Top 10 Reasons That Prove The Coffee Industry Is Run By Supervillains


Many of us drink coffee every day as part of our morning ritual, pounding down the door at Starbucks like junkies in need of a fix, only turning back into normal people after that first sip of delicious brown liquid.

Unfortunately, we are supporting an industry that is bad for the environment, and grossly mistreats both local workers and coffee farmers. For those of who you only might be bothered for purely selfish reasons, they are also deceiving you every day, and probably gleefully cackling away as they pocket your money day in and day out.

10. Starbucks Legally Evades Taxes In The UK


Starbucks has come under serious fire in the UK for cheating on their taxes. Of course the astute, or perhaps cynical among you, will point out that pretty much every company cheats on their taxes. It’s as obvious as pointing out that baseball players use steroids, or that Chevy Chase has become a horrific actor.

However, Starbucks is under investigation by two British Parliamentary committees, to find out how they were able to avoid paying 1.2 billion pounds in taxes since 2009. Why all the special attention to Starbucks in particular? Well, because Starbucks decided to break new ground in tax cheatery, with a deceptively creative approach. You see, many companies simply report losses to avoid taxes. However, Starbucks, while reporting said losses, were also telling their investors how profitable they were, which is pretty much an awful thing to do.

9. Starbucks Has Been Found Guilty Of Numerous Union-Busting Tactics


Many companies try to bust their employee’s attempts to unionize. It’s not exactly profitable to give workers more benefits and pay after all. However, Starbucks gets special attention because they call their employees “partners,” and go to great effort to claim how great they are to said partners. While they are making these claims, they are doing everything they can to bust the backs of any attempts to organize.

In Chile, Starbucks was ordered to pay a settlement to workers, and sign a contract with their union. In Michigan and Ohio, Starbucks had to post a notice in their own stores, admitting to wrongdoing. Starbucks attorneys have also been described as “aggressive,” and some lawyers say they have a track record of flaunting labor laws. We could give examples of their anti-union actions for pages, but there’s only so much time in the day.

8. Famous Coffee Chains Do Not Have Very Good Coffee


The top coffee chains will go to great lengths to talk about how great their coffee is. Who hasn’t heard slogans like “America runs on Dunkin,” and other such tripe? However, what they don’t want you to know is that, while they may be profitable companies, their coffee is actually not that good at all. In taste tests, not only do most popular chains not take the top spot, they are rarely anywhere near it. In recent years, Eight O’Clock has been one of the top coffees, though the taste testers can get things wrong as well. This leads us to our next point.

7. Most Coffee Isn’t Any Different From Any Other Coffee


Every company tries to differentiate their product, but most coffee is similar to any other coffee. Most coffee beans come from Brazil and Colombia, and many coffee companies buy from the same farms. And those experts who decide what coffee tastes the best? They are easily fooled. In their most recent taste test, they claimed that Eight O’Clock did not taste as good as it did in previous years, but a spokesperson from the company says that the only thing that changed was the packaging. It seems that all it takes is a difference in visuals to fool supposed expert tasters.

6. The Decaffeination Process Involves Toxic Chemicals


Decaf coffee is quite popular among that strange breed that enjoys the taste of coffee, but doesn’t want any of its useful effects. It seems similar to drinking non-alcoholic beer, and makes about as much sense.

But for those of you who do enjoy it, you might be alarmed to find that the decaffeination process involves toxic chemicals. To remove caffeine, the beans are soaked in a solvent, usually Dichloromethane. Also known as methylene chloride, this is a toxic chemical that can metabolize as carbon monoxide, and is a suspected carcinogen. Skin contact can lead to burns, and inhalation has caused hepatitis and optic neuropathy. While you probably will not be inhaling the chemical, it is believed that long term exposure to it can cause damage to the liver and kidneys, memory loss, poor coordination, and reduced thinking ability. To put it simply, drinking decaf over a long period of time might make you stupid, and damage the same parts of your body that you hurt with alcohol abuse.

