As 2010 ends and the New Year gets underway, I will resist the temptation to summarize the year in coffee or make bold predictions about what will happen in 2011. With prices at record highs and poised to go higher, it seems no one quite knows what lies ahead. Besides, last year Geoff Watts wrote the greatest combination year-end/prediction post ever published in the coffee industry. Nearly every other blog post in the “year-in-review/New Year predictions” genre seems destined to pale by comparison. What does seem certain is that 2011 will be the Year of the GCQRI.
The concept of the GCQRI — Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative — was first presented at the 2010 SCAA Symposium as a kind of “Green Revolution” for quality coffee. The idea is massive investment to better understand the sources of coffee quality and identify technologies that promise to generate “mo’ better” high quality coffee — cultivar selection, agronomic practices, post-harvest processing upgrades, etc.
The proposal for this industry-led process was based on two premises: (1.) the research on coffee quality is limited and (2.) there is not enough high-quality coffee available to meet current and projected future demand for specialty coffee. There is little debate about the first point. (Our friends at CIAT represent a notable exception to this rule, having pioneered scientifically rigorous methodologies for evaluating coffee quality, published influential research on coffee quality and climate change, and generated actionable recommendations for industry.) If there were any doubt about the second, it has been dismissed by the steady climb of NY “C” prices into some pretty thin air. By the time 60 or 70 “thought-leaders in the specialty coffee industry” gathered in College Station, Texas, back in late October to move the GCQRI forward, “C” market prices had moved above $2 a pound. By Christmas, they had climbed to over $2.30 and coffee industry observers were suggesting that they could reach $4 a pound by early 2011.
Whether the dreaded $4-a-pound market materializes or not, the struggles of roasters large and small to source quality coffee this year will lead them to contribute generously to the GCQRI, which I expect to be the dominant topic of conversation in the industry the time SCAA rolls around in April.