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World Coffee Research: GCQRI takes on a new space

From the May 2012 issue.

Timothy Schilling, Executive Director of the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative (GCQRI) explains the benefits of the new program

One year after the founding of the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative (GCQRI), the organisation announced in March the launch of World Coffee Research (WCR).

Executive Director Timothy Schilling explains that while the GCQRI set the research agenda for the organisation – to support a global research and development initiative to increase the supply and quality of Arabica coffee – the WCR will be the space where the research will take place.

“With the GCQRI, this was an initiative in the coffee industry where several key players were getting together with researchers and academics to put together programs on the supply and quality issues that we, the global coffee community, face and are in jeopardy for,” he tells GCR. “After one year of working to get the funding, and wire the network together, we’re ready to turn it on. This is what we call World Coffee Research.”

He also admits, that dropping the acronym down to something a little more tangible has its perks: “C-G-Q-R-I isn’t exactly something that rolls off your tongue,” he laughs.

The slightly catchier WCR is being set up as a 501 (c)(5) non-profit. Far from being a charity, however, the group is targeting businesses to take advantage of the initiative and use the WCR as their own research and development department.

“We didn’t think it was going to be this challenging to get this far – the idea makes so much sense,” says Schilling, explaining why they are taking this approach to get businesses on board with the initiative. He says that many coffee companies don’t really think about the agronomic conditions that coffee is grown in. With most companies sourcing their beans from traders, the separation between roasters and the source of their coffee can make some reluctant to come forward and take part in these research activities at the farmer level.

As such, part of the strategy is to get these larger roasting companies  to consider the project as their own internal R&D department to help ensure a stable supply, and “pay their dues to the common”, as Schilling says. In addressing yield issues, Schilling says the group is fully aware how careful they need to be in treating quality issues. “We need to, at the worst, leave it neutral – not harm quality,” he says. “But what we really want to do is increase these agronomic traits while increasing quality.”

Because they’ll need to measure quality in everything they do, one of WCR’s first projects will be looking at a scientific way to discern quality. While cupping is a good way to grow and trade coffee, in terms of scientific work, Schilling says, “it leaves a lot to be desired.” As such, the group is seeking to find more scientific indicators of quality.

Another major project will be multi-location variety trials. Working across 20 origin countries, the WCR will send out identical packages containing what they consider as the top varieties in the world. This way, the varietals can be grown across almost every coffee growing region.

The benefits, Schilling explains, will be two-fold in that not only will scientists observe the traits of the highest quality varietals, but the project will help bring together a global network of coffee researchers.

“Not only does it show a country that there is a better varietal out there that they can start to use to replace their old varietal, but also it cements the WCR into a scientific network,” says Schilling. “It brings all the scientists together, looking at the same genetic material in their own environments. That alone is a lot of what science is about, that’s how you create the synergies and interactions and collaborations need to move things towards our goal of more higher quality coffee while increasing producer revenues.

Schilling points to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) as an anchor donor who submitted a significant amount of funding to help the initiative get off the ground. Following GMCR’s donation, a list of other companies have followed suit to help the organisation raise their target goal of US$1.2 million.

“That fear has been taken out of the equation and now we’re ready to sail,” he says. 

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