5. Coffee Companies Are Pulling A Bait-And-Switch With Your Beans


The price of coffee has recently been on the rise. Some companies just deal with this by raising their prices, and explaining to consumers that it’s due to the increased demand and decreased supply. Some companies however, in an effort to remain competitive, have tried to keep prices level by changing to lower-quality beans. Most coffee is Arabica, which is much more pleasant to drink, and tastes better. However, Robusta is another type of bean, and it is cheaper because demand is not nearly as high. Robusta not only doesn’t taste as good, but generally makes you more irritable, jittery, and aggravated than Arabica does.

An agricultural bank found that demand for Robusta has increased by 25%, and demand for Arabica has fallen 27%, which sounds like one is starting to replace the other without them telling us. One roaster has admitted to it, but they are all trying to keep it on the down low.

4. Mycotoxins Might Be In Your Coffee


Mycotoxins are a natural and poisonous fungus that can grow on many products, and that includes coffee beans, if the conditions are right. It is hardly talked about, although it’s been a problem in agriculture for years. The initial contamination is sometimes hard to avoid, because it comes from spores in the air and the ground. Even though it’s a poisonous fungus, most countries have an allowable limit, so basically you can be given product that’s poisonous, as long as it poisons you just a little bit, and slowly.

One of the most popular methods for removing mycotoxins from green coffee beans only reduced the amount by 75%. It’s hardly encouraging to know that you are only being poisoned by 25% as much fungus as you would have been otherwise. In news that will surprise probably no one, it seems that the coffee roasters don’t care all that much about our health.

3. Coffee Makers Explode All The Time, And Manufacturers Are Dangerously Negligent


Many big companies like Jarden and Tassimo put badly tested products on the market, that are made with inferior quality materials. They are known to explode, causing bad burns and sending glass shards flying into people’s skin. They will often sell all the stock of a particular product before they bother with a recall at all, because getting it all out of the way in one shot is less expensive than dealing with multiple issues over time.

This can mean dozens, or even hundreds, of injury complaints before they take action. In one case, 164 people had to complain to a company, with 59 reporting serious burns, before a recall was issued. In another situation, over half a million Mr. Coffee units had to be recalled because steam built up, and eventually caused hot water and coffee grounds to explode all over the place, causing serious burns. It is far cheaper to simply toss an untested product, made of inferior quality materials, and issue a recall after all the units are sold, than to actually be responsible. So of course, that’s the route that companies go.

2. Coffee-Growing Causes Serious Damage To The Environment


Coffee is not the first thing that jumps to mind when it comes to damaging the environment, but the truth is it takes an awful lot just to produce one pound of coffee. A single coffee tree only produces 1 to 1.5 pounds of coffee a year, and production isn’t even profitable until its fifth year onward.

It also turns out that growing coffee takes an incredible amount of water, to the tune of 110 billion cubic meters per year, just to keep the world supplied with coffee. Because water is a renewable resource, that initially doesn’t sound so bad, until you realize that many countries that produce coffee are facing water shortages. It turns out that about 99% of coffee production degrades soil and water, and destroys habitats. It also turns out that, since the 1970’s, many rain forests have been cleared away to make way for coffee plants, many grown with substances that some consider toxic. Not to make this too depressing but, if you are environmentally conscious, there really isn’t a guilt-free way to drink coffee.

1. Coffee Growers Are Ritually Mistreated By The Industry


Speaking of depressing: it’s rather important to point out that most coffee is grown by what essentially amounts to slave labor, a mouthful of suffering in every sip. Many coffee farmers actually make less than the cost of producing their product, and will be cheated out of their hard-earned product by middlemen, ultimately profiting maybe $500-1000 per year. This leads to an endless cycle of debt, borrowing to keep an unprofitable business going for an industry that makes boatloads of cash. Much of the coffee you drink is harvested by children. Some of the bigger farmers who own coffee plantations can get the market price for their coffee, though their workers are still treated terribly.

While these facts may be quite depressing, they are unlikely to get people to stop drinking coffee. Coffee is, of course, a drug, and drug addictions are typically hard to break. Just remember next time you sip your latte at Starbucks, someone, somewhere, got screwed so you could perk up for a few hours.

Written By Gregory Myers

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  1. I’ve worked with coffee farmers in Indonesia – and totally agree with your no.1.
    especially sbux – what they said is a fairtrade coffee – is actually not fair at all.

