Coffee conveys conviviality. Serving coffee has long been a way to welcome guests, signal the start of after dinner conversation, or give meetings (from romance to business) the appearance of being casual rather than serious. And as enjoyable as it may be to make our own coffee in the morning, there are few sights quite as welcoming or inspiring of gratitude as someone else bringing you your first cup of the day.
It is, perhaps, this inherent and seemingly irresistible good will emanating from our product that causes people in the specialty coffee industry to use the word “community” when describing their relationship to each other—an unbusinesslike word that might be further explained by the idea that the better the coffee, the more conviviality there is to go around. This word, community, and especially the frequency of its use to define “us” inside the coffee industry, may be relatively recent, but it is far from a new experience.
A hundred years ago, members of the National Coffee Roasters Association (which would become the National Coffee Association) may have used words like “camaraderie,” or “fellowship,” or the less fortunate but exceedingly accurate, “brotherhood,” to describe how their shared interests blended with the convivial nature of the product they bought and sold.
This is not to say the coffee industry is, or ever was, without its share of intense competition and rivalry; and yet, the emergence of the specialty coffee sector has been witness to a corresponding rise in the number of groups and organizations that serve as a kind of proof of concept: the coffee industry is, indeed, a community.
The idea that we’re all in this together, that success and shared responsibility go hand-in-hand, is part of the Olam culture. At Olam Coffee we actively support and partner with over a dozen industry groups and organizations that work on behalf of the coffee industry to help ensure our collective success and, in some cases, our future as a business community.
What is today the National Coffee Association was founded in 1911 as the National Coffee Roasters Association. In 1932 the roasters association merged with the National Coffee Trade Council, where membership included retailers and green brokers, to form the Associated Coffee Industries of America, which would soon be renamed the National Coffee Association (NCA). The NCA is one of the oldest trade associations in the United States, and although cooperation among its members may have waxed and waned through mid-century, its endurance is testament to our industry’s inclination toward working together.
In 1983, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) was founded and over the next 20 years countries all over the world followed by forming their own specialty coffee associations. In 2016, SCAA merged with the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) to form one Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).
When Olam created its specialty coffee division, joining SCAA, other specialty associations around the world, and coffee trade guilds, was the first order of business. Olam goes all in, supporting trade associations that share our values with “time, talent, and treasure.” Several Olam staffers are SCA volunteers, serving in leadership positions, on committees, and as instructors. Members of the Olam team are regularly featured as lecturers and panelists for various SCA educational forums and Olam regularly sponsors SCA programs and event. We are proud to be the exclusive sponsor for the SCA podcast lecture series.
For Olam, the value of belonging to and participating in a trade association like SCA goes beyond the opportunity to network up and down the supply chain. It could be said that sustainability begins with a commitment to add back at least as much as you take. This is as true for Olam on the consumption side of the industry as it is on coffee farms.
If a commitment to sustaining the industry is good, certification for sustainable practices related to coffee is better. Generally speaking, coffee drinkers outside the tropics are far removed from coffee growing and coffee can pass through many hands before it reaches their cup or their grocery store shelf. A coffee consumer may be familiar with one or two coffee roasters, but few know anything about the broker from whom those roasters purchased coffee, and they certainly don’t have firsthand knowledge of every coffee farm growing the coffee they drink.
Certifications are a way to bring consumers closer to the coffee farm in terms of assurances that the people, the product, and the environment are being treated in a manner that aligns with their values. Olam is proud to offer coffee with certifications from Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance, and USDA for organics.
These groups offer certification for product and practices that align with Olam’s commitment to sustainability and assurances for our customer’s customers that their coffee, the people who pick and process the coffee, and the environment in which the coffee is grown meet their standards as consumers.
Finally, Olam actively partners with groups investing in the near and long term future of specialty coffee as a successful and valuable industry segment.
Recognizing that the contribution of women to coffee along the entire supply chain is far greater than their participation in the economics, organization, and leadership, the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) was created to “empower women in the international coffee community to achieve meaningful and sustainable lives; and to encourage and recognize the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry.” Olam supports the IWCA, whose mission is aligned with Olam’s own efforts to empower women in agriculture.
The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) was established to improve the lives of people who produce coffee through a focus on improving the quality of coffee around the world. CQI has created comprehensive quality evaluation standards that have been adopted worldwide, and trains producers, brokers, and roasters in utilization of these standards. Those who master these skills and pass rigorous testing are certified as “Q-Graders.” Olam not only supports the efforts of CQI but has several Q-Graders on staff.
The mission of World Coffee Research (WCR) is to “grow, protect, and enhance supplies of quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of the families who produce it.” The work of WCR is science-driven, often with an emphasizes on agriculture. One of the most exciting projects is genetic improvement of coffee to ensure its survival as the climate changes. Olam hosts a WCR field test of a dozen varieties in Laos.
Olam’s commitment to connecting roasters to the finest specialty coffees begins with Olam’s commitment to remaining connected and contributing to the success of the coffee industry, today and tomorrow.