opinion.: The Floor Is Cracked. A Look at Coffees’ C-Price and Cementing Change.

we need a new floor



I am a coffee drinker. I am also a traveler. I’ve drained a lot of coffees and I’ve travelled a lot. Some of these travels have included destinations that are coffee producing countries like Perú, Colombia and the state of Hawai’i. 

As a consumer who enjoys the culture of coffee, I’m also increasingly aware that coffee comes from specific places with specific hands that make coffee as a commodity, physically possible and ultimately drinkable. 

I enjoy the ritual of drinking coffee, I take pleasure in tipping my barista generously for the craft I’ll consume at point of purchase which is also the end of the supply chain: a chain linked mostly by faces I’ll never know. 

As I grow in my knowledge and appreciation for the industry that is buoyed by a workforce of millions, the same millions which facilitate my enjoyment of a ritual at a coffee shop or in my own home, I am becoming ever aware of how endangered not only I and everyone’s ritual is but what is more, how tragic the plight is of my brothers and sisters in coffee producing countries – they are the ones truly endangered. 

This is my first attempt on this webzine to talk about C-Price from a first person point of view. I’ve learned about it through wonderful sites like Daily Coffee News and the Specialty Coffee Association. However, I have been impacted emotionally, more from the stories of professionals  in coffee who’ve competed in barista competitions and shared narratives around the effects of the C-Price to specialty coffee, it’s present and its future. 

Sustainability is a new tab on this webzine. The word can be as much a trending topic as it is a catchall phrase. I hope it’s neither here as sustainability in the financial sense is just as important in its natural application. 

What does it mean to work to preserve and conserve an ecological balance in our natural resources – coffee farms included –  if we don’t also balance, preserve and promulgate the resource of the humans whose natural hands make specialty coffee a $200 billion business yearly?

To sum up briefly, the C-Price is a financial barometer for which coffees prices are discovered and set by the International Coffee Exchange (ICE). This measurement is old outdated and is subjected to volatile spikes that have adversely diseased coffee’s cost per pound etc an all time town.

“Today’s “C” futures contract was created as the price reference for a basket of mild arabica coffees of similar quality known as “Centrals”. Today, with several changes introduced over time, it is widely acknowledged that the “C” futures contract based price does not cover production costs for most producers due to several factors, including speculation by hedge funds that do not understand or care about coffee.

In 1982, the price of coffee fluctuated between US$1.18 and US$1.41 in the international market and a cup of coffee averaged US$ 1.10 in the United States; in 2018, the average price of a pound of arabica coffee in the international market averaged US$1.01. Furthermore, on March 22nd, 2019, the price closed below US$0.95. Coffee producers have lost more than 80% of their purchase capacity in the last few decades,” as stated in the DECLARATION OF THE COORDINATION GROUP OF THE WORLD COFFEE PRODUCERS FORUM.

If the cost of coffee minus resources applied to farm infrastructure, ecological maintenance and actual human labor is not included in this C-Price – and it isn’t from my understanding – how do we expect a farmer to keep giving from a deficit of resources and sacrifice their livelihood for the commodity that brings a world, comfort and economic gain?

I can not. We can not. 

If we don’t lobby to care for the people who give us the product that we turn around and serve to another set of people, who we value because their dollars make our coffee shops lights turn on, help buy the avocado that will be spread on toast that will cost $8 dollars and up,  paired with a four dollar plus milk drink of comfort which allows us to have children and raise them in the context of independent  specialty coffee owners, than what are we saying?

We are saying our lives and lifestyles are of more value to us than their right to a sustainable life and lifestyle. We are saying that there’s a subset of humans that don’t matter that much and maybe not at all until farms are abandoned. Until successive generations choose not to inherit the family coffee business. Until the natural land we lobbied to conserve is now thriving but with know one to tend to the yield of its beauty. 

Therefore, this economic crisis is an issue of environmental sustainability, because without our needed and beloved farmers, there’s no farms, no seedlings, no crops, no cherries, no coffee. 

A number of the top six baristas in this year’s United States Coffee Competition discussed the C-Price in their routine. It is a beginning, a start that must not halt there.  Can we as a community of coffee culture loving humans lobby for major and immediate  change now? Can we use our voices and our social platforms to fix the crack in coffees’ floor. 

Change is sometimes small and takes time, this I know. However, what can we do? What can I do? 

As a consumer I can: 

  1. Seek out companies who are choosing to address C-Market prices with alternative models and buy coffee from them. 
  2. While visiting a specialty coffee shop, I can engage my barista in conversation, speak to a roaster on site or even a manager and inquire about their companies policies for buying coffee. I can find out if they are aware of the C-Market price and if so, are they sensitive to raising the floor on it as a buyer in the supply chain. 
  3. I can use my social platform – even the audience is small – to raise awareness my sharing relevant articles and links to this crisis hoping that one voice will bind with another and another to create positive action that can lead to real change. 

In 2015, Taylor Swift wrote an open letter to Apple detailing her issue with the company not willing to pay royalties to artists or labels during their three month free trail period.  It worked and Apple reversed its non-paying structure.

Let’s treat the coffee price crisis as an unsustainable model whose floor needs to be repaved, or else, it won’t be our farmers falling it through it, it will be the culture too.

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