Starbucks vs. the birthplace of coffee

Oldest coffee in the worldWant an afficionado’s tip? The mother of all coffees is Ethiopian Harrar. Literally. The insight is as olfactory as it is scientific. History records that the first coffees were cultivated in Ethiopia/ Abyssinia on the Red Sea. Every current variety of Coffea Arabica is believed to have originated from those plants. Colombian Juan Valdez picks coffee beans introduced to the New World by the Spaniards. Indoneasian javas were planted by the Dutch. Each of those famous varieties were transplanted Arabica. Starbucks wants to transplant the names.

It might be fitting now that Ethiopian farmers are asking for the right to control their unique varietal names. Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe are considered premium coffees and refer to the regions of Ethiopia where they are grown. It is estimated that trademarks could generate an additional $90 million for impoverished Ethiopian growers who currently receive just three cents per cup of coffee. The problem is from whose profit they would have to wrestle the extra money: Starbucks.

Starbucks has been opposing Ethiopia’s trademark applications on the grounds that giving a higher value to the farmers would result in a decreased demand for the premium beans. Do you buy that? Even if Starbucks passed the increased cost unto the customer, would a few cents deter their caffeen addicted connoisseurs from the world’s most potent coffee? Ethiopia’s control over the branding of their product is likely only to increase their coffee’s visibility and prestige.

Bean counters versus the bean growersStarbucks denies having asked the US National Coffee Association to block the Ethiopian trademark bid. But in fact Starbucks has been trying to trademark Sidamo for itself.

I can’t find an etymology record to link the term bean-counter with coffee beans. In any case the expression denotes someone who values quantity over quality. I’d say they have the wrong beans.

Update: Le Monde article translated at Truthout.