Coffee ingestion on average is about a third that of tap water in most of North America and Europe. In total, 6.7 million metric tons of coffee were produced annually in 1998–2000, and the forecast is a rise to 7 million metric tons annually by 2010. Brazil remains the largest coffee exporting nation, but in recent years Vietnam has become a major producer of robusta beans. Robusta coffees, traded in London at much lower prices than New York’s arabica, are preferred by large industrial clients, such as multinational roasters and instant coffee producers, because of the lower cost. Four single roaster companies buy more than 50% of all of the annual production: Kraft, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, and Sara Lee. The preference of the “Big Four” coffee companies for cheap robusta is believed by many to have been a major contributing factor to the crash in coffee prices, and the demand for high-quality arabica beans is only slowly recovering. Many experts believe the giant influx of cheap green coffee after the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement of 1975–1989 led to the prolonged price crisis from 1989 to 2004. In 1997 the price of coffee in New York broke US$3.00/lb, but by late 2001 it had fallen to US$0.43/lb. The Dutch certification system “Max Havelaar” started the concept of fair trade labeling, which guarantees coffee growers a negotiated pre-harvest price. In 2005, 39,756 metric tons out of 8,457,000 produced worldwide were fair trade; in 2007, 62,382 metric tons out of 9,183,000 were fair trade, an increase from 0.34% to 0.51%. A number of studies have shown that fair trade coffee has a positive impact on the communities which grow it. A study in 2002 found that fair trade strengthened producer organizations, improved returns to small producers, and positively affected their quality of life and the health of the organizations that represent. A 2005 study concluded that fair trade has “greatly improved the well-being of small-scale coffee farmers and their families” by providing access to credit and external development funding and greater access to training, giving them the ability to improve the quality of their coffee. The families of fair trade producers were also more stable than those who were not involved in fair trade, and their children had better access to education. A 2006 study of Bolivian coffee producers concluded that Fair-trade certification has had a positive impact on local coffee prices, economically benefiting all coffee producers, Fair-trade certified or not. Fair trade also strengthened producer organizations and increased their political influence.
Specialty coffee production in places like Costa Rica, a major producer, is declining slowly, falling 35 percent in the past decade. That’s even as demand for luxury coffee explodes, according to Ken Lander, a small Costa Rican coffee farmer. “If we don’t get some kind of economic stability built into what a farmer can make to grow this highly laborious product …we’re going to see a continued drop in supply,” he said.