Business & Government

Want To Help With Migration Issues At The Border? Buy Better Coffee, Says Texas A&M Researcher

Texas A&M’s world-renowned coffee research center is working to educate consumers and improve the lives of coffee farmers the world over.
By Lesley Henton, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing and Communications September 28, 2023

Eric Brenner stands around a table giving a coffee demonstration to center visitors
A coffee demonstration

Shelby Dittman/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications

 

With International Coffee Day approaching Oct. 1, a Texas A&M University agriculture expert says there’s one big way consumers can help alleviate migration issues at the U.S. border: buy better coffee.

Eric Brenner at a farm in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala
Eric Brenner at a farm in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala

Sam Craft/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications

Eric Brenner, assistant director of the Texas A&M Center for Coffee Research and Education, specializes in coffee production in Latin America and the Caribbean. He said coffee, like wine, varies by cost based on quality. Lower quality coffees are less expensive and therefore less profitable for farmers in places like South and Central America, where coffee is a leading export. Economic hardship, among other factors, has contributed to a surge of migrants into the U.S.

“Commercial coffees are the kind you buy in bulk, and they are blends from multiple farmers,” Brenner said, noting the beans that are used in lower quality coffees can have defects such as insect damage. “Compare that to specialty coffee, which has less defects and is of much higher quality.”

But how much more is the cost? Brenner said that like fine wines, there are specialty coffees with exorbitant prices. “You can find coffees that are $400 for eight ounces,” he said. “So that’s not on the radar of most consumers.” But, he said, other specialty coffees are more affordable and may even save money, especially for consumers who frequent coffee shops.

Educating Consumers, Helping Farmers

Consumer education about coffee is part of the mission at A&M’s coffee center, said Brenner, who invites anyone and everyone for coffee demonstrations at the center facility on West campus. “Just give us a few days’ notice and come over,” he said, adding one coffee aficionado joined friends there for her birthday. “Coffee is something that you have to experience, it’s not just something we can tell you about.”

Part of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture and Development, the center’s experts help coffee farmers around the world with research and training to improve and sustain crops.

Brenner said the center has its roots in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. “We started working in coffee in early 2000 after the genocide killed most of the men and the coffee industry was left to the women who survived,” he said. “Texas A&M, through USAID, played a huge role in developing the coffee industry there. Once that project ended, we realized the need in many countries for help improving production.”

The center was created in 2016 to meet this need. Staff travel throughout the world to consult with farmers, conduct research and help build stronger communities through coffee commerce.

Eric Brenner providing a demonstration to visitors of the center
The coffee center was created in 2016 to help develop coffee commerce worldwide. Staff travel the globe to consult with farmers, conduct research and help build stronger communities.

Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications

 

Coffee Education For Students

Closer to home, center staff educate Aggie students who may find a role in the coffee industry post-graduation. Brenner is a lecturer for a horticulture class and said he’s excited to announce the first study abroad trip to Costa Rica, which happens to be his home country.

“It has just been approved,” he said. “The trip will take place during the first two weeks of January. We’re going to visit the origin, so students can understand how coffee is harvested and processed, and get a better understanding of the dynamics of coffee production.”

For more information about the coffee center, visit coffee.tamu.edu.

Media contact: Lesley Henton, lshenton@tamu.edu

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