Blog by: Philip von der Goltz, 14.10.2021
Being in charge of sustainability, marketing, and digitalization at List + Beisler, these were special weeks for me. More than 20 years ago, I started working in the beautiful world of coffee. I was only a couple of weeks into the new job when international coffee prices reached their historically lowest levels of 41.50 c/lb. This was in December 2001. Back then, it looked like the end of the coffee world to me. Luckily, I was proven wrong!
Extreme price volatility is one of many factors directly affecting everyone's lives and businesses in the coffee value chain. However, the most fragile member in our community is the coffee farmer, particularly the smallholder farmer. Coffee farmers depend on the international coffee prices and Mother Nature's mood, local currency volatility, and political developments. Many factors come together and are often far beyond their influence.
Coffee: a complex body of knowledge
A thorough understanding of the coffee world is a time-intense endeavor yet key to improving your own knowledge and your decision-making capabilities. In my own journey, I had the privilege of learning from some of the industry's bests. Still, there is plenty of room for further development. After all these years, I came to at least one firm belief: coffee is a livelong-learning process; the more you know, the more you realize there is more to learn and understand. The complexity of this global business creates an ever-evolving and changing reality on production, trade, consumption, and many other components of the magical elixir. Knowledge needs to be adjusted and updated constantly.
So, how to start and what to learn? The nature of complexity is that it is hard to summarize and simplify. Coffee grows all over the globe and is consumed in many ways. Suppose you want to understand not only your own perspective but genuinely thrive on the job. In that case, it is crucial to get ideas, thoughts, facts, and science-based insights combined from as many professionals as possible. Hence, choose your sources wisely.
Back in 1992, the first Coffee Guide was published by the United Nations' International Trade Centre (UN/ITC). It turned into the leading source of information on coffee matters for professionals. It was a commodity handbook, mainly written by Jan van Hilten and Morten Scholer. After the initial success, they continued and developed two additional coffee guides (published in 2002 and 2012) together with a team of industry experts. This – in my opinion – fantastic work provided the coffee industry with detailed knowledge, providing an invaluable asset for the coffee world.
Almost 10 years have passed since the last publication. It was not only time to update information but also to adjust to new realities.
Source: ITC "Building on the legacy: From commodity handbook to comprehensive working tool."
How it started and team-building
Eighteen months ago, Hernan Manson, head of UN/ITC's Alliances for Action unit, asked me to take over this immense task of updating ITC's Coffee Guide. As honoring this task is, it is also challenging. On day 1 of this project, Hernan and I had just started scoping the depth of this endeavor when we slowly realized the dimension of the work on our plate. The vast amount of topics to be covered made me recall a saying from a teacher during my school days: "You don't need to know everything; you just need to know where to find it!". And so we started brainstorming on the individuals with whom we wanted to work together. We built a fully dedicated and brilliant core team: Sarah Charles as my principal co-author, editor, and creative powerhouse. She is a well-known writer, having already worked on several coffee publications. Martina Bozzola, an outstanding academic, the most charming professor in economics and agriculture at the Queen's University of Belfast, and a senior research associate at Zurich University for Applied Science. Tommaso Ferretti, an expert on sustainable trade finance, finished his PhD at McGill University and became a father when creating this new guide edition. He surely had very short nights, but not only due to the newborn baby. Eleni Gerakari, getting all our thoughts and ideas into actionable work and getting some order into our creative mess. She is an invaluable asset to all of us! Last but not least: Neil Rosser – the data master. His knowledge goes back to more than 30 years of profound insights into the numbers that make the world of coffee go round.
Next to our core team, we engaged a highly professional and committed group of over 70 industry experts. The range is wide: from coffee farmers, cooperatives, exporters, importers, roasters, coffee shops, consultants to academia, international institutions, NGOs, and associations of all sorts. We are proud to have covered the whole coffee stakeholder community. This network of highly-passioned coffee lovers is one of the core assets of the new guide.
What is new?
Let me give you a quick glimpse of what is new:
• Sustainability is a core topic, with an attempt to guide the industry towards the new normal
• Latest statistics and trends: Production numbers are split into three groups that differentiate between standard, premium, and specialized coffees.
• There is a focus on user-friendliness. Eight independent modules with a corresponding toolbox adding practical advice and case studies.
• A new chapter on the latest innovations is now part of the guide. This mainly involves the digital side of the business.
After an intense 18 months, I am beyond happy to finally launch this new edition. I stand amazed and thankful to all of you who have supported us in getting this mammoth project done! With this Coffee Guide, we set the cornerstones for a new legacy and hope to have contributed to a better understanding of the coffee world for professionals all along the value chain. The challenges of the next few years will increase and become more severe. May the new Coffee Guide help us in finding proper and sustainable solutions.
Where to find it?
No other day could have been better for officially launching the 4th edition of The Coffee Guide than International Coffee Day (October 1, 2021).
You can download "The Coffee Guide, 4th Edition" for free here.
Looking forward to your comments and impressions!