This free guide, now in its fourth edition, is a wonderful book in many ways. It satisfies a casual reader who can dip in and out of sections of interest since the writing style is very approachable. But there’s plenty for the coffee nerd who wants to deep-dive into numbers, with more charts and tables that I could get through in several sittings.

Hats off to the team of experts who put this together, and to the International Trade Center (ITC) and their initiative the Alliances for Action. I just wish I could buy a physical copy as it’s somewhat counter to the sustainable mantra to print out all 300+ pages.

There’s lots of useful material to go with the launch, however, including the wonderful pictures, including the featured image for this blog, come courtesy of Meklit Mersha for ITC-ALliances for Action.

Watch the event launch on YouTube below, in which one of the principal authors Sarah Charles refers to it as a ‘labour of love’. It’s a practical guide designed first to be used by practitioners, not academics.


There is so much information here, that summarising it would have been a major challenge. Fortunately, the thoughtful people at ITC have done this for me already – see below.

Summary Points

Coffee sector dynamics are shifting.
Global production and consumption patterns are changing, as climate change prompts new countries to consider coffee production to meet a global demand and consumption develops in producer countries.
We need to put values back in our supply chains.
If we want a sustainable coffee sector, we need a new supply chain dynamic that values people and planet first and product and profit second.
We need alliances for action.
All coffee stakeholders must rally for systemic change. Alliances between the public and private sectors and across borders and supply chain levels need to happen.
The revolution must be inclusive.
Tech and innovation have the potential to revolutionize the coffee sector, but we need to be mindful of global inequitable access to resources and knowledge and implement digitalization with accompanying measures to make it work for all. 
Good coffee is for all and can create value across the supply chain.
Democratizing coffee: Making good coffee accessible to all also means better prices for producers at scale.
The future must be green.
As we face a climate crisis, we need to shift away from business as usual and embrace concepts of circular economy, indigenous environmental stewardship, conscious consumerism and sustainable practices from seed to cup. 
Value creation at coffee origin is crucial. 
We must ensure that gains are shared fairly across the supply chain. Along with policy changes, a focus on value addition at product origin, South-South trade and product and market diversification will help achieve the right balance.
Meklit Mersha for ITC-ALliances for Action

The new edition of the International Trade Centre Coffee Guide highlights in particular: 

Environmental and social sustainability as a driver for growth

Sustainability is the thread that brings all chapters of the guide together. It addresses topics of climate change, price volatility and unbalanced supply chain dynamics. It explores definitions of living income, the Project Drawdown logic for climate solutions, and the role that youth and women can play in taking coffee forward.

New quality definitions

Quality in coffee is an evolving concept, and definitions have varied over the years. Coffee traders used to look at quality from the perspective of what was, at a minimum, acceptable for their market. Gradients of quality had more to do with their market destination than any overarching definition of desired attributes. Today, definitions of quality are more precise and are also interlinked with concepts of sustainability.

New way to measure coffee data

In the past, statistics for coffee production and consumption were divided into two main categories: Arabica and Robusta. These are indications of coffee species rather than quality per se. To reflect the quality differentiation that exists in the coffee market today, this guide considers three quality segments across the entire coffee sector: standard, premium and specialized.

Digitalization from seed to cup

Online sales are not the only emerging trade in coffee. Digitalization is happening across the supply chain, allowing more productivity, quality control, consistency and efficiency than ever before.

COVID-19 short- and long-term impacts

The global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus is having a major impact on international trade. The coffee market and supply chain have not been spared. It represents an unprecedented economic shock, as demand and supply are scaled back around the globe and across sectors. The pandemic is having a profound impact on the global coffee sector, including production, consumption and cross-border trade.

Alliances for systemic change

An evolution of the global coffee supply chain towards a system that is effective and respectful of people and the planet requires joint action and collaboration across the board.

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