to sell or buy higher quality beans.

Posted December 2, 2002 link

I agree with you largely here as well as Mark's statements throughout.  At the risk of adding more politics to an already political discussion, I think it's within reason to point out that this is really only the edge of a much bigger and more omnipresent problem.  Mark's statement about consumers as sheep...or, rather, "modern western civilization" as sheep is all too true.  While this issue focuses on a crisis of "coffee", in reality it's "just another side effect" of the much larger issues, especially involving around "the big 4" for which, despite their coffee profits, coffee is only a small part of their corporate empires.   Trying to solve the coffee front of the larger issue may be like trying to grind espresso with a rolling pin.  The populace as a whole are sheep.  They believe marketing with little skepticism....though individually they know what marketing is.  Both in the political and consumer fronts, they'll believe virtually anything their "betters" tell them, even when they know it goes against their own common sense and is self-contradictory.  They've been taught to do so, punished if they don't, since they were children.  It's easiest to go along with the fantasy world created for them than to fight it and be made a mockery of.   Telling people to drink better tasting coffee is easy.  Convincing them to pay more for what they perceive to be the same thing but higher quality, especially in a bad economy is difficult....and the spinsters know this and will gladly tell them that the cheaper option is "better than ever."  Most people will believe what they want to hear, so the $1.99 3lb tub of flavored robusta is "better than ever"...they can save a few bucks that they desperately need to save.  Unfortunately I think the REAL need to solve this and many other similar crises (of which are all inter-reated and, more often than not involve most of the same organizations/people in one way or another.)  At the same time there's a common enough (especially in cause-based reasoning) tendency for people to just blame "evil, greedy corporations" as though for-profit business is a bad thing...and in this case, the cause is actually a pro-business cause....agriculture.  The true problem is, despite blaming the "evil greedy corporation", the corporation is providing everyone with exactly what they want.  People want cheap coffee, they get cheap coffee.  P&G employees have an expectation of certain incomes and benefits, sourcing cheap coffee is providing that (in the absence of a consumer who would pay more for less.)  Both in (western) politics, and business, it's still the public that has most of the power, and right now the public is, through silence, approving of what goes on.

This article does an exceptional job describing it (Kudos, Mark), but I think doesn't do enough that would be persuasive to the consumer.   Paying more to get less "because it helps someone somewhere else" is the kind of "cause-based" dreaming that usually goes nowhere.  *WE* know you're not really getting "less" because what you're getting is actually QUALITY.  But there too has been a dramatic shift in culture....quality, in nearly everything has become irrelevant as has value.  Cheap matters, and convenient matters.  If the companies are to be convinced to change their practice they have to feel their consumers want (and are willing to pay for) that change.  The goal here shouldn't be about a small group of coffee enthusiasts trying to convince the companies to change practices because it's the gee-golly good thing to do, or because we geeks want better coffee.  The goal needs to be to convince the public at large to identify quality, expect quality, and demand quality, and be willing to pay for quality.  But in the present climate that also means educating the public on the concept of value, and that "cheap" even on a budget, is sometimes not worth it.  And THAT is the bigger challenge that spreads far beyond coffee itself...though it is common with CGs purpose from the start: informing people about better coffee.  

I realize all this is beyond the scope of the article, and CG...but it makes it no less relevant given the nature (and scope) of the article.  Be it CoffeeGeek, CellphoneGeek, DVDPlayerGeek, FrozenBurgerGeek, AudioGeek, or SoapdispenserGeek, the crux of the ailments in whatever industry is the public's inability (or unwillingness) to identify product value, understand the economic cycle of how the products bought translate to jobs and jobs translate into products bought, and the willingness to ignore what amounts to slave labor so long as they don't have to see it which is what has lead to global economic near-collapse.  Slave labor is bad for everyone, even the slaver, eventually, be it $0.40 coffee or that $19.99 DVD player (that would cost $150 if not made by virtual-slaves and not made of components that will break in 8 months of use.)  But the pubic sees that $2 3lb tub of coffee and that $19.99 DVD player (on sale for $18.38) and sees "wow, it's so cheap, and I couldn't afford it if it were more, so I can't complain", so the cycle repeats (not realizing that the REASON they couldn't afford it if it were more was because instead of getting paid to build one, someone else is building it virtually for free.) It's a vicious circle.  Whoever figures out how to break that cycle will be the savior of humanity (or the Imperial Grand Emperor of Earth.....either way....)

Convincing people to pay more for a "cause" goes nowhere, however.  Teaching them the value to them, personally, in the immediate future, of paying more will go a lot farther, and is more difficult.  The "Walmart-ism" of "cheaper is better, screw value" was invented by the very slavers, after all.  It's a very tight knit system.

(Sorry for hijacking the thread here to a degree, and I don't mean to suggest NOT contacting the coffee companies, but I thought it best to also introduce the broader concept.  Fighting symptoms without knowledge and discussion of the root causes and solutions will only cause shifting symptoms, and it's something Mark briefly touch upon in his replies.  It's not the companies nor the governments that wield the power but the public.  And the clear picture we're getting here is that the public is content with what is without realizing the long-term problems caused by it.   The ideas were given to them by the companies and governments to accept this worldview....but survival of the coffee industry, and possibly survival at all depends on that same public realizing the flaw and "snapping out of it".  "Value" needs to enter consciousness again, plain and simple, as does rejecting illusory marketing that defies sense.  Without that, kiss our precious Jagong goodbye....as well as probably the electricity to run the grinder... )
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Senior Member

Joined: 30 Dec 2010
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Location: California
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Posted Wed Jun 1, 2011, 11:22am
Subject: Re: Blaming the Messenger

It would be interesting to have a update on this story as it is almost ten years old at this point.

While I agree with your assessment Tamper of this broader ailment of modern society, within in this very specific topic of coffee things have vastly changed. Coffee is getting stolen off trees in the middle of the night and shipments are getting stolen. It appears in this specific example now may have changed both for better and the worse.

Less water, more grounds.
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