  2. Brian Greeenwater on

    I don’t buy Starbucks, but it tastes one heck of a lot better than 8-O’Gag (or Folswears, or Maxswill) – either you don’t drink coffee, or you grew up drinking the yuk that passes for coffee in the US.

    By all means, buy “Fair Trade” coffee to avoid the labor issues. Boycott Starbucks, not good coffee.

    Where I lived in Central America, “Rain” watered the coffee, and the trees hold the soil on the mountains, unlike the Corn they plant, otherwise. High coffee prices are saving that dirt by encouraging a switch to a less damaging crop.

  3. I thought the decafination process used liquid CO2. Hm, have to look that up.
    Something you completely missed is that the quality of regular super market-coffee was strategically lowered over the past fifty years by speeding up the roasting process more and more. This was done so gradually that nobody tasted the difference.

  4. Theresa fleer on

    Mr. Myers, if you think eight o’clock taste the same as Starbucks, you have some serious taste issues!

  5. Regarding number 2 and number 1 I have my own economic thoughts here. Making coffee is all about supply and demand. Because of the high demand, a lot of supply is needed. Countries have a choice if they want to grow coffee. The ones that do see a benefit make it because it has the potential to lower unemployment and increase economic growth. For number 1, we deal with te lack of regulations for coffee workers, yet we know many countries are successful with no minimum wage. Singapore is an example, but a better one is Iceland which has low unemployment from what we saw in a previous top 10 list. I would rather have work than no work. In addition, increasing the cost of a worker may mean higher prices, which would hurt consumers. Like what cheekimonk said, this list does not impress. In fact of all the list I have read, this is probably the worst list on the website. No joke.

  6. Following Louis, this list shows less understanding of tax policy. It kicks off with a confusing headline for #10 and a description that is even more confusing, uninformed, and indulges in some serious cherry-picking of what’s “in the news.” No person, or corporation, can “legally” evade taxes…in the UK or anywhere else. Neither can an entity “cheat” on taxes legally (just as no immigrant in any country can be “undocumented” and NOT illegal). Tax evasion is a THING. It has a specific definition and circumstances that bring about prosecution. If taxes are being evaded or a filer is cheating, then they are breaking the law. That also means, however, that if a filer is not breaking the law, they are neither evading or cheating. Are you accusing Starbucks (a company I am not a fan of by any means) of minimizing their tax liability to the greatest extent allowed under UK laws? That’s what companies SHOULD do. If they don’t, then they are violating the trust of their stakeholders AND employees. After the vapid Top Ten concerning a Death Star vs a Battlestar – with its entries on diversity, democracy, and just not being evil – I’m not sure this site is worth the clicks any longer. Everyone is free to endorse their views, but reading someone doing so without real data (and while betraying at least a naïveté about said views) is frustrating beyond reason.

  7. Louis Alexandre Simard on

    First of all you seem to not know what you’re talking about when it comes to coffee. You cite a taste test which allegedly reveals that 8 o’clock coffee has been the preferred brand for some times now. You do this right after telling us about a taste study in which name brand chains weren’t popular. Now first the link you provided to the study redirects to an unavailable page. Second corporate studies are almost always sponsored by one of the companies being tested. The fact is nobody except those companies would care enough to pay for such a study therefore they are rarely unbiased. The wording of the questions as well as the order in which the coffee is tasted greatly infuences the result of the study.

    I love and know coffee pretty well. The basic thing you need to know is that the important aspect of coffee making that will influence the taste Appart from the beans is its freshness. Coffee should never be ground more than one hour before making it and that’s the main difference between quality coffee chains and Dublin Donuts. Putting ground coffee in the freezer doesn’t help to keep it fresh and actually has a detrimental effect because of the micro condensation the will remove flavors from each little grain.

    My last point is about the decafeinating process. Only sheep store brand coffee company uses this alcohol process because its cheaper and allows the to sell 1kg (1000 g) for close to 10$/kg. All self respecting coffee house whether it be Starbucks or Second Cup uses the swiss water method which is much better at maintaining a consistent taste, flavor and acidity to the coffee.

    Those were just some points I wanted to put right. But for the most part you are csorrect in saying that many growers and affiliated