The future of coffee

More than ever before, people care about where their food is coming from and who was behind producing it. There’s a craving for transparency and sustainability that’s growing in western culture, in large part because of the internet’s ability to connect with the most diverse set of opinions and information sources ever presented. With this sense of global communication and connectivity, we’re seeking that transparency and detailed explanation for many more aspects of our lives. We’ve created the expectation that the answers to our questions are a couple of taps away, and while we’ve done a good job at answering a lot of questions, we’ve also created much more noise and confusion along the way.

Not only are we seeking more transparency & sustainability, but we’re also seeking more convenience than ever before. For the longest time, these sides have been at odds. How can you build transparency and sustainability into convenience? The future of food and other consumables will be uniting those two together. The first step is the unearthing of how broken a lot of our current systems are, especially in food production. The one closest to home for me being coffee.

Coffee, much like wine, beer and spirits, has a wonderful amount of complexity. However, it’s largely seen as a commodity often traded for a fraction of its potential worth; sometimes well below the cost of production. Because of this societal view, the complexity is hidden away, kept only for those who want to look for it, and understand it. We can see the shift starting to happen in terms of understanding with the amount of new specialty coffee roasters coming to life every year. However, the systems bearing the coffee trade have yet to facilitate this communication. There’s an incredible amount of misinformation due to the many layers in the production chain.

With each layer of production maintaining their own data sets, we often end up with missing or incomplete information as the consumer. For the coffee industry to budge, we need to disrupt the way information is gathered and presented to the coffee drinker, and take steps to demystify and properly visualize the layers—and the parts they play—in the value chain.

There’s a parallel shift that needs to happen regarding the marriage of sustainability, transparency and convenience: making it easier to make better choices. We’ve already begun this shift with the creation of simpler/better tools, delivery experiences and so on. Yet, the current model still promotes obfuscation of details, price battles and relies on heavy consumption to thrive. Making these details digestible and encouraging people to understand the complexity should help push purchasing habits towards a values-based and sustainability-driven mindset.

With these trends of the younger generations caring more about where things are coming from, how they’re made and how they impact the globe and themselves, we need to make better buying practices more accessible, more transparent and restructure underlying systems to incentivize higher quality, long-term focused production. For coffee, this comes in the form of making the case for consumers to pay more for what they drink, making it easier to make a perfect cup at home, and ensuring those at origin can live and re-invest in their businesses. Without these changes, we’ll continue to see a devaluation of an entire industry, less volume being produced and a good chance that an important majority of the industry falls due to the wrong incentives being promoted.