Andrea Illy is CEO of the global premium coffee company that bears his family’s name. As one might expect, he is passionate about coffee – its science, its health benefits, its taste, its beauty. Illy also has a dream that someday soon the coffee market might be transformed into something approaching the market for wine. Where connoisseurs discuss the fine points of various origin coffees and blends, where customers are willing to pay a premium for the finest examples of the coffee-making art, and the growers, roasters and baristas will be compensated fairly for the expertise they contribute to every cup.
Unfortunately, the current coffee market differs from such an ideal. Coffee growers in most parts of the globe work at a barely subsistence level. One bad harvest (made all the more likely by the ravages of climate change) or a sudden decline in the commodity price of coffee can drop them below subsistence to hunger. Even in good times, growers have little incentive to improve their operation – they have minor contact with the roasters or customers and no knowledge of how their crops get translated into the cup. This disadvantages not only the grower but also the consumer – coffee sourced from good quality beans is hard to find.