As with all industries, specialty coffee has a number of long-standing premises that, founded or not, are often taken as something akin to gospel. One of these premises is that better coffee equals higher prices (and therefore, economic sustainability for producers), and that economic sustainability can drive other facets of sustainability.
At the 3rd Annual SCAA Symposium, Kim Elena Bullock, sustainability and producer relations manager for Counter Culture Coffee, gave a provocative talk on this perceived relationship between quality and sustainability. As part of a session titled “Testing Assumptions”, Bullock questioned the premise that producing higher quality coffees ensures economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Additionally, she explored a common assumption on the part of consumers, as well as of many in the industry, that if a coffee is of high quality then it must have been sustainably produced. Bullock noted that the issue is not what companies themselves are explicitly doing or saying, but rather the fact that many operate under false (or uncorrected) assumptions. She spoke about her observation that consumers praise her company on the sustainability of coffee she knows is not necessarily produced in the most sustainable way, but they assume this because they enjoy the taste of it and have a high level of trust in the company they bought it from.