It’s a typical weekday afternoon at Emma red cafe in Baltimore, Maryland. A handful of people are chatting on wooden tables in the large open dining room.
Behind the counter, barista Najee Haynes-Follins prepares an iced Americano from the machine. She is a member of the workers’ cooperative that owns and manages the cafe, restaurant and bookstore.
“What do I like about coffee?” Asked Haynes-Follins. “I have ADHD so stimulants help me and so if I want to concentrate in the morning I usually drink a cup of coffee to keep myself in line a bit.”
She said Red Emma’s coffee prices have stayed about the same recently. But that might not be for long, due to a major problem in the global coffee supply. Brazil, the world’s largest coffee exporter, has been hit by unprecedented extreme weather conditions that have severely damaged coffee crops, which could ultimately drive up the cost of coffee around the world.
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At the end of July, southern Brazil was hit by unusual freezing temperatures. Snow has covered many slopes. In the coffee growing regions, the frost covered the fields. In a video shared online, a farm worker inspects frost-devastated coffee plants in the state of Minas Gerais. The leaves are dead and brown. The coffee beans are black and encased in ice.
“On this property, we lost 80% of the coffee harvest”, the coffee grower Flavio Figueiredo noted. âIn this region, I think 30 to 40% of the coffee plants have been damaged.
Coffee growers estimate that nearly half a million hectares of coffee crops have been affected by the frost. It was the worst Brazil has ever seen in 27 years.
âIt’s a really tough year. … We haven’t seen anything like it for a long time. But we think we are adjusting so that our harvest next year is not as bad as people expect. “
“It’s a really tough year,” said CelÃrio InÃ¡cio, the head of Brazilian Coffee Industry Association. âWe haven’t seen anything like it for a long time. But we think we are adjusting so that next year our harvest is not as bad as people expect, âhe said.
Brazil’s coffee harvests weren’t just hit by frost. They were also crippled earlier this year by drought.
People in the industry fear that climate change will create more extreme weather events like these, making coffee production increasingly unpredictable.
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âThe two main coffee producing countries are Vietnam and Brazil, and if either of these two countries has climatic or supply problems, it will affect the whole world market. We saw it in the 90s and still do. “
âThe two main coffee producing countries are Vietnam and Brazil, and if either of these two countries has climatic or supply problems, it will affect the whole world market. We saw this in the 90s and even now, âshe said.
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Ferreira-Mathews said you might not see a price hike at your local cafe just yet. Currently, the coffee that was circulating now was harvested when prices were low. But this is not going to last.
âI really think we’re about to see a very big change in prices in coffee shops, because of the pandemic, coupled with what will be a shortage of supplies from Brazil,â Ferreira-Mathews said.
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Pandemic lockdowns have shaken trading systems around the world, causing traders all kinds of headaches.
âWe have export problems with the shortage of ocean containers and now the much higher ocean freight costs. It also brings uncertainty. “
âWe have export problems with the shortage of ocean containers and now the much higher ocean freight costs. It also brings uncertainty, âsaid InÃ¡cio.
Some large companies, like Starbucks, said their prices will remain stable for next year, as they buy the coffee beans 12-18 months in advance.
Meanwhile, many players in the Brazilian coffee industry are concerned, not just for this year, but for the next one, because Brazilian coffee growers could take months or even years to get back on their feet if certain plants were permanently damaged.