At the beginning, the panel members -- Alexandra Katona-Carroll (Coffee Quality Institute), Jay Ruskey (Good Land Organics), Angel Orozco (Cafecito Orgánico) as well as moderator Peter Giuliano (Specialty Coffee Association of America) -- traced their respective careers in coffee for the audience, which covered a great deal more ground than you might think. For Katona-Carroll, it also means helping to connect coffee buyers with sellers; for Orozco, it means working with Guatemalan coffee growers.
The near 90-minute panel talk provided plenty of insight into the ways sustainability can transcend more than one definition and/or approach. Some of the more thought-provoking observations they shared from their respective fields:
1. L.A. is home to a strong coffee movement.
"Los Angeles has been this locus for coffee. We're in a place that is experiencing a coffee renaissance right now," says Giuliano. At the recent Southwest Regional Barista Competition (a qualifying regional for the U.S. Barista Championship), two Angelenos won the regional competition and the Brewers Cup.
2. Ecological sustainability is as important as that of the community.
"You have ecological sustainability, but you also have a community of sustainability... Where are the food crops to support the community? Because basically, everybody is growing everything and we're shipping it to the United States," says Ruskey.
3. The financial reality behind getting certified as organic.
As Orozco pointed out, not having organic certification doesn't necessarily mean that there the grower isn't using organic methods. He has witnessed coffee growers choose not to pursue certification due to the cost of financing the process.
4. Women have a better palate than men.
"I've been told by people who are smarter than I am about taste science that women are better tasters of everything than men are," says Giuliano on the nature of women's participation in cupping (organized coffee tasting).
5. The coffee industry prefers classic roasting techniques.
"[Coffee companies will] get really fired up over their antique roasters and this is because pretty much the entire coffee industry is roasting its coffee on technology from 1910. It's like we're driving Model A's when we're roasting coffee. That's because we're dedicated to tradition. We love big cast iron machines. You'll see some amazing pieces of equipment that are 80, 90-year-old coffee roasters," says Giuliano when asked about hand-roasting vs. newer methods.
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