Population Health

June 28, 2022

Panelists discuss relationship-driven approach to sustainability in coffee and tea industries

Image of coffee beans being pickedOn May 18, 2022, panelists Jeannie Liu of Miro Tea, Brian James of Herkimer Coffee and Dr. Alissa Bilfield, assistant teaching professor in the University of Washington Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, gathered in the Hans Rosling Center for Population Health to address the importance of sustainability in the continually growing and changing coffee and tea industries.

The event began with Bilfield, author of, “Brewing Sustainability in the Coffee and Tea Industries, From Producer to Consumer,” offering insights from her continued research in this area. She highlighted the waves of coffee and tea production, from its origins in colonization to the rise in specialty products to the current wave of crafted, sustainably sourced products. Bilfield’s research primarily sought to understand how farmers were impacted by changing business models in the industry. Her main takeaways included the significant role agricultural institutions play in helping smallholder farmers access markets and achieve economic viability, the way certifications such as fair-trade or organic contribute to production and sustainability and the global shift from supply chains to value chains in this market.

Following Bilfield’s discussion of her research, Liu and James spoke on the importance of sustainability in their personal experiences as small business owners in the craft coffee and tea industries. Both Liu and James stressed the importance of building relationships and implementing a direct-trade approach to coffee and tea production. As a roaster and buyer for Herkimer Coffee, James explained that investing in the communities where coffee is harvested and encouraging consumers to follow a “pay more, consume less” model is the key to cultivating sustainability through coffee production. Liu offered her perspective as the owner and founder of Miro Tea, underlining the value of building individualized relationships with farmers due to the varied cultural practices associated with tea around the world.

Overall, the panelists emphasized the importance of investing in people and communities, promoting a quality over quantity model of production for coffee and tea. The future of the industry will depend on commitment to greener, relationship-driven practices and relies on both the producer and consumer to achieve greater sustainability.

This event was co-hosted by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, Nutritional Sciences Program, School of Public Health and the Population Health Initiative. The event was part of the Population Health Initiative’s Let’s Talk Pop Health series.

To learn more about this series and future events, visit the Population Health Initiative website.