Since its inception to today, the coffee industry has relied upon the labor of poorly paid workers in countries in which coffee is grown, in order to deliver roasted beans and brews to consumers at prices they find amenable.
While this fact tends to be conveniently ignored by most consumers and coffee corporations alike, it was in 2022 that the topic of labor in the coffee industry bubbled up to the surface in the world’s wealthiest country: the United States.
Organized labor was indeed the story of the year in the coffee industry, where a confluence of political, cultural and pandemic-fueled events resulted in new movements towards workers’ empowerment and attitudes.
The highest-profile example of this, of course, is with the world’s largest coffee chain, Starbucks, where a landmark court decision in 2021 allowed workers to pursue unionization for individual stores. Yet 2022 saw the movement move squarely into the specialty coffee retail and roasting realm, with unionization efforts at smaller regional chains such as Colectivo Coffee, Intelligentsia Coffee, Heine Bros. Coffee, Peace Coffee and many more.
Interestingly, the year also saw the specialty coffee industry’s first unionized chain, Gimme! Coffee, transition into a worker-owned cooperative following dissatisfaction with its union representation. Iowa’s Morning Bell Coffee also successfully achieved the worker-owned model after workers there first explored organizing.
Time will tell how this period of reckoning in coffee retail labor will affect workers as well as some cash-strapped owners/operators, as “yes to union” votes transition into contract negotiations and, ultimately, ratified contacts.
What is clear is that the labor movement in U.S. coffee retail remains largely detached from the broader social and economic sustainability conversation in the coffee industry, where the world’s approximately 12.5 million smallholder farmers continue their collective struggle towards profitability. Meanwhile, often by virtue of necessity, large and small producers alike continue to rely on the cheap labor of the industry’s most vulnerable actors: farmworkers.
In this sense, there remains an industry-wide negligence on the issue of labor.
Also this year, guest columnists began to deconstruct the concept of sustainability in coffee while attempting to discern what is meaningful economic sustainability in coffee.
Yet other authors highlighted the discrepancy between the U.S. coffee industry and the economic issues in coffee’s countries of origin while declaring that the specialty industry stands upon an unsustainable foundation of double standards.
One importer representative simply put forth a series of questions that sustainability-minded roasters should ask their coffee suppliers.
We also featured columnists who addressed the coffee industry’s pressing climate-related dilemmas while offering some practical solutions such as improving soil health and promoting agroforestry systems.
All told, DCN published 624 stories this year from dozens of authors. We’d like to express our genuine gratitude to all the folks who contributed to our virtual pages for their expertise and their willingness to put their big ideas into words.
And from the very bottom of our hearts, we’d also like to thank all the readers who took time out of their days to read DCN in 2022. We sincerely hope it was worthwhile, and please let us know if it wasn’t.
As we finally lay 2022 to rest, here it is in a nutshell.
— Nick Brown, Editor
2022 Year in Review
Among approximately half of the stories outlined below, where the focus is largely on the United States market, nearly $400 million was either raised or spent in acquisitions. Factoring in the deals in which financial terms were not made public, that number is likely much closer to $1 billion… Read more
With some exceptions, this list tends instead to focus on single, independent new shops with singular visions towards coffee service, quality, aesthetics or guest experiences… Read more
Some of these new hotspots invite guests to share in exciting direct connections to places far outside the United States — such as Eritrea, Brazil or Australia — while some are dazzling right where they are, with adventurous design and multifaceted services… Read more
As the long grey lull of winter sets in over the American Midwest, coffee drinkers from Ames to Ypsilanti fortunately have a wealth of colorful new coffee shops in which to warm their bodies and souls… Read more
The year saw some lovely new additions to well-established coffee cities like Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville, yet an unusually high proportion of exciting openings in 2022 came from the Sunshine State of Florida… Read more
In Colorado, in particular, multiple new multiroasters are bringing a veritable avalanche of non-local brands to brew behind their bars. Other shops offer direct connections to the coffees of Guatemala and Ethiopia, while one pioneering cafe has introduced a “no-waste cafe” model… Read more
For the earth, for the people, for the arts and, of course, for the coffee. These and other compelling calls to customers rang out from new cafes up and down the West Coast this year… Read more
As we look back on the year in coffee, we’ve been routinely distracted by some dazzling displays of architecture and interior design… Read more
While quality and experimentation remain hallmarks of the specialty coffee industry, a good number of these companies launched with more ambitious visions towards ethical coffee sourcing, environmental stewardship or social progress… Read more
The much-anticipated Mahlkönig E80 GBW made its debut under the bright lights of the SCA Expo in Boston; Weber Workshops refined its flagship grinder for slow bars seeking to flex; Slingshot upped the game for high-volume scenarios; and Quamar planted a flag at the vanguard of motor technology… Read more
The tools of the commercial coffee trade evolved significantly in 2022, with modern updates to classic machines, new automations galore and innovations in how coffee is delivered to the cup… Read more
German coffee roaster maker Probat had an especially momentous year, launching multiple new products, including breakthrough hydrogen-powered roasting equipment. Two other older brands — Sivetz and Primo — were given new life with new products, branding and ownership… Read more
The direct-to-consumer coffee market absolutely overflowed this year with brewers, gadgets and online marketplaces aimed at satisfying pandemic-propelled demand for quality coffee outside of cafes… Read more
Big names in commercial equipment, established names in home gear and several promising startups rolled out innovative and intriguing grinder designs, with particular emphasis on single-dose grinding… Read more
The Green Coffee Industry in 2022 Saw More Data and Tech
Following a 2021 that might be characterized by the generic phrase “logistics issues,” the global coffee industry experienced something like a return to normalcy in 2022. Of course, normalcy in green coffee production and trade is in and of itself historically characterized by logistical complexity and extreme volatility… Read more
Exploring the Biggest Coffee Science News of 2022
Is coffee healthy? Can coffee make you happier? Is coffee addictive? A review of the mountain of coffee-related scientific research published this year offers some answers, but it also makes one thing abundantly clear: All these questions may become obsolete within a matter decades… read more