Specialty Blends, the ace up the sleeve to face the crisis in Latin America’s Coffee Sector

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By LatAm Reports Editorial Team

The Latin American coffee industry, the largest in the world since it represents 61% of production, is currently striving to open a market for its specialty coffees, an ace up its sleeve to face the challenges havoc that the climate crisis, migration and changing international prices are causing.

By 2024 in Brazil, the world’s largest producer and exporter of coffee , the harvest is expected to be around 70 million bags, according to official figures.

When talking about specialty coffee, experts refer to coffee that is rated with more than 80 points on a scale of 100 with which experts evaluate flavor, size, aroma and origin. Of this type of coffee, the South American giant produces eight million bags annually, 80% of which are destined for export.

So many qualities make the value of a bag of special coffee reach 1,140 reais (231 dollars), which exceeds the price of traditional coffee by 187 reais (38 dollars).

After the coronavirus pandemic, a “search for what makes a coffee different” began, which “created opportunities for small businesses” that sell “fermented, boozy or acidic” flavors, the executive director of the Coffee Association tells EFE. Brazilian Specialty Coffees, Vinícius Estrela.

Coffee identity

In Colombia, where coffee production reached 11.4 million 60-kilo bags in 2023, the coffee industry has a great impact on the identity, landscape and even the architecture of the producing areas. In fact, Colombia is the third largest producer in the world, after Brazil and Vietnam.

Some 560,000 families make a living from this activity, so it is not strange that the Andean nation has found in specialty coffees an option to expand its presence in markets where consumers pay more for excellent quality.

More than twenty years ago, Colombia began a strategy to give “differentiation to the grain” that allows coffee growers to obtain greater economic benefits, Esteban Ordóñez, commercial manager of the National Federation of Coffee Growers, explains to EFE.

For this reason, “of the Federation’s exports, between 40% and 45% correspond to standard coffees, and 60% to coffees with some type of added value,” he details.

The future of Colombia as a supplier

In the future, and thanks to its geographical location, “Colombia will continue to be a very important supplier for all specialty coffee roasters” because “it is an origin that great blenders will always want to have,” says Luis Fernando Vélez, founder of the Amor Perfecto company, present in Uruguay, Panama, Egypt, South Korea, Aruba, Romania and Spain.

An advance in this sense is being achieved by Café Devoción, a Colombian family business created in 2006 that has been selected among the ten best roasters in the United States by gastronomic critics from media such as The New York Times and USA Today.

By signing an agreement with FedEx, the largest express transportation company in the world, the Colombian company manages to take the grain from Colombian farms to consumers’ cups in just a few days, a process that previously took between six and twelve months. .

“The big difference between us is that we see coffee as a perishable (product) since before the specialty coffee trend began, and we realized that if we went to the different regions of Colombia, we could have fresh beans all the time. year,” says Elliot Sutton, president of Café Devoción.

Climate crisis

As coffee is vital to the Latin American economy, many are concerned about the effect of the climate crisis.

However, the director of the Brazilian Association of the Soluble Coffee Industry, Aguinaldo José de Lima, highlights that it currently protects “permanent preservation areas and produces with fewer chemical inputs.”

The adoption of “sustainable practices can reach 40% or 50% among the most technical producers,” but small growers “have difficulties reaching that level,” acknowledges the president of the Global Coffee Platform in Brazil, Pedro Ronco.

In Mexico, the ninth largest producer of grain in the world, the effects are already beginning to be felt, as evidenced by the fact that the planted area fell by 1.16% in 2022, and stood at 702,686 hectares.

Specifically in Chiapas, the state that generates a third of national production, “last year 30% of the harvest was lost due to the climate crisis and inflation,” explains Argelio Díaz, president of the Coffee Producers Cooperative.

To mitigate these impacts, in Honduras growers have incorporated organic farming strategies.

That is the case of Joselinda Manueles whose farm, ‘Los Cascabeles’, grows special coffee at more than 1,248 meters above sea level.

“We are taking care of the carbon footprint by planting trees,” highlights Manueles, who exports “toxic-free” coffee to Germany and France.

Migration

Another of the difficulties of the sector in Central America is migration, because grain cutters “go to look for opportunities in the United States,” says José Miguel Echeverría, a roaster from Guatemala, a country considered one of the five largest coffee exporters. of the continent, but in 2023 it sold 773.8 million dollars, 14% less than in 2022.

For this reason, the coffee industrialist points out, “better living conditions must be generated so that people do not want to leave their country” and thus the flagship grain of Latin America’s flavor can continue to be cultivated.

The above article was translated from EFE News.