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Robusta quality for top-of-the-line products.

Robusta quality for top-of-the-line products

The market looks for quality products. And one fact should be known: Robustas too can be quality coffees. Of course, one might be led to wonder about this when reading all the praise currently reserved for Arabicas, which, according to eulogists, would be the only coffees worthy of attention on the part of traders and connoisseurs.

But Robustas appear to be neglected in a verbal fashion only. Statistics published by the International Coffee Organization for the past six campaigns (1984-85 to 1989-90), show that the Robusta share of total exports (by all ICO members to all destinations) has hovered around 25%. The only exception to this is the 1986-87 period when the Ivory Coast's crop was very small due to drought conditions. For the six coffee years prior to this most recent six-year period (1978-79 to 1983-84), the Robusta share of world exports was also around 25%. Actually one must go back more than 20 years, to the 1966-67 to 1977-78 era, to find a slightly higher reported usage of Robusta in world consumption, at about 26-27%.

In the last 25 years, Robustas have gone from 14 million to 19 million bags; so they have matched approximately the growth of the world market from 50 million to 70 million bags (assuming that the 1989-90 crop of 79 million bags was exceptional and probably atypical), and also at a time of increasing quality-consciousness in the market.

In fact, Robusta coffees have likely done better than ICO statistics indicate. These statistics are by country and not by coffee type. Countries are named as either Arabica or Robusta producers. Countries producing both types of coffee do not appear as such. They appear under the prevailing type produced. For example, Brazil exports are classified as Arabica, even though the nation produces 5 million bags of Conilon, a type of Robusta coffee. The same confusion occurs with India's statistics; one-third of its productions is Robusta. By taking into account these hidden Robusta productions per "mixed" producing countries (and despite Angola's reduced volume), the current Robusta share of the world market is probably close to the 26-27% share experienced in the 60's and 70's.

Obviously, more than a quarter of global coffee consumption is in Robustas. Could this situation have remained so stable if Robusta had not been offered as a quality production? Of course there have been |accidents' affecting quality, here and there, and these have necessarily hurt certain reputations. But these happened more than 10 years ago and it seems counter productive to dwell on these when Robusta-producing countries, exemplified I believe by OAMCAF members, have proven repeatedly their eagerness to please consumers.

Fact: Consumers do not necessarily experience a craving for |Arabica' coffee, but rather wish for a good quality coffee, which also includes Robusta.

Over the years, African Robusta coffee growers have acquired a know-how and level of technical support enabling them to grow a top-of-the line product. This has included the careful selection of seedlings from reliable nurseries; development of clonal plantations; moderation in the use of fertilizers and pesticides; the establishment of a network of trained extension agents to advise growers on various phases of operations.

In those African countries where water resources are sufficient--including most of the OAMCAF member states--growers are turning increasingly to the wet process to produce milder coffees, and in direct reply to buyers' demands for |other milder' coffees. They are also returning to granulometric sorting, which had been discontinued because the added cost no longer seemed requisite, as per the expansion in ground coffee consumption. African growers are also improving their quality control programs by adding testing laboratories so that only the best coffees are exported and mediocre coffees liable to hurt a nation's production standing are removed from the market.

Such developments have ensured that OAMCAF nations are able to supply quality coffees. But the turning point is no longer merely a matter of know-how and care, it is increasingly a matter of price. Quality has a cost. Clients should bear this in mind in offering their producing partners a |satisfactory' remuneration. Support of quality supply lines is in the coffee buyers' own best interests if he want to see his business grow.

As for Robusta's true standing in the world, if one remains to be convinced, one should look at the worldwide success story of espresso. Espresso coffee is made, to a considerable extent, from Robusta coffees, and growth is going on well beyond the borders of its native land, Italy.

Guy Delaporte was formerly, and for many years, Editor in Chief of the magazine Marche Tropicaux.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Robustas coffee
Author:Delaporte, Guy
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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